ACT, or the American College Testing exam, is a standardised test for admission to undergraduate schools/colleges in the US and Canada. Along with the universities in the US, around 200 institutions outside of the US also accept the ACT test scores.
In this guide, we will outline the ACT exam pattern and syllabus for 2023.
What is the ACT Exam?
The ACT exam is an online / paper-based examination for undergraduate admissions in the US and other countries. The ACT exam evaluates the student’s college preparation and is conducted by ACT, a non-profit organization. Almost every university in the US accepts ACT scores.
ACT Exam Pattern 2023
The ACT exam pattern is pretty simple, having 215 multiple-choice questions in four sections with senior secondary difficulty levels. The average score in the ACT exam is 21 on a scale of 1-36. There is no passing score, but getting a high score will make admissions more comfortable at prestigious and renowned universities.
The ACT exam has four sections – English, mathematics, science, and reading. Each section tests different aspects of the candidate’s knowledge and skills. There is also an optional 5th section, the writing section. However, not opting for the writing section will not affect your score. The total duration of the ACT exam is 3 hours, and the optional writing section adds another 40 minutes to the duration.
|Section||Total Number of Questions||Allotted Time|
|English||75 questions||45 minutes|
|Mathematics||60 questions||60 minutes|
|Science||35 questions||40 minutes|
|Reading||35 questions||40 minutes|
|Writing (optional)||1 essay||40 minutes|
ACT Exam Syllabus
The ACT Exam is based on high school subjects, and the ACT syllabus mainly focuses on the senior secondary level.
The ACT syllabus consist of four section – English, Mathematics, Science and reading.
ACT Syllabus – English
The English section is the first section of the ACT exam and contains 75 multiple choice questions from 5 passages. This section tests the candidate’s usage and mechanics, and rhetorical skills.
The usage and mechanics deal with understanding grammar rules, punctuation, and sentence structure. The questions focus on punctuation, pronouns, antecedent, verb, modifiers, verb formation, idiomatic usage, shifts in construction, and placement of modifiers.
The rhetorical skills deal with understanding the passage, and the questions focus on choosing appropriate words, managing sentence elements, maintaining the tone, testing the relevance of statements, and organizing ideas.
The English section is subdivided into three categories. These are
- Production of Writing (30 – 32%): This section evaluates the candidate’s ability to analyze, understand, and produce the given passage with proper sentences and words, and also maintain the structure, tone, and flow of a passage.
- Knowledge of Language (12 – 18%): This section evaluates the candidate’s proficiency in the English language, consistency in the tone, and selection of words and phrases.
- Conventions of Standard English (50 – 55%): This section has the most weightage in the English section and evaluates the candidate’s command of sentence formation, punctuation, and grammar usage.
ACT Syllabus – Mathematics
The mathematics section has 12th-grade straightforward and complex mathematics questions to test the student’s skills in applying varied concepts, understanding connections, and solving complex problems. The candidates can use the calculator in this section.
The mathematics section is subdivided into two sections: Essential Skills and Higher Mathematics.
1. Essential Skills
This section contains complex problems like proportional relationships, rates, percentages, median, average, and expressing numbers in different ways.
2. Higher Mathematics
The higher mathematics section contains direct questions to test the candidate’s knowledge of formulas, concepts, and fundamental mathematical basics. The various topics in the higher mathematics section are:
|Pre-algebra||20 – 25%||14||number problems, divisibility, percentages, fractions, square roots, ratios, mean, median, mode, factors, primes, multiples, probability, place values, absolute values, exponents, series|
|Elementary algebra||15 – 20%||10||quadratic equations, substitution, simplifying expressions, linear equations, inequalities, multiplying binomials|
|Intermediate algebra||15 – 20%||9||logarithms, functions, equations, matrices, inequalities, sequences and patterns, complex numbers|
|Coordinate geometry||15 – 20%||9||surface area, volume, lines and angles, properties of circles, triangles, parallelograms, and other shapes|
|Plane geometry||20 – 25%||14||inequalities, distance and mid-points, slope calculation, line equation, conic sections.|
|Trigonometry||5 – 10%||4||trigonometric identities and graphs, graphing trigonometric functions, trigonometric equations|
ACT Syllabus – Reading
The reading section tests the candidate’s logical reasoning and interpretation skills, along with English language proficiency. This section contains four passages from four different genres – social studies, prose fiction, natural science, and humanities, with each passage having 10 questions.
