What Subjects Are On the ACT?

Wondering what subjects are on the ACT? Getting familiar with the content of the test is your first step on the path to higher scores.

The ACT includes four multiple choice tests:

  1. English
  2. Math
  3. Reading
  4. Science

(Always in that order)

There’s also an optional Writing Test (an essay). Some schools require the Writing Test, so be sure to check before you register.

Breaking It Down

Here’s what the four multiple choice sections look like:

TestTime AllowedNumber of QuestionsHighest Possible Scaled Score
English45 minutes7536
Math60 minutes6036
Reading35 minutes4036
Science35 minutes4036

If you write the essay, you’ll have an additional 40 minutes at the end to complete that portion of the test. Your Writing score will fall between 2 and 12 and won’t affect any of your multiple choice scores.

Zooming In On the Sections

The English Test

The English section consists of five short reading passages, which are full of errors. Your job is to correct them.

About half of the questions on English relate to grammar or punctuation (Conventions of Standard English). The other half relates to style, clarity, or organization (Production of Writing).

How To Ace It

  • Don’t just rely on your ear. Learn which grammar rules the ACT covers and practice them.
  • Try to pinpoint what each question is testing you on, such as subject-verb agreement, modifiers, and/or redundancy.

The Math Test

ACT Math covers pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, plane geometry, coordinate geometry, and some trigonometry.

How To Ace It

  • Get a clear understanding about which types of problems show up on the test so you’ll know which formulas to memorize (since the ACT doesn’t supply any of them).
  • Calculators are allowed on the ACT Math as long as they meet certain criteria. Save time and avoid errors by bringing a permitted calculator with you to the test.

The Reading Test

On ACT Reading, you get four chunks of text: Prose Fiction, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science. One of the four may be a paired passage, with two related short selections instead of one long story. Your job is to read each passage and answer ten questions about its content.

How To Ace It

  • The ACT Reading section goes by fast. Practice your pace until you’re confident you can complete all four passages in 35 minutes.
  • Do the most interesting passage first and the least interesting one last.

The Science Test

ACT Science is really a test of how well you read and comprehend scientific writing, graphics, and illustrations. You’ll be asked about seven passages covering biology, chemistry, physics, and earth/space science. Only 3-4 questions out of 40 require you to apply knowledge beyond what’s given.

How To Ace It

  • Glance through the passages to see which one looks the easiest. Do that one first, then work your way down to the hardest at the end.
  • Don’t get stuck on hard scientific vocabulary. If you hit an unfamiliar word, chances are you don’t need to understand it in order to answer the questions.

The Writing Test

On the optional ACT essay, you analyze and compare three viewpoints on a topic, then argue for your own stance while still engaging with at least one of the given perspectives. You’ll also need to give relevant and persuasive examples to support your position.

ACT Writing is scored from 2 to 12 in each of four domains:

  • Ideas and Analysis
  • Development and Support
  • Organization
  • Language Use

How To Ace It

  • For this essay, pre-writing notes are essential.
  • Give good reasons why the opposing viewpoints are wrong.

Learning what subjects are on the ACT, and which specific question-types you’re likely to encounter, is a great way to boost your scores quickly. Prior to ACT testing day, make sure to also utilize proper test prep materials provided by The Princeton ReviewKaplanACT Online, and others.

Test Prep Advisor Staff

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The Test Prep Advisor staff is made up some of the world's foremost experts on standardized tests. Some of them have developed their own copyrighted techniques for preparation and others have published books that revolutionized the way people study. They all have years of experience as tutors and share a passion for helping people achieve (or exceed) their target scores.