ACT Test Pattern, Syllabus, and Scoring Guide

    Anam Shams Anam Shams
    Content Curator

    American College Testing (ACT) is a systemized test to assess the preparedness of high school students for universities across US. It is held in US and around the globe by ACT, the conducting body of same name.

    • It is a straightforward test, based on the syllabus and difficulty level of upto high school. Check ACT 2020 Registration
    • It is a multiple choice question type test except the Writing section.
    • The medium of exam is English only for Non – US countries as well.

    Below is the comprehensive ACT exam pattern, scoring scheme and Syllabus.

    Check ACT Preparation Tips, Books and Practice Tests

    ACT Pattern Highlights

    ACT has 4 tests – English, Math, Reading and Science as mandatory. It offers Writing test as optional called ACT Plus Writing.

    • Scores for the optional paper is awarded separately. Many colleges ask for the writing test which make is recommendable.
    • Each section is graded on a scale of 1 to 36 and composite score is the aggregate of all 4 tests.
    • Writing test is scored on a scale of 2 to 12 and it does not affect the average as it is awarded separately.
    • No negative marking is there in the test for wrong answers.

    Main points about the test is tabled below:

    Content of the TestEnglish, Math, Reading and Science. Optional test – Writing.
    Test OptionsOption 1 – ACT without Writing Option 2 – ACT Plus Writing
    Duration of the test2 hours 55 minutes (40 minutes extra for writing paper)
    Number of Questions215 (plus 1 for Writing)
    Type of QuestionsMultiple Choice Questions
    Negative MarkingNo Negative Marking

    The total test duration of the test is 2 hours and 55 minutes while additional 40 minutes is given to the students who opt for writing test. There are 215 questions of all tests combined and 1 essay question is attempted by the students after finishing the MCQs questions. Subject-wise distribution of questions and duration is tabulated below: 

    Name of the TestNo. of QuestionsDuration of TestType of Test
    English7545 minutesMCQs – 4 choices
    Mathematics6060 minutesMCQs – 5 choices
    Reading4035 minutesMCQs – 4 choices
    Science4035 minutesMCQs – 4 choices
    Writing1 essay40 minutes1 writing prompt

    The students who are approved as disabled or with low English proficiency will be given 50% additional time to attempt each section. For English they will have 70 minutes, 90 minutes for Mathematics, and 55 minutes for Reading and Science each. These students if taking Writing test will have 60 minutes to finish it.

    ACT Scoring Guide 2020

    ACT, the conducting body of American College Testing converts the marks of the students for each correct answer into a scale of 1 – 36 to make sure that no one is being benefitted or harmed by the difficulty level of the tests on different dates as it is not feasible to set the question papers with exact same difficulty level.

    Check ACT Scoring Guide, Calculator and Chart

    For each subject your raw score are converted to a scale score of range 1 – 36. The scale score of 4 subjects is then aggregated and divided by 4 and rounded to the nearest whole number which gives you the ACT Composite Score.

    Writing test is evaluated by two examiners on a scale of 1 – 6 based on 4 domains discussed below in the article. The final score is added and you are awarded on arrange of 2 – 12. This score is given separately so it does not affect the composite score. The scoring scheme is tabulated below:

    Name of the TestScoring Scheme
    English 1 – 36 marks
    Mathematics1 – 36 marks
    Reading1 – 36 marks
    Science1 – 36 marks
    Writing1 – 12 marks

    There is no negative marking in the test for any subject.

    ACT Syllabus 2020

    ACT contains 4 tests – English, Reading, Mathematics and Science along with an optional Writing test. It examines your knowledge you gained during your schooling years since the syllabus is embodied with the topics taught in the high school. The difficulty level of questions asked is similar to that of senior secondary level.

    Here is the Subject – wise descriptive syllabus:

    ACT English Syllabus

    In the English test, four or five passages and essays are given followed by questions based on them. The question will refer to a sentence/ stanza or paragraph given and offer 4 options to choose the correct one. Some question will also have the “No error” option. The test examines your editing, omitting, rephrasing and revising abilities.  The English test can be divided in three sections with specified weightage:

    • Production of Writing (29 – 32%): This section tests your understanding of the purpose and focus on a piece of writing. It involves topic development, organizing and cohesion which means how well and correctly you understand the written part.
    • Knowledge of Language (13 – 19%): This section will check your use of language and precise choice of words, style and tone.
    • Conventions of Standard English (51 – 56%): This section check your command over sentence structure and formation, punctuation and usage of grammar and mechanics to edit texts.

