ACT Exam Syllabus: General Test Pattern | 2019 – 2020


General Test Pattern for ACT Test

ACT has four test sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science- total duration of 3 hours. The writing section is optional and adds another 40 minutes to the total duration. It is an MCQ (multiple choice questions) based test with 215 questions in total. The scores on every section vary from a low of 1 to a high of 36. The total test score is an average of all section scores.

The average ACT score is 20.8, and a “good ACT score” is determined by your choice of the target school.

Apart from the sectional scores, there are sub-scores within a section too.

Section Sub-Score distribution
English Usage/Mechanics (1-18), Rhetorical Skills (1-18), Essay (2-12)
Mathematics Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra (1-18), Algebra/Coordinate Geometry (1-18), Plane Geometry/Trigonometry (1-18)
Reading Social Sciences/Sciences (1-18), Arts/Literature (1-18)
Science n/a


The following table gives you a good idea about the flow of the examination on the test-day:

Section # of Questions Duration Syllabus
English 75 45 minutes Usage/mechanics and rhetorical skills
Mathematics 60 60 minutes Algebra, geometry, elementary trigonometry, reasoning, and problem-solving
Reading 40 35 minutes Reading Comprehension
Science 40 35 minutes Interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving
Optional Writing Test 1 essay prompt 30 minutes Writing Skills

Two breaks are scheduled during the test: the 1st is after the Math section, and the 2nd is just before writing (provided you have opted for a writing test).

The writing score does not affect the final scaled composite score. An essay is assigned a score of 2-12 along 4 domains: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. Every essay is judged by two graders, each assigning a score of 1-6 across every domain. The scores of English section are combined with the writing section, and the composite score is produced under the heading English Language Arts (ELA). Similarly, a STEM score is also provided separately (Science and Mathematics).

ACT Syllabus



This section contains 5 passages for a total of 75 multiple-choice questions. The questions are detail-based or overall idea/big-picture based, in relation to a particular paragraph or the whole passage. 2 skills are tested primarily: Usage and Mechanics and Rhetorical Skills. Usage and Mechanics test you on your understanding of grammar rules: usage, punctuation, and sentence structure. Rhetorical Skills deal with your abstract understanding or comprehension of the passage.

The type of questions asked can be covered under some broad headings. Punctuation tests your understanding and use of semi-colons, apostrophe, period, comma etc. Grammar Usage tests your understanding of grammar rules such as subject/verb agreement, pronoun/antecedent agreement, verb formation, pronoun case, and adverbs. Sentence Structure tests you on knowledge related to clauses, modifiers, and shifts in construction. Strategy questions test your ability to enhance and modify a given passage through the usage of appropriate phrases. Organization questions test your organizational capabilities: your choice of opening/closing and transitional sentences. Style questions test your ability to employ the right words that maintain the flow and tone of the essay.


A permitted calculator is allowed for this section of the test.

Pre-Algebra: comprises of 20-25% of the total questions. It includes number problems, multiples/factors/primes, divisibility, percentages, fractions, square roots, ratios, mean/median/mode, probability, place values, absolute values, exponents, series, simple descriptive statistics.

Elementary Algebra: comprises of 15-20% of the total questions. It includes substitution, simplifying expressions, solving linear equations, inequalities, multiplying binomials, solving quadratic equations.

Intermediate Algebra: comprises of 15-20% of the total questions. It includes solving systems of equations, functions, matrices, logarithms, inequalities, sequences and patterns, complex numbers.

Coordinate Geometry: comprises of 15-20% of the total questions. It includes number lines, graphing inequalities, distance and mid-points, slope calculation, parallel/perpendicular lines, line equation, conic sections.

Plane Geometry: comprises of 20-25% of the total questions. It includes lines and angles, triangles, polygons, circles, 3-D geometry, volume, properties of circles, triangles, and parallelograms.

Trigonometry: comprises of 5-10% of the total questions. It includes solving triangles, trigonometric identities and graphs, graphing trigonometric functions, solving trigonometric equations.


This section contains 4 passages for a total of 40 multiple-choice questions. The passages will represent four broad areas: social science, humanities, natural science, and literary fiction.

Reading skills are varied and include the ability to understand central ideas, locate details within a written text, decoding the flow of ideas, understanding cause/effect and comparisons, contextual understanding of phrases, and analyzing the tone and purpose of the author.

Central Idea questions are related to the big idea or theme of the passage. Detail questions test you on the meaning or understanding of a specific phrase/line within a passage. Vocabulary questions test your contextual understanding of words and their usage. Function questions test your understanding of the role of a particular word or phrase within the context of the entire passage. Implied Ideas ask you the meaning of a word/phrase that is not written in explicit terms.


This section contains 7 passages for a total of 40 multiple-choice questions. The passages are frequently accompanied by diagrams such as tables, charts, and graphs. The topics that are tested revolve around Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Earth Sciences.

The skills required to ace this section have more to do with the kind of reasoning developed while learning the scientific method rather than just the raw memorization of facts and figures. Knowledge of the theory behind hypothesis testing and the ability to collect and analyze data are important skills when it comes to the Science section.

Data Representation questions test you on your ability to decipher graphs/scatter-plots/tables, along with your ability to use the presented information. Research Summaries test you on your understanding of the design-of-experiments and associated results as described in the passage. Conflicting Viewpoints gauges your ability to analyze divergent viewpoints. The questions revolve around a central idea, and you need to critically examine the two viewpoints presented.

Writing (Optional)

The cogency of an essay is paramount for the ACT. The ability to assimilate different lines of reasoning and stitch it into a coherent and compelling written piece will earn you a high score. Given the time constraint, a well-polished first draft is expected and not a technically perfect written specimen.

A short passage is given on a certain topic, which is accompanied by 3 different viewpoints on the same. Your task is to analyze the viewpoints, elucidate their merits/demerits, identify flaws in reasoning (if any), discuss caveats, contrast one argument against the others and discuss the scope of improvements.

Knowing the syllabus goes a long way in understanding what is expected, and avoids nasty surprises on the test day. Moreover, it will help you in preparing an optimal study plan based on your strengths and weaknesses in different subject areas.

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