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ACT Study Requirements

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This present sample research paper will cover the ACT, or the American College Testing organization exam. The ACT is devoted to helping

“people achieve education and workplace success through over 15 million assessments annually, from elementary grades through postsecondary and career levels".

The ACT test is generally delivered in high school as a planning tool to assess academic readiness for college in students.

What does the ACT cover?

Types of questions 

  • The test contains 75 English and rhetorical skills questions; 60 mathematical skills questions;
  • 40 reading comprehension questions; 40 natural sciences questions;
  • and 1 optional writing test prompt.

Timing of the test

  • To complete the English portion, students are given 45 minutes;
  • 60 minutes for mathematics;
  • 35 minutes for reading;
  • 35 minutes for science;
  • 40 minutes for the optional writing portion of the test.

The ACT website provides online prep, practice tests, and test tips, as well as the “ACT Test Question of the Day” in order to help students prepare for the test, which can help determine admission into colleges and universities following high school graduation.

English skill required

The English and rhetorical skills portion of the test covers subjects such as punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure, writing strategy, writing organization, and writing style. Students should have a strong enough grasp of spelling, vocabulary, and “rote recall of rules of grammar” to complete this portion; these specific topics will not be tested on the ACT.

The English portion of the test is a series of five essays or written passages which the student reads thoroughly; the student then answers multiple-choice questions about the passages regarding their content and the author’s intention in writing them. The passages are chosen by the ACT panel, and are intended to by appropriate for student writing skill assessments, interests, and experiences. Questions may refer to underlined portions of the passage, another portion, or the entire passage, and “no change” may be one of the answer choices on many of the questions. A numbering system is also used in order to refer to the appropriate portion of the passage.

Math skills required

The mathematics portion of the ACT is intended to measure the mathematical skills of students during schooling up until grade 12; it presents multiple-choice questions to each student in an effort to determine that student’s mathematical skill set. The questions are often part of a larger series of questions on the same mathematical topic, such as graphing or fractions, and the basic knowledge of computational skills and common mathematical formulas is assumed and not referred to on the test.

More complicated formulas may be given on the test for the student’s reference, however, and calculators are allowed during test-taking. Keep in mind that only certain types of calculators are allowed for student use on the test; ACT’s calculator policy allows Texas Instruments, Hewlett-Packard, Casio, hand-held, tablet, or laptop computers, and calculator built into cell phones or other electronic communication devices.

Certain calculators that can store programs or documents are allowed only after they have been modified to remove or disable computer algebra system functionality programs, tape, sound, infrared data ports, or power cords.

The actual content of the ACT mathematics portion includes

  • 20-25 percent pre-algebra
  • 15-20 percent elementary algebra
  • 15-20 percent intermediate algebra
  • 15-20 percent coordinate geometry
  • 20-25 percent plane geometry
  • 5-10 percent trigonometry.

Reading comprehension skills required

The reading comprehension test portion of the ACT requires students to “derive meaning” from different texts included within the test. Students must demonstrate their reading comprehension abilities through referring to explicit statements within the reading texts and reasoning about the texts in order to determine their implicit meanings.

  • The questions on this portion of the ACT will ask students to determine the main ideas of a text
  • understand the sequence of events in the texts; find and interpret the meaning behind specific details
  • make comparison between portions of one text or between portions of two different texts
  • understand causal relationships between events in a text
  • analyze the author or narrator’s voice, style, or method
  • draw generalizations about the texts read
  • and finally determine the meaning or definition of context-dependent phrases, statements, and words.

The layout of the reading portion of the ACT is in four sections of one long or two short prose passages. These passages will be written at the reading level of first-year college curricula, and will be representative of the types of reading that will be expected during the first year of college or university. The passages will be on different topics, including but not limited to literary narrative or prose fiction, social studies, natural sciences, and the humanities. Multiple-choice questions will be asked of the student, and will not include rote recall of facts that are not included in the passage, particular vocabulary words, or formal logic rules.

Science skills required

The natural science portion of the ACT test is meant to measure student skill sets in interpretation, evaluation, analysis, reasoning, and problem-solving that may be required in a college science course. Note that no calculators are allowed on the science portion of the ACT. Students who take the ACT are expected to be

“in the process of taking the core science course of study (three years or more) that will prepare them for college-level work and have completed a course in Earth science and/or physical science and a course in biology”.

A few different sets of scientific information will be presented to the student on the test, and multiple-choice answers will be offered in reference to these questions. Scientific information will be presented in a data representation format (30-40 percent), research summary format (45-55 precent), or conflicting viewpoints format (15-20 percent). Data representation format consists of scientific information in the form of graphs, tables, or other schematic formats; research summaries will consist of descriptions of two or more related experiments; and conflicting viewpoints data will consist of one or more related hypotheses or inconsistent views on a scientific subject or experiment.

