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About American College Testing (ACT)

An Overview Of The ACT Exam

The American College Testing (ACT) is a standardized test widely used in admissions to US universities. The ACT comprises four compulsory sections: English, Math, Reading and Science.

The ACT Essay is optional though some top universities consider it essential in your application. ACT Essay scores are reported separately from overall test scores.


Section No. Of Questions Total Time (Min)
English 75 45
Math 60 60
Reading 40 35
Science 40 35
Writing (Essay — Optional) 1 40

What score should I aim for?

The ACT gives you a percentile ranking for your overall composite score as well as for each of the four section scores: English, Math, Reading and Science.

The following table is the most recent data regarding 2017-2018 percentile statistics from

Composite Score Range Percentile Ranking
33–36 99
32 98
31 97
30 95
29 93
28 90
27 87
26 83
25 79
24 74
23 68

What score do I need?

Here are the average ACT scores of successful applicants to top-tier universities.

Ivy League Universities ACT Score of 25th Percentile ACT Score of 75th Percentile
Yale University 31 35
Harvard College 32 35
Columbia University 32 35
Princeton University 32 35
University of Pennsylvania 31 34
Brown University 31 34
Dartmouth College 30 34
Cornell University 30 34
Top Private Universities ACT Score of 25th Percentile ACT Score of 75th Percentile
California Institute of Technology 34 35
University of Chicago 31 35
Vanderbilt University 32 35
Stanford University 31 35
MIT 33 35
Johns Hopkins University 32 34
Northwestern University 31 34
Carnegie Mellon University 31 34
Top Public Universities ACT Score of 25th Percentile ACT Score of 75th Percentile
Georgia Institute of Technology 31 34
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 27 33
UC, Berkeley 30 34
University of Michigan, Ann-Arbor 29 33
University of Virginia 29 33
UC, Los Angeles 28 33
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 27 32


Both tests are accepted by most universities in the US. However, as they have slight differences, it is recommended that candidates should take the test they would fare better in.

Should you be unable to decide which test might be more suitable for you, a good way to gauge your expertise is to attempt a full length practice test for both.

Scoring Composite score of 400–1600 Composite score out of 36 (average of all 4 sections)
Format Paper and Pencil Computerized
Dates Offered five times a year:
  • March
  • May
  • August
  • October
  • December
Offered seven times a year:
  • February
  • April
  • June
  • July
  • September
  • October
  • December
Math formulas Geometry formulas are provided To be memorized
Calculator policy Allowed in one Math sub-section Allowed in Math section
Science section No Yes

Which should I take?

The types of questions in each section of the SAT and the ACT vary. Ultimately, the best way to know which test is a better fit for you is to attempt both. Click here to schedule a free SAT and/or ACT Diagnostic Test.

Reading Questions are always in chronological order; a number line is provided. You are given approx. 13 minutes per passage. Questions are not in chronological order — being able to remember the location of exact details in passages gives you an advantage. You are given approx. 8 minutes per passage.
Writing More focused on questions about writing style, language precision and vocabulary. More focused on grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and big idea questions.
Math Focus on Algebra, along with other topics such as Data Analysis and Modeling. Wider range of Mathematical concepts — such as logarithms, graphs of trigonometry functions, and matrices.
Science No Science section. Scientific data and passages present in Reading and Writing sections. Comfort with scientific terms and experience gathering scientific data from charts and graphs will give you a greater advantage on the ACT.
Essay No longer offered after June 2021. Analyze three perspectives on an issue and present your own.

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