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Q & A

Answers to commonly asked questions from the experts on Thumbtack.

What is ACT test prep?

The ACT is a college entrance exam taken by students (typically in their junior year of high school) to determine admission eligibility and merit-based scholarship eligibility. The test may be taken as many times as desired and is not limited to high school juniors. Originally the acronym stood for American College Testing, but now ACT is the stand-alone name. ACT prep is a way for students to strategically prepare for test-taking. ACT prep helps students improve scores, practice taking the test, learn test-taking strategies, and improve material comprehension. Students can get help with ACT prep tutors in one-on-one sessions, via group tutoring lessons, in online self-study programs, or online with a tutor in video calls. The ACT test covers:

  • English
  • Science understanding and reasoning
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Writing essay (optional)

How do you prepare for the ACT?

The ACT is a universally accepted college readiness exam. There are multiple ways to prepare for the exam. One-on-one ACT prep tutoring is one of the most effective ways for students to ready themselves for the test. A tutor who specializes in ACT prep will coach the student on the type of material they can expect while also working specifically with topics that are more challenging for that particular student. Group tutoring sessions are a more cost-effective way to reap the benefits of an ACT prep instructor; a suggestion is to gather a group of four friends or classmates to share the cost. Professional tutors often recommend that test prep begin approximately three months prior to the exam. Cramming — unfortunately — doesn’t provide the same score results as consistent study, test-related homework, and practice exams do. Weekly two-hour learning sessions are what many pro tutors suggest for their college exam prep students. For top test-taking performance, tutors usually provide work throughout the week and the weekly session is used to cement knowledge and address weak areas. Math is a hard topic for most students, so plan accordingly.

How long does the ACT take?

Total time for the ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes. If students elect to do the optional writing section, the ACT will be 3 hours and 35 minutes. The ACT college entrance exam has multiple sections. The students receive a set amount of time for each section, within which they complete as much of that category as possible before they must stop. For each timed section, there is a five-minute warning before time is up. There is a 10-minute break between the math and reading sections. When tutors coach students in ACT prep, they can provide timed runs to simulate the experience of taking the different subject matter tests. As part of ACT prep, it’s important to take the entire exam at least once as a practice run. Here is a breakdown of timing and number of questions for each section.

  • ACT English test: 45 minutes for 75 questions that test students’ understanding of standard English rules, production of writing, and vocabulary.
  • ACT mathematics test: 60 minutes for 60 questions that test students’ understanding of math skills up to the start of senior year of high school.  
  • Ten-minute break.
  • ACT reading test: 35 minutes for 40 questions that measure students’ reading comprehension.
  • ACT science test: 35 minutes for 40 questions that measure students’ understanding and problem-solving skills in the realm of natural sciences.
  • ACT writing test: 40-minute written essay that will measure students' writing skills.

 

How many questions are on the ACT test?

There are 215 total questions on the ACT test. The ACT covers four academic areas and students have 175 minutes total to complete the test. For students who opt to take the ACT writing test, there will be a written essay (in addition to the standard ACT topics), which students will have 40 minutes to complete. For ACT prep, it’s wise to study the material that will be covered within each academic category and take practice tests to become comfortable with the format.

The English test has 75 questions that must be completed within 45 minutes. The math test has 60 questions with a 60-minute time limit. The reading test has 40 questions and 35 minutes total. The science test has 40 questions that must be completed in 35 minutes. Tutors may recommend taking the test more than once as part of the ACT prep training, with the goal of improving your overall score each time. Official ACT recommendations urge students to answer each question on test day, even if it is a guess, as there is no penalty for guessing.

What are the subjects on the ACT?

English, mathematics, reading, and science are the four main subjects on the ACT. Writing is an optional subject students can select when they register to take the test. The subjects were determined as a way to test the sum total of knowledge and comprehension that the students have accumulated up until the start of their senior year of high school. ACT prep breaks down each subject of the ACT test so the student understands what type of questions they will encounter and to provide them with strategies for answering questions. Doing well on the ACT is not only about academic smarts. Learning the nuances of taking a standardized test can greatly improve a student’s test scores. On the ACT, each of the four subjects is broken into subsections to test the students’ understanding in that area. The official ACT website provides free online ACT prep tools for each section, including English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing.

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