How Long Is the ACT Test? A Guide to ACT Timing

As high school students prepare for college admissions, one standardized test that looms over their heads is the ACT (American College Testing). A common question among test-takers is, “How long is the ACT exam?” In this article, we will delve into the duration of the ACT, explore its different sections, and provide valuable time management strategies to help you maximize your performance on test day.

So, How Long is the ACT Test?

The ACT is a comprehensive exam designed to evaluate a student’s college readiness. The duration of the test, including optional writing, features a total of 215 questions and takes approximately 3 hours and 55 minutes to complete. This time includes four main sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science, each with its unique set of challenges and time constraints.

English Section: 45 Minutes to Polish Your Language Skills

The English section of the ACT assesses students’ grasp of grammar, punctuation, and overall writing skills. Within a tight timeframe of 45 minutes, test-takers are presented with 75 questions. With the shortest per-question time on the whole exam, time management is crucial in this section. Students can gauge their progress through the section by making sure that they complete each of its five passages in under 9 minutes. 

Math Section: Crunching Numbers in 60 Minutes

In the Math section, students are given 60 minutes to solve a total of 60 questions. This section tests mathematical knowledge across various topics, including algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. With an average of one minute per question, pacing yourself becomes vital to ensure you allocate sufficient time to each problem while avoiding getting stuck on challenging ones. 

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But don’t go spending a full minute on the first question in the section! Questions get harder as they progress, so students need to hurry through earlier, easier questions to allow time for later, harder questions. A good rule of thumb is that the first 20 questions should take between 10 and 15 minutes, the middle 20 questions should take under 20 minutes, and the last 20 should take the remaining 25 to 30 minutes.

Reading Section: Engaging with Texts in 35 Minutes

The Reading section measures your ability to comprehend and analyze written passages. In this section, test-takers encounter four sets of questions based on different texts, with each set accompanied by 10 or 11 questions. In total, there are 40 questions to be answered within 35 minutes. Effective time management involves reading efficiently, understanding the main ideas, and strategically allocating your time to each passage (about 8 minutes each).

Science Section: Analyzing Data in 35 Minutes

The Science section evaluates students’ scientific reasoning and interpretation skills. Within 35 minutes, test-takers must answer 40 questions that require analyzing graphs, tables, and experimental data. Efficiently navigating through this section involves skimming the information provided and focusing on key details while managing your time effectively.

Timing in the Science section is the trickiest on the exam, because each of the section’s 6 passages can vary in length from 5 to 7 questions. A very rough rule of thumb is that you should spend about 5 minutes per passage in the section — but do expect to spend more time on the one passage that asks you to compare two different hypotheses. These passages typically require more reading and always feature seven questions. 

Optional Writing Test: Additional 40 Minutes

While the optional writing section does not contribute to the composite score, it is offered separately after the main sections. Your school district may offer the writing section for all students. If your school district requires the writing test, you will be given an additional 40 minutes to craft a well-structured essay on a given prompt. This section provides an opportunity to showcase your writing abilities to colleges, and time management is crucial to allow for brainstorming, organizing your thoughts, and revising your essay.

Strategies for Effective Time Management

  1. Familiarize Yourself with the Test Structure: Understanding the ACT’s sections, time constraints, and question formats will help you plan and swiftly execute your approach.
  2. Practice with Timed Mock Tests: To simulate the real exam environment, take regular full-length practice tests under timed conditions. This will improve your pacing and build confidence in your time management.
  3. Develop a Time Allocation Strategy: To ensure you stay on track during the actual test, assign specific time limits to each section and the passages within. Prioritize easier questions to complete them quickly and allocate more time to challenging ones.
  4. Skip and Return: If you encounter a particularly difficult question, don’t dwell on it for too long. Instead, mark it, skip it, and come back to it later if time permits. Remember, every question carries the same weight, so it’s better to answer as many as possible, and you won’t be penalized for a wrong answer any more than you would for a question left blank.

Conclusion

In addition to knowledge and skills, mastering the ACT also requires effective time management. Understanding the structure and duration of the ACT is essential for developing a successful test-taking strategy. With the English, Math, Reading, and Science sections and the optional writing test, the ACT demands careful planning and efficient use of time.

You can optimize your performance on test day by familiarizing yourself with the sections and question formats, practicing with timed mock tests, and developing a time allocation strategy. Remember to prioritize easier questions, skip and return to difficult ones, and maintain a steady pace throughout the exam.

Time management is a valuable skill that extends beyond the ACT. Developing the ability to allocate your time effectively will benefit you in various aspects of your academic and professional life. As you work on improving your time management skills for the ACT, you will also be honing an essential life skill that will serve you well in future endeavors.

In conclusion, the ACT takes approximately 3 hours and 55 minutes, encompassing sections such as English, Math, Reading, Science, and an optional writing test. Efficiently managing your time in each section is crucial to maximizing your score. By adopting effective time management strategies and practicing regularly, you can approach the ACT with confidence and achieve your best possible outcome.

Remember, the ACT is not just a test of knowledge but also a test of your ability to perform under pressure within strict time constraints. With dedication, preparation, and strategic time management, you can conquer the ACT and take a significant step toward your college aspirations. Best of luck on your ACT journey!

We at HelloCollege aim to help you get the most out of your university preparations. For more information about college admissions, testing, and practice, read our other blogs or contact us to learn how we can help you!

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The Hello College Team

The Hello College Team

HelloCollege CEO Andrea Emmons has spent the last 15 years guiding students and families across the country on their path to college. Andrea knows the profound impact proactive college planning has on the lives of students and is passionate about mentoring families through the process.
Kevin Krebs - Founder of HelloCollege

About Our Founder

Kevin Krebs

Inspired by his parents, Kevin’s journey from a first-gen, diverse, low-income background to Northwestern University shaped him. After experiencing challenges, including student loan debt, he founded HelloCollege and has spent the last 25 years helping students successfully navigate college admissions.

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