Last Updated: August 07, 2024
ACT Syllabus and Format
ACT is divided into 4 sections which are English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. Unlike other competitive exams, ACT is a subject-oriented test that tries to evaluate a student based on the content they have learned in high school and how they can retain it. There is also a separate writing section along with these four subject tests which are completely optional. The syllabus that is used can be generalized into concepts that have been taught in school. Given the extensive amount of information, it can be overwhelming to summarize and learn everything. Therefore, here are the narrowed-down topics that cannot be avoided.
Over the years, ACT has brought about numerous changes. The ACT introduced an online testing option at select locations in the United States beginning in February 2024. Commencing in April 2025, students who choose to take online exams will experience enhanced flexibility and choices, a reduced test duration, and additional time to respond to each question. The enhancements will be applied to paper-based exams starting from September 2025. Educational institutions and districts will have access to these options beginning in the spring of 2026.
Types and Number of Questions and Time Allocation
The following lists each section's question count and time allotment:
Section | Number of Questions | Reporting Categories | Time Allocation per section |
English | 75 Questions | - Production of Writing (29-32%)
- Knowledge of Language (15-17%)
- Conventions of Standard English (52-55%)
| 45 minutes |
Mathematics | 60 Questions | - Preparing for higher math (57-60%)
- Number & Quantity (7-10%)
- Algebra (12-15%)
- Functions (12-15%)
- Geometry (12-15%)
- Statistics & Probability (8-12%)
- Integrating essential skills (40-43%)
- Modeling
| 60 minutes |
Reading | 40 Questions | - Key ideas and details (52-60%)
- Craft and structure (25-30%)
- Integration of knowledge and ideas (13-23%)
| 35 minutes |
Science | 40 Questions | - Interpretation of data (40-50%)
- Scientific investigation (20-30%)
- Evaluation of Models, inferences, and experimental results (25-35%)
| 35 minutes |
Writing(if opted) | 1 Essay | - | 40 minutes |
ACT Test Format
The four sections that are present in the ACT are given a total testing time of
2 hours and 55 minutes. The optional writing test is given an additional 40 minutes which would make the total time required for the test be
3 hours and 35 minutes.
Starting in April 2025, the test duration will be reduced from 195 minutes to
125 minutes and the
number of questions will be reduced by precisely 44 questions. The time divide for each section differs depending on the number of questions in each section and the nature of the questions. Understanding the breakdown of the time is important in learning pacing since the availability of time is less in ACT when compared to other competitive exams like SAT.
In
English, candidates will get a total time of 45 minutes for 75 questions. The format will be that of multiple-choice questions each with 4 choices. Calculating roughly, one will be required to answer a question in around 36 seconds each to have a little extra time for reading the extensive passages. A common strategy used in such questions would be to read the first sentence of each paragraph, read the question, and revisit the necessary paragraph to find the answer instead of meticulously reading the passage and then moving on to the questions.
The English section will be a 35-minute segment comprising 50 questions, commencing in April 2025.
In
Mathematics, there will be a total time of 60 minutes/1 hour for 60 questions. The ideal divide would be to attend one question in under a minute. The questions will all be in the multiple-choice format with 5 choices for each question.
The number of answer choices available for math questions will decrease from 5 to 4 beginning in April 2025. Strategic learning and shortcuts will be the only methods that can avail one’s time for such questions since solving every equation step by step would take way over a minute and leave no extra time to revisit questions candidates are unsure about.
The mathematics section will consist of 45 items and will last for 45 minutes, beginning in April 2025.
The
Reading section has 35 minutes in all for 40 questions which seems comparatively manageable in contrast to the English section. Both of these sections contain passage-based questions with a difference in the skills that are sought after. The questions are multiple choices with 4 choices each and have referring and reasoning-based questions.
Starting in April 2025, there will be a 40-minute reading portion, which will include 36 items.
The
Science section comprises 40 questions that have to be completed in 35 minutes. This section is similar in timing to the Reading section and has multiple-choice questions with 4 choices each. The questions generally contain data representation, research summaries, and questions with conflicting perspectives where students should exhibit skills in interpretation, analysis, reasoning, and problem-solving.
This section will be optional as of April 2025 and there will be a 40-minute science section consisting of 40 questions.
The optional
Writing section contains an essay that has to be written in under 40 minutes and mostly has an essay prompt for a question. They used to focus on multiple perspectives in the answers mandatorily but now require a minimum of just one perspective and a maximum of three perspectives.
The duration of this section will continue to be 40 minutes, following the changes to be implemented in April 2025.
English
In this section, they are trying to assess the candidate’s language use along with rhetorical skills. The questions are generally always related to the passages given and might include questions that judge the observation skills of the candidate along with their understanding of the language and its grammar. They also try to assess the candidate’s eye to comprehend the passages given for which the five different passages provided will be from five different fields. The main concepts that are questioned within language use are:
- Punctuation- which includes the understanding and sense the candidate has in using comma, semi-colon, colon, apostrophe, period, etc.
- Grammar-This section consists of concepts like subject-verb agreement, pronoun-antecedent agreement, adverbs, verbs, verb formation, etc.
