The ACT is a 3-1/2 hour test that is administered six times per year (September, October, December, February, April and June). The maximum score on the test is a 36. There is an “optional” writing section which is no longer required unless your student wants to apply to West Point. Three times each year – in April, June and September– the ACT offers a “test information release” service, wherein students can order a copy of the test, their answers and the answer key for a fee. Students have up to 90 days from the date of the test to order these materials. Please click here to access the pdf you need to order the materials.
The ACT tests English grammar, math, reading and science. Here is a summary of each section.
The ACT test begins with the English section. The English section on the ACT is comprised of five passages and 75 questions – 15 questions per passage. The student has 45 minutes to complete the section. Students will be given sentences, parts of which have been underlined. They will need to analyze the underlined portion and determine if it needs to be fixed, or not, and how it needs to be fixed. They will also need to analyze the organization of the passage and determine if a reorganization of words in a sentence, or sentences in a paragraph is warranted.
English on the ACT covers “usage and mechanics”, which includes use of commas, apostrophes, modifiers, colons, fragments and run-ons, and something called “rhetorical skills”, which covers things like style, strategy, transitions and organization. While students in most high schools in the U.S. today typically don’t receive much grammar instruction, Breakaway Test Prep offers a thorough review and instruction on the parts of speech tested on the ACT, including pronouns, verb tenses, subject-verb agreement, adverbs and adjectives, and much more. We also address the rhetorical skills component by helping students understand specifically how to attack these types of questions.
The next section of the ACT is Math. The Math section covers pre-algebra, algebra, intermediate algebra, plane geometry, coordinate geometry and some pre-calculus and trigonometry. There are 60 questions in this section and the student has 60 minutes to answer them.
Calculators are permitted on this section of the exam. You should make sure that your student’s calculator is approved for use. Please check http://www.actstudent.org/faq/answers/calculator.html to learn more.
Roughly half of the ACT math section tests concepts from algebra: decimals and fractions, means, medians and modes, exponents, quadratic equations, functions, patterns, and arrangements. The other half of the test focuses mostly on geometry and coordinate geometry: angles, triangles, Pythagorean Theorem, quadrilaterals, circles, solid geometry, equation of a line, perpendicular and parallel lines, and the distance and midpoint formulas. Breakaway’s proprietary course manual includes sections on each of these concepts, as well as plenty of practice opportunities to ensure the student is well-prepared to deal with ACT math.
Finally, approximately 6-8 problems on the ACT will deal with advanced math topics, such as trigonometry, imaginary numbers, radians, trig identities, matrices, logarithms, terminal sides and three-dimensional geometric figures. Breakaway’s thorough approach to test prep includes materials and practice opportunities on each of these concepts, ensuring that students are ready to take on this challenging section of the test.
The next section of the ACT is the 35-minute Reading section. This section is divided into four reading passages, each of which is approximately 900 words in length. Ten reading comprehension questions accompany each of the four passages for a total of 40 questions. There are four categories of passages on the ACT: prose fiction, social science, humanities and natural science. In this section, students need to comprehend information, retain details and make inferences based on information read. Questions are both fact-based and inferential.
Arguably, this is the most time-constrained section on a significantly time-constrained test. Strong readers tend to do well on this section, while students who have weaker fluency or comprehension skills can struggle. Breakaway offers test prep instruction for both types of students, including time-management strategies and test-taking techniques to bolster performance. Students are given plenty of practice and guidance on improving their approach to and performance on the ACT reading section.
The final multiple-choice section of the test is the science reasoning section. In this section, students have 35 minutes to read six or seven passages and answer 40 questions. Unlike the other sections of the ACT, which generally test students on material they have learned in high school, the science section of the ACT does not test the student on his/her knowledge of science. In fact, about 90% of the material in the science section is not taught in most high school science classes.
Instead, what the ACT attempts to test is the student’s ability to analyze information presented to him/her in the form of charts, graphs and tables, and then answer questions based on that analysis. The section has passages drawn from the four sciences – earth science, biology, chemistry and physics, and there are 5-7 questions per passage. Like reading, this is a very time-constrained section due to the amount of work the student needs to complete in a relatively short period of time.
At Breakaway, we give students strategies and plenty of practice to help them improve their performance, better manage their time and help reduce the pressure they may feel.
The revised ACT writing section is a 40-minute exercise designed to assess the student’s writing skills. ACT will present the student with a prompt on a contemporary issue such as technology, health care or censorship, and then offer three perspectives on the issue. ACT will also include a series of questions that will “support writers as they develop and express their ideas in response” to the question. Students will be asked to evaluate and analyze the given perspectives; to state and develop his or her own perspective; and to explain the relationship between his or her perspective and those given.
The writing section on the ACT is scored separately from the multiple choice portion; the ACT uses a 2-12 scale that has been in use since the writing section was introduced in 2005.
Breakaway prepares students for the essay by giving them a strategy and a structure to attack this section. Through practice, constructive feedback from their instructor, and use of a proven essay structure, students are equipped with a game plan that drives their success. An “8” is typically considered an acceptable score for any school to which the student may choose to apply.
There is no guessing penalty on the ACT, so students should make sure to fill in an answer for every question on the test.