How Long Is the ACT? Tips for Managing Your Time Wisely
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- The ACT is fast-paced, with many questions to answer in each of the four sections.
- Many time management strategies are applicable to all sections of the ACT.
- Section-specific test-taking strategies can improve your pacing.
- Practice with timed ACT test questions to help you identify weak areas.
The ACT assesses students' English, math, reading, and science skills. Colleges and universities around the U.S. use ACT and SAT scores to help determine applicants' college readiness.
Many schools include ACT or SAT scores as part of their admission requirements. While some colleges have extended their test-optional policies put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, even these institutions may still use ACT or SAT scores for class placement and to award scholarships.
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Students taking the ACT should know how long the test is and how many questions are on it so they can manage their time and earn a top score.
How Long Is the ACT Test?
The four main sections of the ACT — English, Math, Reading, and Science — total two hours and 55 minutes without breaks. You get one 10-minute break after the second section (Math).
You'll also have a 20-minute fifth section after the Science section that contains experimental questions to help develop future ACT exams. Your results from this section will not impact your overall ACT score.
Test-takers who take the optional Writing section will test for an additional 40 minutes for a total of three hours and 35 minutes of testing. You'll have a second short break before the Writing section.
How Many Questions Are on the ACT?
There are 215 questions on the ACT, divided into four sections. Test-takers who take the optional Writing section will also write one essay.
This table shows how many questions are on each ACT section:
|Section||Number of Questions||Time||Time per Question|
|English||75||45 min||36 seconds|
|Math||60||60 min||60 seconds|
|Reading||40||35 min||53 seconds|
|Science||40||35 min||53 seconds|
|Writing (Optional)||1 essay||40 min||—|
|Total||215 questions||175 min (without Writing)
215 min (with Writing)
5 ACT Time Management Tips and Strategies
To ace the ACT, you need good time management skills. Here are some general ACT time management strategies to try out.
1. Answer the Easiest Questions First
Instead of answering each question in order, answer the easiest questions first. Then, go back and tackle the harder questions. You won't be penalized for wrong answers on the ACT, so you should answer the questions you're sure you can get right before working on questions that require more time or guesswork.
2. Eliminate Obviously Wrong Answers
As you read each question, cross out obviously incorrect answers. If you decide to skip that question, you'll have a better chance of choosing the right answer when you return to it. Even if you need to guess an answer later, limiting your options will improve your chances of selecting the correct answer to as high as 50%.
3. Skip the Questions You Get Stuck On
If you get stuck on a question, skip it. Otherwise, you might spend too much time on it and waste the chance to answer easier questions.
Since you have to stop work when time is called, give yourself about 20-30 seconds to answer each question. If you can't, mark it for later and move on.
4. Leave Yourself Time to Fill in the Questions You Skipped
Be sure to allow time to go back and bubble in answers for the questions you marked for later. Allow at least one minute to do this — more if possible.
If you need to guess an answer, consider sticking with the first column (often choice A, but this could vary) for every question.
5. Double-Check Your Answers (Time Permitting)
Once you've answered every question, including the questions you initially skipped, use any remaining time to double-check your answers. On the ACT, timing matters, so be sure to use every available second to answer questions and check your work. Never close your test booklet until time is called.
How to Manage Your Time for Each ACT Section
In addition to the ACT tips and strategies outlined above, you can use section-specific strategies to effectively manage your time.
The English section gives you 45 minutes to answer 75 questions. This fast-paced tempo requires you to rapidly answer each question. Allow about 36 seconds per question.
- Actively skim each reading passage.
- The "no change" option is correct more often than you might think.
- Quietly read sentences aloud so you can hear grammatical errors.
- Remember that the ACT focuses on grammatically correct answers, not answers that use slang or colloquialisms.
- Read all answer choices before choosing your response.
The ACT's Math section consists of 60 questions. You have one hour to answer all the questions, which averages out to one minute per question.
- Practice using your calculator regularly.
- Charge your calculator or replace its batteries the day before the exam.
- Do simple calculations in your head to save time.
- Know your triangles (right, isosceles, scalene) and common shapes (rectangle, trapezoid, etc.).
- Memorize basic formulas — you won't get a formula sheet on test day.
The Reading section requires you to read four passages and answer a total of 40 questions based on these passages. You'll have 35 minutes, or 53 seconds per question.
- Actively skim each reading passage, focusing especially on the first and last sentences of each paragraph.
- Read all answer choices before choosing the best answer.
- Watch for reading traps, such as irrelevant statements, extreme vocabulary ("never," "always"), and negative words ("except," "not").
- Be sure your answer choice is directly supported by information in the passage.
The ACT's Science section consists of 40 questions for which you'll have 35 minutes to answer. This averages out to about 53 seconds per question.
This section includes questions about biology, chemistry, physics, and Earth and space science. Problems focus on data representation, research summaries, and conflicting viewpoints on scientific topics.
- To save time, skip the instructions.
- Annotate your answer choices so you remember your thought processes.
- Look carefully at the scientific information provided before you answer each question.
Figuring Out the Right Pace for You
By far one of the best ways to prepare for the pacing of the ACT is to practice with full-length, timed ACT practice tests, many of which you can find online for free. Other options for practice tests include general ACT prep books, section-specific ACT prep books, and online prep courses.
Taking a practice exam can help you identify which sections and question types take you longer to complete.
As you prepare for the ACT, practice answering the kinds of questions that trip you up the most and really home in on your weakest subjects. It can be helpful to use a timer and log your progress.