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You want to do your best on the ACT® test, and this book can help. It supplements our free booklet, Preparing for the ACT, and our ACT Online Prep™ (a web-based preparation program for the ACT). This book features three actual ACT tests—all of which include the optional writing test—which you can use for practice, and it gives detailed explanatory answers to every question to help you review.

Using this book will help you become familiar with the following:

This book is intended to help you know what to expect when you take the ACT so you can relax and concentrate on doing your best. The more you know about what to expect on any test you take, the more likely it is that your performance on that test will accurately reflect your overall preparation and achievement in the areas it measures. Knowing what to expect can help reduce any nervousness you may feel as you approach the test.

The ACT measures your understanding of what you’ve been taught in core high school courses that you should have completed by the time you finish high school. Because it has taken you years to learn all this material, it might take you some time to review for the ACT. You can’t expect to cram for the ACT in a night or two. However, any review should be helpful to you, even if it just makes you more comfortable when you actually sit down to take the ACT. We hope this book helps you to gauge how much reviewing you feel you need to do and identify subject areas on which to focus your efforts.

How This Book Is Arranged

This book is divided into five parts:

Part One: Getting Acquainted with the ACT. Chapters in this part introduce the ACT, explain how to prepare, and present general test-taking techniques and strategies for you to consider.
Part Two: Taking and Evaluating Your First Practice Test. This part includes a practice test along with guidance on how to use the test to identify areas where you may need to invest more time and effort.
Part Three: Improving Your Score. Chapters in this part present test-taking strategies tailored for each subject test—English, math, reading, and science—along with suggestions for taking the optional writing test.
Part Four: Taking Additional Practice Tests. In this part, you have the opportunity to take two additional practice tests, see the results, and interpret your scores to determine how well prepared you are to take the ACT.
Part Five: Moving Forward to Test Day. This part prepares you for test day by explaining how to register for the ACT and describing what to expect on the day of the test, so you show up on time with everything you need.

The parts are identified by bars on the edge of their right-hand pages.

Before You Begin

There is no standardized way to prepare for the ACT. Everyone learns and prepares differently. Some people prepare best when they are by themselves. Others need to work with fellow students to do their best. Still others function best in a structured class with a teacher leading them through their work. Use whatever method works best for you. Keep in mind, though, that when you actually take the ACT, it will be just you and the test.

As you use this book to prepare for the ACT, consider working in 1-hour segments (except when you’re taking the timed practice tests, of course). If you want to invest more than 1 hour a day, that’s fine, but take breaks to stretch and give your mind a chance to absorb the material. Toiling to the point of burnout is counterproductive.

Part One:
Getting Acquainted with the ACT Test

In This Part

This part introduces you to the ACT, the five tests that it is composed of (English, mathematics, reading, science, and the optional writing test), and testing procedures. It also features test-taking strategies and skills that apply to all of the component tests. Specifically, you will do the following:

Chapter 1:
About the ACT

The ACT measures your achievement in core academic areas important for your college and career success: English, math, reading, science, and (optionally) writing. It isn’t an IQ test—it doesn’t measure your basic intelligence. It’s an achievement test that’s been carefully designed—using surveys of classroom teachers, reviews of curriculum guides for schools all over the country, and advice from curriculum specialists and college faculty members—to be one of several effective tools for evaluating your college and career readiness.

The individual tests that make up the ACT consist of questions that measure your knowledge and skills. You’re not required to memorize facts or vocabulary to do well on the ACT. Of course, all the terms, formulas, and other information you learned in your classes will be useful to you when you take the ACT. However, last-minute cramming (such as memorizing 5,000 vocabulary words or the entire periodic table of elements) won’t directly improve your performance on the ACT.

Description of the ACT

The ACT consists of four multiple-choice tests—English, mathematics, reading, and science—and an optional writing test. Topics covered on these five tests correspond very closely to topics covered in typical high school classes. Table 1.1 gives you a snapshot of all five tests.

Table 1.1: ACT Tests


Questions Time Content Covered


75 questions

45 minutes

Measures standard written English knowledge and skills along with English language conventions


60 questions

60 minutes

Measures mathematical skills students have typically acquired in courses taken up to the beginning of grade 12


40 questions

35 minutes

Measures reading comprehension


40 questions

35 minutes

Measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences

Writing (optional)

1 prompt

40 minutes

Measures writing skills emphasized in high school English classes and in entry-level college composition courses

Questions on the tests are intended to help assess college and career readiness. The following sections provide an overview of what you should know to perform well on each test. For additional details, check out the ACT College and Career Readiness Standards presented in chapter 12.