The social studies passage has questions from biography, anthropology, psychology, history, archaeology, geography, sociology, and more. The prose fiction passage has questions from novels, memoirs, short stories, personal essays, and more. The natural science passage has questions from meteorology, astronomy, botany, geology, microbiology, anatomy, zoology, and more. The humanities passage has questions from theatre, art, dance, film, music, television, ethics, architecture, radio, and more.
The reading section focuses on 3 main things.
Key ideas and details (55 – 60%): The candidate must identify the passage’s main idea and summarize it accurately to draw a logical relation between the sentences.
Craft and structure (25 – 30%): The candidate must identify the meaning of the words and phrases and analyze the author’s choice of words, his perspective, and the structure of the text.
Integration of knowledge and ideas (12 – 18%): The candidate must evaluate the reasoning, understand the author’s claim, and make connections between texts.
ACT Syllabus – Science
The science section tests the candidate’s interpretation, analysis, reasoning, evaluation, and problem-solving skills. It does not test a candidate’s science-based knowledge; rather, it tests reading and reasoning skills on science-related passages.
The science section contains a total of 40 multiple-choice questions from 7 passages. The passage topics revolve around physics, chemistry, biology, and earth sciences and include tables, charts, and graphs.
The science section questions are divided into 3 categories:
- Interpretation of Data (45- 50%): These questions test the candidate’s ability to analyze and manipulate scientific data, graphs, tables, and diagrams.
- Scientific Investigation (20- 30%): These questions test the candidate’s ability to understand science-related questions like procedures, experimental tools, comparisons, modifications, etc.
- Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results (25- 35%): These questions test the candidate’s ability to analyze divergent viewpoints, make predictions based on the scientific phenomenon, and formulate conclusions.
ACT Syllabus – Writing
Even though the writing section is optional, it is opted for by most test takers. The writing section tests the candidate’s writing ability in terms of coherence, structure, and grammatical correctness. This section contains a short passage with three different viewpoints. The candidates must thoroughly analyze the viewpoints to provide an illustrated write-up by identifying flaws in reasoning and writing the merits and demerits. It does not matter what the candidate’s viewpoint is; only the candidate’s thought process and expression skills matter.
The writing skills of the candidate are judged on the following parameters:
- Ideas & Analysis: The candidates will be judged on creating new ideas and content analysis.
- Development & Support: The candidates will be judged on the presentation of discussions, arguments, and ideas.
- Organization: The candidates will be judged on the article’s structure, audience engagement, and explanation of the facts and their relations.
- Language Use & Conventions: The candidates will be judged on the level of English used, word usage, style, and grammar.
Benefits of ACT Exam to students
There are several benefits to taking the ACT exam for students. The top 3 benefits of taking the ACT Exam are:
- The ACT Exam is a universally accepted exam for college admission. Almost every university in the US accepts ACT scores.
- It is a curriculum-based test, not an aptitude or IQ test. The questions are based on what is taught in the high school curriculum, so students are more comfortable with the ACT Exam than the other tests.
- It is value for money as ACT is a not-for-profit organization, so it is committed to providing services at the minimum possible cost.
Summary of ACT Exam Pattern & Syllabus
|English||45 minutes||75 questions||
|Mathematics||60 minutes||60 questions||
|Reading||40 minutes||35 questions||
|Science||40 minutes||35 questions||
|Writing (optional)||40 minutes||1 essay||
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How many total sections are in the ACT Exam?
The ACT Exam has 4 sections – English, mathematics, science, and reading. There is also an optional 5th section, the writing section. Each section tests different aspects of the candidate’s knowledge and skills.
2. What is the total duration of the ACT Exam?
The total duration of the ACT Exam is 3 hours. However, if you opt for the optional writing section, then the total duration will be 3 hours and 40 minutes.
3. How many questions are there in the ACT Exam?
The ACT Exam has 215 multiple-choice questions in four sections with senior secondary difficulty levels. The English section has 75 questions, the mathematics section has 60 questions, the science section has 35 questions, and the reading section has 35 questions.
4. What does the English section of the ACT Exam measure?
The English section measures the candidate’s understanding of grammar rules, punctuation, sentence structure, and the passage.
5. What does the Mathematics section of the ACT Exam measure?
The mathematics section measures the student’s skills in applying varied concepts, understanding connections, and solving complex problems.
6. What does the Science section of the ACT Exam measure?
The science section measures the candidate’s interpretation, analysis, reasoning, evaluation, and problem-solving skills.
7. What does the Reading section of the ACT Exam measure?
The reading section measures the candidate’s logical reasoning and interpretation skills, along with English language proficiency.
8. How often can you take the ACT Exam?
You can take the ACT no more than 12 times and only once per national test date. Most students take the test twice, once as a junior and then as a senior.