- Sentence structure-Topics like clauses, modifiers, types of sentences, phrases, etc. are considered majorly here.
- Vocabulary-The vocabulary section of the ACT is included amongst the passages in questions like placing a word in the right context. Unlike the other aspects of the English section, this does not have a particular list of topics to go through. One can only learn as many words and meanings as possible by going over words that are normally asked for in the ACT. This can be prepared using flashcards.
Mathematics
This section of the test is further divided into two sections where one can use a calculator for the former and cannot use the calculator for the latter. The subject topics that are covered here are very high-school specific and can be listed as
- Algebra: The students need to resolve, plot, and simulate various expression kinds. Numerous types of equations, including exponential, polynomial, radical, and linear relationships, can be interpreted and used, to solve systems of equations, even if they can only be expressed as a straightforward matrix equation, and apply the answers to practical situations. This section is divided into the following 3 parts:
- Pre-Algebra-This would include concepts like variables. expressions, integers, solving equations, rational numbers, ratios, proportions, probability, percentages, area/volume, real numbers, and linear equations.
- Elementary Algebra-This focuses on topics like real and complex numbers, variables, and other algebraic quantities along with concepts like their rules of operation and geometric representations. Practically speaking, it involves problems for simplifying expressions, solving linear and quadratic equations, and multiplying binomials.
- Intermediate Algebra-This includes topics like systems of equations, complex numbers, sequences and patterns, inequalities, functions, matrices, and logarithms. It is considered to be an advanced level of algebra and hence most grid-in questions come from this part of the syllabus.
- Number and Quantity: The student must show that they understand both simple and complex number systems, as well as how to reason with numerical quantities in a variety of expression formats, such as vectors, matrices, and expressions with both integer and rational exponents.
- Geometry: In order to pass the test, candidates must apply their understanding of solids and shapes to ideas like surface area and volume measurements and congruence and similarity relationships and use trigonometric ratios and equations of conic sections to fill in the missing values in triangles, circles, and other figures as students apply their understanding to composite objects.
- Functions: Test takers must exhibit their understanding of function, including its definition, notation, representation, and use, make use of exponential, logarithmic, polynomial, piecewise, linear, and radical, modify and translate functions, as well as decipher and apply crucial graph features.
- Statistics & Probability: This section requires test-takers to Describe the distribution's center and spread, utilize and evaluate data collection techniques, recognize and simulate relationships in two-variable data, and determine the probability by identifying the relevant sample spaces.
- Trigonometry: This section has not been divided and consists of topics like solving triangles, trigonometric identities, graphs, graphing trigonometric functions, and solving trigonometric equations. It mostly appears in the critical thinking part of the paper.
Reading
The reading portion of the test assesses a candidate's ability to read closely, integrate information from various sources, and reason logically about texts using evidence. The questions center on the complementary abilities that readers must possess to effectively study written materials in various subject areas. When determining
scores, the reporting categories listed below are used:
- Key Ideas & Details: In this category, test takers must closely read texts to identify key themes and ideas; accurately summarize information and ideas; demonstrate a grasp of relationships; and draw logical inferences and conclusions, including knowledge of cause-and-effect, sequential, and comparative relationships.
- Craft & Structure: Test takers must ascertain the meanings of words and phrases in these questions, examine the rhetorical choices made by the author and the organization of the text, comprehend the goals and viewpoints of the author, evaluate the points of view of the characters, evaluate the rhetorical choices made by the author, distinguish between different viewpoints and information sources.
- Integration of Knowledge & Ideas: Test-takers in this category must comprehend the claims made by authors, distinguish between facts and opinions, and connect disparate texts that are connected by a common topic by using evidence. For some of the questions, they will need to assess the logic and supporting details from multiple sources as well as analyze the way writers put their points across.
- Visual and Quantitative Information: An element such as a graph, figure, or table that provides information pertinent to the reading task may be included with one passage. In the section with these numerical and visual components, some of the test questions will require candidates to recognize or analyze data from the graphic, or to combine data from the passage and the graphic to get the best response.
Science
As of April 2025, this section will be optional. The science portion assesses the ability to interpret, analyze, evaluate, reason, and solve problems that are necessary in the natural sciences. A series of multiple-choice questions follow each of the several real scientific scenarios that are presented in this section. Earth and space sciences (such as geology, astronomy, and meteorology), biology, chemistry, and physics are among the subjects covered. Three formats are used to present information in the science section:
- Data Representation: Information is shown in this format using graphics and tables that resemble content from science books and journals. This format's questions assess abilities such as identifying the connections between data in tables and graphs, performing interpolation and extrapolation, and converting tabular data into a graph.
- Research Summaries: The information in this format includes descriptions and findings from one or more connected studies. The questions center on how the experiments were planned and how the findings were interpreted.
- Opposing Points of View: This structure offers two or more accounts for the same scientific phenomenon that are incompatible with one another due to their different premises or inadequate data. The comprehension, evaluation, and comparison of opposing ideas or theories are the main topics of the questions.
Writing (Optional)
The writing section, if opted for, requires careful crafting of a compelling essay containing multiple perspectives and content in association with the prompt or topic provided.