All about ACT exam syllabus, pattern, dates, and more

ACT exam syllabus, pattern, and scoring 2021-2022

Last Updated on October 15, 2021 by iSchoolConnect

Wanna pursue your bachelor’s abroad? Read our comprehensive guide on the ACT test, which is a close competitor of the SATs, and tests a student’s readiness to start college. Learn about the ACT exam syllabus, eligibility criteria, test dates, and so much more!

Introduced in 1959 as a competitor of the SAT exam, ACT is an online / paper-based exam that tests if a student is ready to start college. Since the exam is now being accepted by all the four-year colleges in the US, students from all over the world can take the test if they wish to pursue their bachelor’s in the US. If you’re planning to do the same, you need to learn all the details about this test, including the ACT exam syllabus and pattern, its fees, registration procedure, and more. So, read on!

ACT exam full form and meaning

ACT, or the American College Testing exam, is a standardized test for undergraduates within and outside of the US, who wish to pursue their bachelor in America.

Even though the exam is majorly recognized by all four-year universities in the US, close to 200 institutions outside of the US also accept the ACT test scores.

The exam is a close competitor of the SAT, or the Scholastic Aptitude Test, and is considered just as good at measuring a student’s readiness for an undergraduate program.

ACT exam eligibility

The ACT organization does not list any age or gender prerequisites for a student to be eligible for the exam.

However, it is generally taken by high school students who are 13+ years of age so they may start college at a time convenient to them.

ACT exam pattern

The ACT exam is divided into four different sections – English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science – and lasts for 3 hours.

You can also opt to attempt a fifth section, the Writing Test, which lasts for another 40 minutes, bringing the total exam time to 3 hours and 40 minutes. Not taking up this option, however, will not affect your score in any way.

All the 215 questions you see in the test will be in the form of MCQs and not only your knowledge but also your time management skills.

Here is the breakdown of the exam-

SectionNumber of questionsTime allotted
English75 questions45 minutes
Mathematics60 questions60 minutes
Reading35 questions40 minutes
Science35 questions40 minutes
Writing1 prompt40 minutes

Each of these sections tests different aspects of your knowledge and skills. Let’s cover them one by one as we discuss the ACT syllabus.

ACT exam syllabus 

As long as you’re familiar with your high school syllabus, you should have nothing to worry about the ACT exam syllabus. The entire syllabus of the exam concerns what you have learned at school.

ACT English test

The English test consists of 5 passages with 15 questions per passage. Each of these questions will measure your grammar, punctuation, sentence formation, and comprehension.

Overall, the test focuses gives different weightage to these areas-

  1. Management of writing gets a medium weightage
  2. Language expertise has a low weightage
  3. Comprehensiveness has the highest weight

ACT Math test

The syllabus covered in the ACT Mathematics test includes-

  1. Pre-algebra (~14 questions)
  2. Elementary algebra (~10 questions)
  3. Intermediate algebra (~10 questions)
  4. Coordinate geometry (~9 questions)
  5. Plane geometry (~14 questions)
  6. Trigonometry (~14 questions)

Most of the questions you see will be in the form of word problems. What’s more, you can use the calculator provided for help with the Math section. But chances are, you may not need it.

ACT Reading test

This section consists of 4 different passages with 10 questions each. The passages themselves may be from any of these contexts – social science, natural science, humanities, and literary fiction.

Here, your interpretive, comprehension, and analytical skills will be tested.

The weightage given to these sections is as follows-

  1. Main idea gets the highest consideration
  2. Structure has a medium weightage
  3. Integration and analysis 

ACT Science test

A section only available in the ACT test, this bit of the exam will measure your interpretation, analysis, reasoning, evaluation, and problem-solving skills.

Your knowledge be tested on several subjects, including-

  1. Physics
  2. Biology
  3. Chemistry, and
  4. Earth Sciences

The number of passages in this section ranges from 5-7, with the following breakdown- 

  1. 2-3 Charts and Graphs passages
  2. About 2-3 Science Experiment passages, and
  3. 1 or 2 Fighting Scientists passages

The best part is that you can use this score to prove your mettle if you’re looking to pursue a STEM degree!

