About the ACT

Frequently Asked Questions

Get answers to frequently asked questions and everything you need to know about the ACT exam.


What is the ACT?

The ACT is a standardized, multiple-choice exam required for admission to most undergraduate universities in the United States. The ACT tests English, Math, Reading, and Science reasoning skills and includes an optional essay section.

As is the case with most standardized tests, performing well on the ACT requires a combination of both knowledge and strategy. Students need to be familiar with grammar and math rules, but they also need to know how to manage all four sections effectively in order to maximize their score. An efficient, strategic test-taker will score much better than an otherwise bright, studious person who finds it difficult to enter the unique mindset of the ACT. So whatever your strengths, it makes sense to maximize your ability to take the test.

How is the ACT structured?

The ACT consists of four multiple choice sections (English, Math, Reading, and Science) and an optional Writing (essay) section. We do recommend that students take the Writing section because most colleges require it for admission. The sections are graded on a scale of 1-36 and the composite score is an average of the four multiple choice section scores. The writing/essay section is scored separately. All the multiple choice questions are weighted equally within each section, though they range from very easy to very difficult.

English: 75 questions – 45 minutes
Math: 60 questions – 60 minutes
Reading: 50 questions – 35 minutes
Science: 40 questions – 35 minutes
Essay: 40 minutes

What's a good ACT score?

The score goals for each student will be different. Grades are generally weighted more heavily than test scores in the admissions process. So students with higher GPAs can afford to have slightly lower ACT scores for admission to the same school as students with lower GPAs.

The mean score for the ACT is around 21. Schools generally publish the 25th to 75th percentile score range of their admitted students. This indicates that 50% of the students accepted scored in that range. For instance, the University of Washington reported 25th and 75th percentile scores of:

  • English: 25 to 32
  • Math: 26 to 32
  • Composite: 26 to 31

Another way to look at this data is that students with competitive GPAs who score above the 75th percentile have an extremely good chance of being accepted, while students with similar GPAs who score below the 25th percentile will likely need additional factors (recruited athlete, alumni parents, etc.) to gain admission.

Whatever your goals, a strong ACT score can not only help boost your chances for admission, but also make you eligible for scholarships. So contact us today and begin the process of learning how to maximize your ACT potential.

When should I take the ACT?

The ACT is now offered seven times per year: February, April, June, July (starting in 2018), September, October, and December. We recommend that you take the ACT for the first time no later than February of your junior year, so that you have the option of retaking the test in the spring or fall. However, no student should take the test before he or she has had time to adequately prepare for the exam.

Sandweiss Test Prep offers courses year-round in both Seattle and Bellevue for every test date. See our ACT course page for more info.

How do I register for the ACT?

The easiest way to register for the ACT is online at www.actstudent.org. The current cost of the test is $46.00 without the optional Writing section and $62.50 with Writing. You can also register by mail, either by going to the ACT, Inc. website or with registration materials found in the offices of most high school counselors. For a fee you can change your test date if necessary.

What's the difference between the ACT and SAT?

The ACT and SAT are both accepted by nearly every university and college in the United States. Colleges give no preference to one test over the other. The tests assess similar skills but one test may suit your test-taking style better than the other.

Some principal differences:

  • The ACT includes a Science section, while the SAT does not.
  • The two tests are approximately the same duration. SAT sections range from 25-65 minutes while the ACT sections range from 35-60 minutes.
  • The ACT tests a wider range of knowledge but is generally considered less tricky.
  • The ACT prohibits certain calculators such as the TI-89 that the SAT allows. (The ACT does permit other graphic calculators such as the TI-84). No calculator is allowed on one of the two SAT math sections.

Which test is right for you? Come into Sandweiss Test Prep for a test drive! We’ll give you a diagnostic test for each and we can see how you score.