English Test

75 questions, 45 minutes

The English test consists of five essays or passages, each of which is accompanied by a sequence of multiple-choice test questions. Different passage types are employed to provide a variety of rhetorical situations. Passages are chosen not only for their appropriateness in assessing writing skills but also to reflect students’ interests and experiences.

Passages and their accompanying questions test knowledge and skills related to Production of Writing; Knowledge of Language; and Conventions of Standard English Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation.

You will receive four scores for the ACT English test: a total test score based on all 75 questions and three reporting category scores based on the following:

Production of Writing

Production of Writing tests knowledge and skills in two areas of English composition:

Topic Development in Terms of Purpose and Focus

Examples of knowledge and skills tested include the following:

Organization, Unity, and Cohesion

Examples of knowledge and skills tested include the following:

Knowledge of Language

Knowledge of Language questions test your ability to clearly and succinctly express yourself in written English. Knowledge and skills tested include the following:

Conventions of Standard English Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation

Conventions of Standard English Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation questions test knowledge and skills such as the following:

Note: Spelling, vocabulary, and rote recall of grammar rules are not tested.

Mathematics Test

60 questions, 60 minutes

The mathematics test presents multiple-choice questions that require you to use reasoning skills to solve practical math problems. Some questions may belong to a set of several questions (for example, several questions about the same graph or chart).

Conceptual knowledge and computational skills are assumed as background for the problems, but recall of complex formulas and extensive computation is not required.

Nine scores are reported for the ACT mathematics test: a total test score based on all 60 questions and eight reporting category scores based on specific mathematical knowledge and skills. The reporting categories are:

Preparing for Higher Mathematics

This category captures the more recent mathematics that students are learning, starting when they begin using algebra as a general way of expressing and solving equations. This category is divided into the following five subcategories:

Number and Quantity

Math questions in this category test your knowledge of numbers and fundamental math concepts and operations, including the following:

Algebra and Functions

The mathematics test contains questions that require knowledge of and skills in algebra, functions, or both. Algebra involves formulas and equations in which letters and other symbols are used to represent unknown or unspecified values. A function is a rule, equation, or expression that produces exactly one output for any given input; for example, 2x is a function in that any input used for x results in an output that is twice the input’s value.


Algebra knowledge and skills tested include the following:


Questions that involve functions test your ability to do the following:

Algebra and Functions

Questions that involve both algebra and functions test your ability to do the following:


Geometry questions are based primarily on the mathematical properties and relationships of points, lines, angles, two-dimensional shapes, and three-dimensional objects. Knowledge and skills tested include the following:

Statistics and Probability

Statistics is a branch of mathematics that involves the collection and analysis of large quantities of numerical data. Probability is a branch of mathematics that involves calculating the likelihood of an event occurring or a condition existing. Statistics and Probability questions test your ability to do the following:

Integrating Essential Skills

Students learn some of the most useful mathematics before grade 8: rates and percentages; proportional relationships; area, surface area, and volume; average and median; expressing numbers in different ways; using expressions to represent quantities and equations to capture relationships; and other topics. Each year, students should grow in what they can accomplish using learning from prior years. Students should be able to solve problems of increasing complexity, combine skills in longer chains of steps, apply skills in more varied contexts, understand more connections, and increase fluency. In order to assess whether students have had appropriate growth, questions in this reporting category are at a cognitive level of at least depth of knowledge level 2 for high school students, with a significant portion at depth of knowledge level 3.


Modeling uses mathematics to represent with a model an analysis of an actual, empirical situation. Models often help us predict or understand the actual. However, sometimes knowledge of the actual helps us understand the model, such as when addition is introduced to students as a model of combining two groups. The Modeling reporting category represents all questions that involve producing, interpreting, understanding, evaluating, and improving models. Each modeling question is also counted in the other appropriate reporting categories previously identified. Thus, the Modeling reporting category is an overall measure of how well a student uses modeling skills across mathematical topics.

Reading Test

40 questions, 35 minutes

The reading test measures your reading comprehension in three general areas:

The test comprises four sections, each containing one long or two shorter prose passages that are representative of the level and kinds of text commonly encountered in first-year college curricula. Passages on topics in social studies, natural science, literary narrative (including prose fiction), and the humanities are included, and the passages vary in terms of how challenging and complex they are.

Four scores are reported for the ACT reading test: a total test score based on all 40 questions and three reporting category scores based on specific knowledge and skills.

