Everything You Need to know about the ACT – Edukasyon.ph
Study Abroad

Everything You Need to know about the ACT

About the ACT and ACT Preparation

The ACT is a nationally and internationally administered standardized test that evaluates verbal and mathematical abilities in prospective college students. Produced by ACT, Inc., the exam is used by colleges and universities as a measure of college readiness, and in some cases, for course placement purposes. The ACT was first offered in 1959 and has since undergone several changes toward its current version. The test was created as an alternative to the SAT, the other major standardized test for colleges and universities, and both assessments are accepted by all postsecondary institutions in the United States that require an admission exam. The ACT is offered as both a paper and computer test. Outside of the United States (including in the Philippines), the computer version is the only one available to students. Typically, high school juniors take the ACT, and it is common for students to take the test again if their scores are too low.

The ACT is comprised of four mandatory sections—English, Math, Reading, and Science—as well as an optional writing section. Within each section, students are tested on the skills and knowledge that form the core of their high school curricula, such as English usage and mechanics, textual interpretation, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. In total, students will be faced with 215 questions on the multiple-choice portion: 75 English, 60 Math, 40 Reading, and 40 Science. The length of the ACT is two hours and 55 minutes (without the writing section) or three hours and 35 minutes (with the writing section). The best way to familiarize yourself with the exam is to take a free ACT practice test on the Manhattan Review website.

ACT English

On testing day, students will complete the ACT English section first. They will have 45 minutes to answer 75 questions, which cover three categories: Production of Writing (topic development, organization, unity, and cohesion), Knowledge of Language (word choice, style, and tone), and Conventions of Standard English (punctuation, usage, and sentence structure). Students are not tested on spelling or vocabulary on the ACT English section. All 75 questions are multiple choice with four answer options. These questions will be divided about equally among five reading passages, each of which has been chosen based not only on its usefulness for testing English skills, but also on its suitability for high school students’ interests and experiences.  

ACT Math

Following the ACT English section, students will take the ACT Math section. They are allowed 60 minutes to answer 60 multiple-choice questions with five answer options each. The ACT Math section is organized in three categories: Preparing for Higher Math (which includes questions on number and quantity, algebra, functions, geometry, and statistics and probability), Integrating Essential Skills (problems that combine several basic mathematical abilities), and Modeling (exercises that involve understanding, interpreting, and improving models). Calculus is not tested on the ACT. Questions are grouped by difficulty rather than subject area and become increasingly challenging throughout the section. Although students will need to recall certain basic formulas, the section’s emphasis is on the ability to reason mathematically rather than memorization.

ACT Reading

After finishing the ACT Math section, students have a short break, which is followed by the ACT Reading section. This section consists of 40 multiple-choice questions in 35 minutes, and each question has four possible answers. Students are presented with four 700-800-word reading passages accompanied by ten questions each. The passages are separated by genre and will always be presented in the following order: prose fiction or literary narrative, social science, humanities, and natural science. Questions focus on the following skill areas: Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Reading passages usually include questions in all of these areas.      

ACT Science

The ACT science section is the final (and often most feared) section of the multiple-choice portion of the ACT. Students will be tasked with answering 40 questions in 35 minutes, all of which are multiple-choice with four possible answers. Scientific subjects are grouped into four categories: biology, chemistry, earth/space sciences, and physics. Students are tested on their ability to interpret, analyze, evaluate, reason, and problem-solve in the context of scientific findings, experiments, and arguments. Questions are divided among six passages with six to seven questions each, and there are three passage formats: Data Representation, Research Summaries, and Conflicting Viewpoints.

Although students are expected to have a fundamental understanding of the science subjects they have studied in high school, the science test on the ACT is predominantly about answering questions on the provided reading passages and graphic representations rather than mere memorization of facts from science class. ACT Science question types include Interpretation of Data, Scientific Investigation, and Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results.

ACT Writing

The writing test within the ACT is entirely optional, although it is required for admission to many colleges and universities, such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth, among others. Students who do choose to take this section will have 40 minutes to answer one essay prompt. Students are given a description of an issue as well as three different perspectives regarding the issue. Test-takers are asked to evaluate and analyze each of the perspectives and express their own opinion. They are further expected to draw a relationship between their perspectives and the ones provided by the text. In addition to addressing these three areas, students must also demonstrate their capabilities in expressing judgments, focusing on the topic, developing ideas, organizing ideas, and using language.

ACT Administration

The majority of students take the ACT in either their junior or senior year of high school, with many students taking the test in both years in an effort to increase scores. Most students improve their scores on subsequent test attempts, highlighting the importance of practice and test preparation.

On the day of the test, administrators and examinees follow a strict schedule mandated by ACT. Testing staff will arrive at 7:30 a.m. for a 7:45 a.m. briefing session, and students are required to arrive no later than 8:00 a.m., at which point they will present their identification materials and be directed to a seat (students are not allowed to choose their own seats). At approximately 8:30 a.m., but no later than 9:00 a.m., verbal instructions regarding the exam will begin.

After the first two tests (English and Math), students will then have a short break, during which they can go to the bathroom or rest before continuing the test. Whether or not students are allowed to talk quietly amongst themselves during the break is at the discretion of the testing staff. Students who are taking the ACT without the optional Writing section are normally done at about 12:35 p.m., while those who have chosen to take the Writing portion will have an additional break before the essay and exit the testing center around 1:35 p.m.

