Kate Sundquist 5 min read 11th Grade, 12th Grade, ACT Info and Tips

How Long Does the ACT Take?

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In this post, we’ll answer the frequently-asked questions of how long does the ACT take, what time does the ACT start and end, and more. After all, beyond properly studying, nothing is as important as showing up for the ACT on time! 

 

How Long Does the ACT Take?

 

The ACT consists of four required sections, and one optional section. The required sections are English, Math, Reading, and Science, and they are taken in this order. The optional section is Writing, and this takes place at the end of the exam. 

 

See the table below to find out how long each section lasts and how many questions each consists of. 

 

Section # of Questions Time
English 75 45 mins
Math 60 60 mins
Reading 40 35 mins
Science 40 35 mins
Writing (optional) One essay 40 mins
Total (without Writing) 215 2 hr 55 min (not including breaks)
Total (with Writing) 216 3 hr 35 min (not including breaks)

 

If you are taking the ACT without Writing, you will have just one break during the test. It takes place after the Math section and lasts for ten minutes. While you’re allowed to use the restroom or have a snack during this time, you cannot leave the building and cannot use any electronic devices. 

 

If you take the ACT with Writing, you will have an additional break directly preceding the Writing Section. This break lasts 5 minutes and generally just allows enough time for those not taking the Writing Section to leave the room. If you’re staying, you should use this time for a trip to the restroom, or just to stretch your legs and have a drink of water. 

 

This means that if you take the ACT without Writing, it will last approximately 3 hours and 5 minutes, including your one break. If you take the ACT with Writing, it will last approximately 3 hours and 50 minutes, including two breaks. 

 

What Time Does the ACT Start and End?

 

Generally, on the day of your ACT test, you can expect to begin testing between 8:30 and 9:00AM. While it may come as a surprise that there’s no concrete and standard start time, this is because it may take some test centers longer than others to register students, distribute test materials, and fill out personal details on the answer sheets. 

 

What is standard across all testing centers, however, is that the doors to the ACT testing center close at 8:00AM. This means that you will need to arrive there between 7:30-7:45AM to allow plenty of time and not feel stressed upon arrival. 

 

Wondering what time the ACT will end? Most students are done taking the ACT without writing by about 12:15PM, and those who take the writing section are usually done by about 1:15PM. 

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How to Pace Yourself on the ACT

 

Although this might seem like a long time to be taking a test, the ACT is better known for its quick pace. You don’t have much time to read the passages and answer questions, so pacing on the ACT is critical. You should go into the test knowing approximately how much time you can spend on each question. 

 

You can use the table below to get a rough idea of how much time you’ll have per question on the test. Keep in mind that in the Reading and Science sections, you’ll also need to read some passages, so your time per question will actually be significantly shorter.

 

You should also know that the Math section is roughly ordered by difficulty. This means that you may want to take more time on the questions towards the end of the section, as these tend to be the ones that most students find difficult. 

 

Finally, remember to leave time to check your work. You will want to review your answers, ensure that you haven’t left any questions blank, and circle back to any answers you were unsure about.

 

 Subject Area  Approximate Time Per Question
English 36 seconds
Math 1 minute
Reading 52 seconds
Science 52 seconds

 

What to Expect on ACT Test Day

 

Now that you know how long the test will take, roughly what the pace will be, and what time you’ll need to arrive, let’s take a look at some of the other details you’ll need for test day. 

 

First off, there are some critical things that you’ll need to bring on test day. These include:

 

  • A printed copy of your admissions ticket. You will not be admitted to the test if you do not have a printed copy of your ticket.

 

  • An acceptable photo identification. If you arrive without a photo ID that meets ACT standards, you will not be allowed into the testing facility. The only forms of identification that are recognized by ACT include:
      • Current, official photo ID. This must be an original and current (unexpired) ID issued by a city, state, or federal government agency, or by your school.
      • ACT Student Identification Form with photo. This is usually the alternative for students who don’t have one of the photo IDs listed above, but if you need to use one of these forms, you will need to get it lined up and filled out in the week before the test. 

 

  • ACT Talent Search Student Identification Form. If you are participating in an academic talent search program and were not required to submit a photo with your registration, you must present your ACT Talent Search Identification form.

 

  • At least two #2 pencils with erasers. #2 pencils are the only type of writing utensils allowed on the test. Keep in mind that mechanical pencils are not allowed.

 

  • An approved calculator. While the entire math section can technically be solved without a calculator, the average student would be at a disadvantage without one. Make sure you read the ACT Calculator Policy closely to ensure that your calculator is acceptable. 

 

In addition to the items above, you should also consider bringing some water, a healthy snack, a sweatshirt, and a watch. Just remember that your watch cannot make sounds and may not be capable of doing anything other than keeping time. Watches with cameras, internet connectivity, or fitness trackers are not allowed. 

 

Finally, be sure to arrive at the testing center early. The last thing you want on the day of your ACT is to arrive feeling stressed and tense. Instead, allow plenty of time to account for traffic, accidents, or other unexpected obstacles. Get there before 7:45AM, and if you’re still feeling stressed, try practicing some mindful breathing exercises to calm your nerves before you get in line for registration. Don’t worry, after all your hard work, test day is finally here and it will be over before you know it. 

 

For more help preparing for the ACT, don’t miss our post outlining all of our CollegeVine Guides to the ACT. For help using your grades and test scores to decide which schools might be a great fit for you, don’t miss our customized and innovative Chancing Engine and School List Generator. Here, we use a proprietary algorithm backed by over 100,000 data points to develop a school list based on your real admissions chances and preferences.

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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.