Key Ideas and Details

Questions that test reading comprehension focus primarily on identifying key details in the passage and grasping the overall meaning of the passage. Reading skills tested are divided into three categories:

Close Reading

Close-reading skills involve your ability to do the following:

Central Ideas, Themes, and Summaries

Questions that focus on central ideas, themes, and summaries challenge your ability to do the following:


Relationship questions involve the ability to do the following:

Craft and Structure

Some reading questions go beyond the meaning of the passage to challenge your understanding of how the author crafted and structured the passage. Reading skills tested in this area are divided into three categories:

Word Meanings and Word Choice

Reading questions may focus on the meaning or impact of a word or phrase, challenging your ability to do the following:

Text Structure

Text-structure questions ask you to analyze how various structural elements function to serve a specific purpose in the passage. To answer such questions, you may need to do one of the following:

Purpose and Point of View

The reading test may include questions that challenge your ability to do the following:

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

Reading questions may require that you go beyond simply reading and understanding a passage to analyzing one or more passages. Reading skills tested in the area of Integration of Knowledge and Ideas are divided into two categories:


Questions related to argumentative essays may test your ability to do the following:

Multiple Texts

Multiple-text questions involve reading two passages and doing the following:

Science Test

40 questions, 35 minutes

The science test measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences: life science/biology; physical science/chemistry, physics; and earth and space science. (See chapter 12 for a more detailed breakdown of science content covered on the test.)

The test assumes that students are in the process of taking the core science course of study (three years or more) that will prepare them for college-level work and have completed a course in earth science and/or physical science and a course in biology. The test presents several sets of scientific information, each followed by a number of multiple-choice test questions. The scientific information is conveyed in the form of reading passages and graphic representations—graphs (charts), tables, and illustrations.

Four scores are reported for the ACT science test: a total test score based on all 40 questions and three reporting category scores based on scientific knowledge, skills, and practices. The reporting categories are:

Interpretation of Data

Interpretation of Data involves the following skills:

Scientific Investigation

Questions that apply to scientific investigation are typically related to experiments and other research. Such questions challenge your ability to do the following:

Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results

Some questions on the science test challenge your ability to evaluate models, inferences, and experimental results. (A model is a description of an object or phenomenon intended to explain and predict its behavior.) To answer such questions, you must be able to do the following:

Writing Test (Optional)

1 prompt, 40 minutes

The writing test is a 40-minute essay test that measures your writing skills—specifically those writing skills emphasized in high school English classes and in entry-level college composition courses.

The test asks you to produce an essay in response to a contemporary issue. You will be given a prompt that presents the issue and provides three different perspectives on it. Your task is to write an essay in which you develop a perspective on the issue and explore how it relates to at least one other perspective.

Trained readers will evaluate your essay for the evidence it provides of a number of core writing skills. You will receive a total of five scores for this test: a single subject-level writing score reported on a scale of 2–12 and four domain scores based on an analytic scoring rubric. The four domain scores are

Ideas and Analysis

Effective writing depends on effective ideas. It is important to think carefully about the issue in the prompt and compose an argument that addresses the issue meaningfully. In evaluating the ideas and analysis in your essay, readers will look for your ability to do the following:

Development and Support

Even the best ideas must be developed and supported to be effective in a written argument. By explaining and illustrating your points, you help the reader understand your thinking. In evaluating this dimension of your essay, readers will look for your ability to do the following:


Organizational choices are essential to effective writing. Guide the reader through your discussion by arranging your ideas according to the logic of your argument. As readers evaluate the organization of your essay, they will look for your ability to do the following:

Language Use and Convention

Skillful language use enhances argumentative writing. Strategic choices in the vocabulary you use and the style you employ can make your essay more effective. To evaluate your use of language, readers will look for your ability to do the following:

ACT Test Formats: Paper and Online

The ACT is available as a paper test and as an online test in certain states and educational districts. Regardless of format, what is most important is the knowledge and skills you have developed over your course of study. If you know the material, whether you choose answers by marking them on paper or clicking an option on a computer screen will likely make little difference.

Using a Calculator

You may use a permitted calculator only on the mathematics test, but you are not required to do so. All math problems on the test can be solved without a calculator, and you may be able to perform some of the math more quickly in your head or on scratch paper.

Note: You may use any four-function, scientific, or graphing calculator as long as it is a permitted calculator modified, if necessary, as described in the following. For additional details and ACT’s most current calculator policy, visit

Certain types of calculators, including the following, are prohibited:

The following types of calculators are permitted but only after they are modified as noted:

If you choose to use a calculator during the mathematics test, follow these guidelines:

Taking the Test

Knowing what to expect on test day can alleviate any anxiety you may feel. The following list describes the steps you will take through the testing day: