Planning for College

ACT Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the ACT?

A: ACT is a test that determines what you know about core subject areas, such as math, reading, science, and English. The test helps determine if you have the foundation to succeed in college. Your score represents your level of college readiness.

Q: Should I take the ACT or SAT?

A: It's a good idea to take both as a practice session to get a feel for which one you feel more comfortable with, and then make your decision on which to take based on that experience.

Q: How can I prepare for the ACT?

A: Prepare early at the beginning of high school. Some students assume they should take easy classes to get a better GPA, but the more you learn during high school, the better you'll do on the ACT.
Talk with your high school counselor to make sure you sign up for the right classes. At a minimum, you'll want to take:

  • Four years of English
  • Three years of math (algebra 1, 2, and geometry)
  • Three years of social sciences
  • Three years of natural sciences (general science, biology, chemistry, and physics

Q: Is the ACT looked at more than your GPA?

Admissions officers look at both, as well as many other factors. They consider your test results, grades, extracurricular activities, essays, and more.

Q: Are there essay questions on the ACTs?

A: Yes, there is an optional essay component to the ACT. When you register to take the test, you can choose whether you want to complete the essay portion. If you do, you'll be given one prompt and have 30 minutes to write the essay.

Q: Is the ACT translated into other languages?

A: No, since they're testing on college readiness, the test is in English. However, test prep materials are available in English and Spanish. If English isn't your first language you'll want to make sure to have a good understanding of the language before making the transition to college.

Q: How early should I take practice exams?

A: Check to see if your high school administers the EXPLORE and PLAN tests in preparation for the ACT. Many schools do so for 8th and 9th graders. The results of these tests give you information early on about where your strengths and weaknesses are. This also helps your teachers understand how best to help you. If your school doesn't offer the EXPLORE and PLAN tests, you can take the ACT and compare your results against college readiness benchmarks.

Q: Where can you take practice exams?

A: Visit to find the dates and locations where practice exams will be given. There you can also find sample questions, test tips, and more. You can also buy a test prep course that includes two practice exams. When you register for the product, you'll enter your scores and the system will create a curriculum based on your strengths and weaknesses. If you haven't taken the test already, you'll be asked a few questions to help determine your strengths and weaknesses.

Q: What are some common mistakes that students make in preparing for the ACT?

A: Many students cram for the test, but spending a weekend of prep isn't enough. Be sure to allow for test prep at least six weeks in advance. Set aside an hour a day every day for six weeks to review test prep and practice test materials. Concentrate on the areas you feel you're weakest in.

Q: What are the advantages of taking the ACT early?

A: Colleges buy student names from both ACT and SAT testing agencies, so once you take the test you'll likely receive communications from some colleges and universities. If you wait until your senior year to take the test, by that time the schools may not necessarily be looking to increase their pool of applicants.

Q: Should I take the test as much as possible in 10th and 11th grade?

A: Don't go to the extreme. Start taking the ACT in your junior year so you get an understanding of where you stand and where the gaps are so you have some time to work on them during the summer and early in your senior year. Give yourself enough of a window to take the test and then retake it again with some preparation.

Q: What can I do if I'm having trouble in a particular area?

A: Talk with a teacher or counselor and ask them for help building up your skills in this area. Also, read more. Developing strong reading skills helps with the reading as well as the science sections of the test.

Q: Where can international students take the ACT?

A: There are test sites in numerous locations around the world. Visit for details.

Q: What tips can you share about taking the test?

A: The #1 mistake students make is mulling too long on questions or skipping questions. If you don't know the answer to a question, don't let it slow you down. The ACT doesn't penalize you for guessing.

Q: What are some ways to stay focused during the exam?

A: Make test prep part of your daily routine for the six weeks prior to the test. This will help you to concentrate during the test. Also, sleep is a big factor. Be sure you stick to a certain routine. If you change your routine it can hurt your focus.

Q: What else can I do to be sure I do well on the test?

A: As you get closer to the test date, be sure to get enough rest and keep a regular routine. Be sure to have breakfast in the morning.

Q: How soon do I get my test results?

A: Usually 4-8 weeks after you take the test

Q: What is a perfect score on the ACT?

A: 36 is a perfect score.

Q: How many students get a perfect score on the ACT?

A: From the graduating class of 2009, there were 1.5 million students. Of those, only 300 got a perfect score.