ACT Writing test

Even though optional, the ACT Writing Section is opted for by most of the test takers.

It measures your writing ability in terms of coherence, structure, and grammatical correctness.

Here, you will be given a debatable passage with 3 different perspectives. You are expected to take a position on the issue and justify it. 

Whatever stand you may take while writing, it will not matter. Only your thought process and expression skills will.

And remember – none of the questions in the ACT exam have negative marking. So we suggest you give it your best shot and select the best possible answer according to your evaluations.

What is a good ACT score?

MS in USA-tests
Before we start discussing what is a good ACT score, let’s understand how ACT scoring works.

Each section of the exam receives a score between 1 and 36. Your final score will be an average of the scores taken from each of them.

The Writing Section, on the other hand, is measured from 2 to 12 and does not affect your composite score.

They also combined your English and Reading scores to give you a separate English Language Arts (ELA) score and the exam also gives you a STEM score.

ACT also provides you with a range of sub-scores for each of the subject areas

Coming to the original question, the average ACT score hovers around 21, and any score above 31 is considered good.

However, if you’re targeting a top university, like one of the Ivy League schools, a minimum score of 34 would be required.

ACT fees

The charges to register for the ACT exam are different for American and international students. Moreover, those who opt for the ACT Plus Writing exam are charged more.

Let’s take a look at a comprehensive ACT fees sheet-

RequirementUS citizensInternational students
ACT (no writing)$55$150
ACT (with writing)$70$166.50
Late registration, test date change, or test center change$35$35
Sending reports to 5th and 6th colleges$13$13

How to register for the ACT exam?

US students can register for the ACT exam, which is held through both paper and computer-based mode, in 3 different ways-

  1. Online
  2. Via email, and
  3. Standby admittance

While the first two options are used by students who are registering well in advance, the Standby Admittance registration is for those students who have missed the regular period of registration.

Since the second and the third options are only for US-based citizens, international students end up opting for online registration.

The procedure for the same is as follows-

  1. Gather all your credentials, including your name, email, address, high school grades, a digital headshot, your identity proof, and a credit card
  2. Head to the official ACT website and create an account, which will allow you to register, send or view scores, and go for additional tests in the future
  3. Memorize your User ID and Password
  4. Tap on the register button and carefully fill in the answers to all the questions, which include queries about your personal information, high school, career plans, financial aid need, etc.
  5. Sign up for ACT Plus Writing if you want to appear for the Writing Section as well
  6. Pick out a date 
  7. Select which 4 colleges you want to send your test scores to and connect with any scholarship organizations you like
  8. Choose the test center closest to you
  9. Confirm that you are sure about all the information you have entered
  10. Pay the ACT fees, and
  11. Upload your photograph (make sure it has a plain background and that you’re not wearing a hat or glasses)

Make sure you register for the exam at least one month in advance of the test date.

ACT test dates 2021

While the exact dates change from one year to the next, there are 5 exams that happen annually.

Out of these, 3 exams take place between September and December, which is when most of the students take the test.

So, if you wish to be on the safer side, you can take the test in the April to July season first. Then, after having learned from your mistakes, you retake it later the same year!

The upcoming ACT test dates 2021 are-

16th and 17th April 2021 Register by 26th March 2021 (9th April + late fee)

11th and 12th June 2021 Register by 21st May 2021 (4th June + late fee)

16th and 17th July 2021 Register by 25th March 2021 (9th July + late fee)

What now?

We have now covered everything about the ACT exam – syllabus, pattern, scoring, how to register, and test dates.

But if you feel like there’s something missing, or if you have a doubt, feel free to drop a comment or reach out to us. We’d be happy to answer your questions.

In the meanwhile, you can start shortlisting US universities to enter into your ACT profile when registering for the exam.

All the best!

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