    ACT Reading Syllabus 

    In the Reading test, three long prose passages and two short prose passages will be given. The passages will have a relevant title, author and source and important background information as well so that student can have the idea about the purpose of the passages. The questions will not test the English proficiency of the students but their logical reasoning, understanding sequence of events, analyzing relationships and interpretation of text using evidences and significant details. The Reading test can be divided in three parts:

    • Key Ideas and Details (55 – 60%): This section requires students to determine idea and theme of the text, summarize information accurately, analyze relationships and draw logical inferences, consequences and conclusions.
    • Craft and Structure (25 – 30%): This sections asks you to understand what is in the author’s mind, why has he used these words to describe the person or situation or is he being sarcastic. Students will need to understand author’s purpose, perspective, point of view and choice of words based on the given information.
    • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (13 – 18%): This section will test you on how you differentiate between facts and opinions, use evidence to identify related and different texts and how the arguments and claims made using your reasoning.

    ACT Math Syllabus 

    In the Mathematics test students will be given two types of grade 12 level questions – straightforward and complex. The former will test your knowledge of formulas, topics, concepts and theorems while the later will test your skills of solving complex problems, applying varied concepts understanding connections and demonstrating fluency. The Mathematics test can be divided in two sections:

    • Higher Mathematics (57 – 60%): This section contains the basic and straightforward topics which you have studied upto grade 12. The topics with approximate weightage are:
    1. Number and Quantity (7-10%): Real and complex number systems, numerical quantity reasoning, integers, rational exponents, vectors and matices.
    2. Algebra (12 – 15%): Linear, polynomial, radical, exponential relationships, graphs, multiple type of expressions and simple matrix equations.
    3. Functions (12 – 15%): Definitions, notations, representations and application, linear, radical, piecewise, polynomial and logarithmic functions along with graphical representations.
    4. Geometry (12 – 15%): Shapes, surface area, volume, missing values in triangles, circles, and other shapes, trigonometric ratios and equations of the conic sections.
    5. Statistics and Probability (8 – 12%): Data collection methods, bivariate data, probabilities, sample space and distributions.
    • Essential Skills (40 – 43%): This section includes the complex problems such as rates and percentages, proportional relationships, area, surface area, volume, average, median and expressing numbers in different ways. An important topic in this part is Modeling which is how to use modelling skills to solve mathematical topics.

    ACT Science Syllabus 

    In the science test, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, interpretation and problem solving skills of the students is tested which is required in natural science. The questions will be based on actual scientific scenario from biology, chemistry, earth/space science, geology, astronomy, meteorology and physics. Only basics are required, no advance knowledge in required. The Science test is divided in three sections:

    • Data Interpretation (45 -50%): This section involves manipulation and analysis scientific data, tables, graphs and diagrams.
    • Scientific Investigation (20 – 30%): This section involves experimental tools, procedures, designs, controls, variables, comparisons, extensions and modification related to science.
    • Experimental Models, Inferences and Results (25 – 35%): This section involves judgment of scientific information and formulate conclusions and predictions based on scientific phenomenon.

    ACT Writing Syllabus 

    The writing test will check the writing skills of the students which is taught in high school. In this the students will be given any topic to write an essay on. Topic will be related to any complex issue of the society, political, social, legal or economical. The essay should require students to explain the issue, its causes, effects and solutions. The writing will be judged on the following domain:

    • Ideas and Analysis: In this the ideas generating and engagement with the topic will be tested. Critical views on the issue, addressing the readers and audience are the key points of scoring.
    • Development and Support: In this the way of presenting arguments, discussions, ideas are checked, how the writer illustrate through examples and establish implications and make the reader to think on the issue is tested.
    • Organization: This domain test the capability of organizing the article in a manner to engage the audience, the series of facts, sequence of events and their relations and explanation.
    • Language Use: The last factor tests the level of language used by the writer, clarity, words, grammar, style and tone to communicate effectively.

    *The article might have information for the previous academic years, which will be updated soon subject to the notification issued by the University/College


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    1 Comment

    First of all i m a med student studied from cbse. I have completed my 12th class in 2018-19 with 85%. I didnt have maths as my sub in 11th and 12th class. But i want to appear for act test so am i eligible? And if i m than what about maths can i just left maths?

    09 Mar, 2020 00:20
    Shobhna Chaturvedi

    Hi Srishti, yes, you are eligible to appear in this exam.

    09 Mar, 2020 12:57

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