The natural science portion of the ACT is meant to allow students to generalize from information given to determine new information, make predictions, or draw conclusions; critically examine and determine the relationship between information and conclusions or hypotheses drawn from that information; and recognize and comprehend the basic features and concepts related to the given information.

The science content of this portion of the ACT includes questions about

  • biology
  • chemistry
  • physics,
  • geology
  • astronomy and meteorology.

General and introductory knowledge of these subjects is necessary in order to do well on this portion of the test, although advanced knowledge in these fields is of course not necessary. On this portion, scientific reasoning skills are more important than rote recall of scientific information, mathematics abilities, or reading abilities (although all may be required to some extent).

The data representation section of the test will use graphs or tabular material found in science journals and texts to measure science skills such as interpretation of scatterplots, graph readings, and table information. The research summaries section will be written and graphic presentation of one or more related experiments; the student is asked to focus on experiment design and experimental results interpretation.

The conflicting viewpoints portion of the test gives the students several conflicting views or hypotheses which are based on “differing premises or incomplete data”; the student must understand, analyze, and compare the alternative to reach a specific conclusion about the data presented.

Optional writing test skills required

The writing test portion of the ACT is optional, and may not be presented on all ACT tests administered. If this portion is on the test, it is usually the final section, and asks students to analyze and evaluate perspectives in a text, state and develop a personal perspective on the text subject, and finally explain the relationship of the personal perspective and that of the perspectives in the texts.

Note that scoring will not be based on the personal perspective the student takes, but on the student’s ability to express that perspective sufficiently enough to argue a point.

How to take the ACT

The ACT website provides a page on tips for taking the ACT and completing the sections in a timely, efficient manner. The webpage recommends that each student read the instructions on the front cover of the test booklet before beginning the test, and these instructions are also provided on the website for prior review before the test-taking date. It is also essential to read the specific directions for each test section carefully, as they may differ from section to section.

In the rush of a timed test, students may inadvertently skim over portions of the test; however, reading each question carefully (often more than once) assures that simple mistakes are not made in question answers. In conjunction with the previous recommendation, too much time should not be devoted to one section of the test; the website recommends that students pace themselves.

The five minute reminder announcement at the end of each timed portion is a good time to pick up the pace of answering questions or review the answers to finished questions.

Finally, the following advice is listed on the ACT website, covering basic issues students may have when taking the ACT:

  • use soft lead No. 2 pencils with good erasers, not mechanical pencils or ink pens
  • answer the easy questions, then go back to answer the harder questions if time permits
  • use a process of elimination on very difficult questions for an educated guess; answer every question
  • recheck your work if you finish early; mark answers properly and do no mark or alter any questions or continue writing after time is called; and practice.

Studying for the ACTs? Try one of these 10 study apps.

Works Cited

ACT. “About ACT.” ACT. ACT, Inc., 2015. Web. n.d.

ACT. “Can I Use a Calculator?” ACT. ACT, Inc., 2015. Web. n.d.

ACT. “Content Covered by the ACT English Test.” ACT. ACT, Inc., 2015. Web. n.d.

ACT. “Content Covered by the ACT Mathematics Test.” ACT. ACT, Inc., 2015. Web. n.d.

ACT. “Content Covered by the ACT Science Test.” ACT. ACT, Inc., 2015. Web. n.d.

ACT. “Description of the ACT.” ACT. ACT, Inc., 2015. Web. n.d.

ACT. “English Test Description.” ACT. ACT, Inc., 2015. Web. n.d.

ACT. “Mathematics Test Description.” ACT. ACT, Inc., 2015. Web. n.d.

ACT. “Overview.” ACT. ACT, Inc., 2015. Web. n.d.

ACT. “Reading Test Description.” ACT. ACT, Inc., 2015. Web. n.d.

ACT. “Science Test Description.” ACT. ACT, Inc., 2015. Web. n.d.

ACT. “Test Prep.” ACT. ACT, Inc., 2015. Web. n.d.

ACT. “Tips for Taking the ACT.” ACT. ACT, Inc., 2015. Web. n.d.

ACT. “Writing Test Description.” ACT. ACT, Inc., 2015. Web. n.d.



Ultius, Inc. "ACT Study Requirements." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. Ultius Blog, 23 Oct. 2015. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/act-study-requirements.html

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Ultius, Inc. "ACT Study Requirements." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. October 23, 2015. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/act-study-requirements.html.

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Ultius, Inc. "ACT Study Requirements." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. October 23, 2015. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/act-study-requirements.html.

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