ACT Scoring

A score report for the ACT includes five main results: a scaled score from 1-36 for each of the subject areas (English, Math, Reading, and Science), and a composite score of 1-36, which is the average of all of the subject area scaled scores. These scaled scores are derived from raw scores through a process of translation that ensures that scores indicate the same skill level regardless of the testing date and specific variation of the test (ACT obviously cannot administer the exact same test to everyone). This process, however, is not akin to score curving, in which scores are calculated relative to other students who take the test the same day. Therefore, there is no strategy for selecting a test date that is “easier” than any other.

ACT writing scores are reported on a scale of 2-12, the sum of two distinct readers providing scores from 1-6 in four areas: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. Students receive scores of 2-12 in each of these areas as well as an average overall writing score (also 2-12).

ACT History

“ACT” stands for “American College Testing,” but the assessment is now referred to by its acronym only. The test was introduced in November of 1959, and it included sections on English, Math, Social Studies, and Natural Sciences. In 1989, the Social Studies portion was changed to a Reading section and the Natural Sciences section was changed to a Science Reasoning test. An optional Writing test was added in 2005.

The ACT first became more popular than the rival SAT in 2011 (about 1.67 million test-takers versus 1.66 million for the SAT), and it remains so. In general, the ACT is more widely used in the Southern, Midwestern, and Rocky Mountain parts of the United States, and some states require all of their high school students to take the ACT. The overall increase in ACT usage can be interpreted as a response to questions and criticisms surrounding the fairness and effectiveness of the SAT.


The SAT and ACT are both major standardized tests commonly required for admission to U.S. colleges and universities. There are many similarities between the two exams. Both include math, reading, and optional essay sections; passage-based reading and English/writing questions; and a largely multiple-choice orientation. The price is roughly the same, with the ACT costing $50.50 without writing and $67.00 with writing and the SAT at $47.50 without the essay and $64.50 with the essay. The ACT and the SAT have a number of differences, such as length. The ACT is two hours and 55 minutes without writing and three hours and 35 minutes with writing. The SAT is a bit longer at three hours without writing and three hours and 50 minutes with writing. Another difference is structure. The ACT’s order of sections is English, Math, Reading, Science, and optional Writing; the SAT’s order of sections is Reading, Writing and Language, Math—No Calculator, Math—Calculator, and the optional Essay. Each test has its own distinct scoring system. The ACT has a 1-36 range for each section and a total score that is also 1-36, while SAT scores are reported from 200-800 per section for a combined total score of 400-1600. While it’s possible that there are preferences at some schools, both assessments are accepted by all major colleges and universities within the U.S. For detailed info on the SAT, please visit the Manhattan Review SAT page.


Though the PreACT has a good deal of relevance to ACT preparation, there are several distinctions between the two tests. Launched in 2016, the PreACT is less difficult, as it’s devised for 10th graders. The PreACT has the same four sections as the ACT (English, Math, Reading, and Science), but there is no Writing section. According to ACT Chief Officer Marten Roorda, “PreACT will provide valuable insights on college and career readiness to students, educators and schools while students still have time to make adjustments and improve. It’s an affordable tool to help empower students and educators with information they can use to better prepare for the ACT and the future.” The cost of the PreACT is $12 per student tested. More information on the PreACT can be found at www.act.org/preact.

ACT Computer-Based Test

A computer-based version of the ACT is now available to students taking the ACT outside of the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada. The test’s content and scoring are the same as the traditional paper test, and universities accept scores from either version. Students are allowed scratch paper with the computer version of the ACT, just as they are taking a paper-based test. This version was introduced through a pilot program several years ago, and it is the new norm for students taking the exam in the Philippines.

There are helpful features on the computer version of the ACT, such as navigation buttons, a magnifier to view graphs and illustrations more easily, a navigation bar, a highlighter, a line reader, and an answer eliminator/answer masker (which allows test-takers to hide the answers that are incorrect). The computer test also has a timer, located in the top right-hand corner of the screen.  

Test Centers in the Philippines

Luckily, there are several places to take the ACT in the Philippines. As of the time of this posting, the following institutions (and test center codes) facilitate computerized ACT testing: SME Network Philippines Training GAC in Cebu City (873560); Veritas English Teaching and Learning in Muntinlupa City (870210); The Forum for International Studies in Pasig City Manila (867100); and the International School Manila in Taguig City (867480). Each of these institutions are accessible and easy to contact online.

ACT Strategy

Independent experts generally agree that ACT prep courses and private tutoring are the most effective available options, primarily because they offer interaction with an experienced teacher. This viewpoint is also supported by independent research and many education professionals. Some studies have shown average score increases of nearly 8-12 points per section for students who received professional ACT instruction, and these score gains can substantially improve a student’s chances of acceptance to their preferred institutions. The average ACT score at the present time is 21, yet at top universities such as Stanford, Columbia, and Princeton, the average ACT score was 33, and Harvard’s average ACT score is 34. Studying with a private tutor or in a classroom environment can be of great value and can quite frankly make a significant difference in your score percentile. For example, moving your score from the general average of 21 to 24 already puts you in the 75th percentile. To find out about the ACT preparation options with Manhattan Review in the Philippines, please check out this website or directly fill out this form to receive further information.

About Manhattan Review:
Manhattan Review is an international test prep firm that mainly offers preparation for admissions tests needed to apply to US-based universities and schools, including the SAT, GMAT, LSAT, SAT, ACT, SSAT, ISEE, and TOEFL. Founded in 1999 by Dr. Joern Meissner, an internationally renowned business school professor, the company helps students gain entrance to their desired degree programs by working to improve their admission test scores. Headquartered in New York City, Manhattan Review offers SAT Prep in the Philippines and many cities in Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Jakarta, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kukatpally, and Hong Kong. Please also check out our official website for Manhattan Review India.