ACT exam syllabus: Pattern and tips to prepare!

ACT exam syllabus : Pattern and Tips to Prepare!

Updated on 22 January, 2022

Mrinal Mandal

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Studying abroad will ensure quality education and it will be more rewarding if taken up at the right stage of your career. The best time to make a decision regarding studying abroad should be after high school. To study in the most reputed international countries like America and Canada, students would need to pass one language exam along with a standardized test used for college admissions. Colleges and universities set an eligibility score for exams like ACT for high school pass outs to filter them for their bachelor’s programs. ACT stands for American College Test and is used by various colleges and universities to offer admission to undergraduate courses. ACT syllabus is a planned educational curriculum that tests a high school graduate on his/her readiness for college. 

ACT is recognized by ACT Inc. – an American non-profit organization and basis that over 1.67 million high school graduates apply every year globally to study abroad. It is regarded as a standard examination, used to check the eligibility of high school graduates in the areas of Mathematics, Science, English, and Reading. The very first section is English, and the questions are based on usage, grammar, rhetoric and sentence construction. Mathematics includes elementary topics like algebra, geometry and trigonometry. The science structure is mainly based on problem-solving, interpretation and analytical skills. The test’s reading part focuses on ideas, knowledge, development and comprehension. The writing part of the examination is optional, and it depends upon the universities or colleges to decide that part. The ACT exam pattern is simple, and it is a computer-based test with multiple-choice questions. The ACT exam has no passing score, and the average score is 21, on a scale of 1-36. A high score will make admissions easier at prestigious and notable universities.

 Here are some very important details about the ACT test which every aspiring high school graduate should know:

Name of the examinationACT
ACT sectionsEnglish, Mathematics, Science and Reading, Writing (optional).
Average and maximum score21-36
ACT duration2 hours 55 minutes (40 minutes more if writing is included)
Number of attemptsUSA: 7 times a year
Canada: 7 times a year
Other countries: 5 times a year


ACT exam pattern for students

The ACT exam is a standard exam that assesses the readiness of high school graduates to get admission into undergraduate courses at various reputed and recognized American colleges. The ACT test syllabus focuses on four main sections-Mathematics, English, Science, Reading and Writing (optional). It is around three hours of examination, sans writing section, with a multiple-choice question pattern. 

Students need to check the eligibility and requirements shared by every college and university to find out if they have been asked for the writing exam scores too. There will be a total of 215 questions with no negative marking. The average score is 21, and the recognized ranked universities always have a high score requirement. To prepare better, students should have the ACT exam pattern at their fingertips:

            ENGLISH75 Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs) Usage of language  45 Minutes
Sentence structure
Rhetorical Language Skill
         MATHEMATICS60 Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs)Intermediate Algebra60 Minutes
Coordinate Geometry
Plane Geometry
Pre- Algebra
Algebra Elementary
            READING40 Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs)There will be a total of four passages. Each passage will be given from various sections like fiction, humanities, social studies and science. 30 Minutes
           SCIENCE40 Multiple-Choice Question (MCQs)Conflicting viewpoints35 Minutes
Data representations
Graphs and tables
Research methodology and summary
            WRITING1 EssayOne writing topic40 Minutes
Total time allotted: 3 hours 35 minutes (excluding the breaks)215 Questions4 compulsory Sections (Writing optional)3.35 Hours


ACT syllabus

It is very important for ACT aspirants to be aware of the complete ACT exam syllabus, as it will help them to avoid any surprises on the day of the examination. 

1. English: This is the very first and compulsory section of the ACT exam. This section will have 75 MCQs from five passages. The questions are based on a big and detailed picture of the passages. The idea of these questions is to test an aspirant’s grammar usage and rhetorical skills. The usage test will focus on sentence formulation, punctuation and the usage of the right words in a sentence. The rhetorical skills section will be based on comprehension and understanding of the provided passage. Punctuation-related questions are important as they assess the skills of a student to use periods, question marks, commas and colons at the right place. Sentence structure is very important in evaluating clauses, phrases, modifiers and construction. The section will test the ability of the examinees to modify and improve the given passage with appropriate sentences and words. The style of writing is very important to maintain the structure, tone, format, and flow of a passage. 

2. Mathematics: A basic calculator is allowed for this section of the ACT examination. The main topics are percentage, multiples, factors, ratio, profit and loss, exponents, statistics, series, mean/median and mode, linear equations, inequalities, multiplying binomials, quadratic equations, functions, circles, polygons, triangle, geometry, graphs, complex numbers, trigonometry, 3-D Geometry, slope calculations, number lines, midpoints and conic sections. It will include the entire elementary mathematics syllabus for classes 11 and 12. 

3. Reading: The reading test in ACT will have a total of four long paragraphs of four different genres. It will be from sections like prose English, natural science, social science, and the arts. Each of the passages will have 10 questions. It will test the ability to understand and analyse the tone, format and flow of sentences, locate small details in the passage and comprehend the main characters and central ideas. There will be questions based on the description, implied ideas, vocabulary, functional and central idea questions. The best tip to cracking this part will be to solve the easy passages first and then give time to the difficult ones. 

4. Science: The science section will have 40 multiple-choice questions and seven passages in total. The topics will be earth science, chemistry, physics, and biology. Reasoning, scientific ability, analytics, evaluation and knowledge of theories are important. Data, hypothesis, analysing skills and interpretations are some of the topics that will be covered under the ACT exam’s science section. 

5. Writing (Optional): The cogency of good essay writing is always essential for the ACT exam. This section will have a short passage along with three different viewpoints. The students writing the test need to analyse the viewpoints, note the drawbacks and merits of the viewpoints and give proper reasoning for the comments.


Some ACT exam tips

1. Read paragraphs in a detailed manner.

2. Pay attention to diagrams and charts in the mathematics section. 

3. Always answer in a concise and precise manner.

4. Skim and note the passages.

5. Do not keep the viewpoint section for the last minute.

6. Focus on the introduction and summary of essays.

7. Skip the difficult questions.

8. Stay calm and confident.

9. Practice a lot of test papers.

10. Train yourself for on-time exam completion.

ACT is a recognized test for high school students moving out to pursue a college degree. The difficulty level is minimal for the students with regular updates, practice and planning. 

Are you also taking the upcoming ACT exam? If yes, you can seek any kind of guidance and information by visiting the upGrad Abroad website. The academic counselor will guide you to getting the best ACT scores. 



Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Q1. In which countries is the ACT score accepted?

ACT is a standardized examination required to get admission to an undergraduate course in various countries. The list includes America, Canada, Germany, Europe, Puerto Rico, Australia and Singapore. There is no need for ACT exam scores in the United Kingdom.

Q. Q2. What is a good ACT score?

ACT score ranges on a scale from 1-36, where 21 is an average score. A good score is above 24 and for the best colleges and universities, the cut-off is always very high. Try for a score above 30 for admission to good-ranked colleges and universities. 

Q. Q3. Which section of the ACT test is the most difficult?

There are a total of four compulsory sections, out of which the mathematics section is the most difficult. However, with the right planning and daily practice, students can easily score better. 

Q. Q4. What items are allowed to be brought to the ACT test center?

The following items are allowed in the ACT exam center-printed exam ticket, basic calculator, identity proof, a watch, snacks, pencils, pens and erasers. Don’t bring a scientific calculator as it is not allowed.

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