Yocket Undergrad
on 25 May, 2016

The ACT Test - Structure

Students planning to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in the United States must take one recognized Reasoning test. The test that is most rapidly growing in popularity amongst high school students today is the ACT.

The ACT is a multiple-choice based test without any sort of negative marking. That means you are not penalized for guessing!

The aspects tested in the ACT are:

  1. English: Tests standard English (Grammar and Language semantics) and rhetoric skills.
  2. Mathematics: Tests mathematical skills that students have acquired up unto the 12th grade.
  3. Reading: Tests Reading Comprehension. How one understands long complex texts and answers questions based on the text.
  4. Science: Tests the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences
  5. Optional Writing Section or Essay Writing: Tests the writing skills emphasized in high school and entry level college English courses.



In the ACT the entire English Section is Passage based. 45 minutes long with 70 Questions. Spelling, vocabulary, and rote recall of rules of grammar are not tested. There are five passages in this section, each of which is accompanied by a set of multiple-choice questions. Different passage types are employed to provide a variety of rhetorical situations.

In each passage, some words/phrases of this passage are underlined. These underlined sections may have some grammatical or language errors. The number below the underlined phrase indicates the question number that will refer to that part of the text. Sometimes a white box with a number will also be seen. This means that the entire previous sentence is referred to in the question number indicated in the box.


A Microscope in the Kitchen

I grew up with buckets, shovels, and nets  1  waiting by the back door; hip-waders hanging in the closet; tide table charts covering the refrigerator door; and a microscope    2  was sitting on the kitchen table.  Having studied, my mother is a marine biologist.   4  Our household might have been described as uncooperative. Our meals weren’t always served in the expected order of breakfast, lunch, and supper. Everything was subservient to the disposal of the tides. When the tide was low, Mom could be found down on the mudflats. When the tide was high, she would be standing on the inlet bridge with her plankton net.

 Q.1 : Which of the following provides the best punctuation for underlined portion number 1?

  2. waiting, by the back door
  3. waiting by the back door
  4. waiting by the back door

 Q.2 : Which of the following is the best verb form for underlined portion number 2?

  2. would sit
  3. sitting
  4. sat

 Q.3 : What is the clearest, most concise wording for the sentence in underlined portion number 3?

  2. As my mother’s interest is science, she is
  3. My mother’s occupation is that of
  4. My mother is

 Q.4 : Which choice would most effectively introduce the rest of this paragraph, after underlined sentence number 4?

  2. There seemed to be no explanation for why Mom ran our household the way she did.
  3. Our household didn’t run according to a typical schedule.
  4. Mom ran our household in a most spectacular manner.


The student is asked questions about combining sentences, re-ordering sentences, grammatical and language errors in particular sentences to ensure that the passage is sound in language. It is important to note that there is a chance that there is no error. Then the option NO CHANGE is the correct alternative.



The Math section in the ACT is of a slightly higher level than SAT math. It is 60 minutes long with 60 questions. Knowledge of basic formulae and computational skills is required in this section. You can use a calculator in this section but all the questions can be solved without one. You will see that the test will try to trick you at times. The topics tested are not very hard and do not require very complex thinking. The ACT Math section will make you think you need to think complexly and will try to force you into making a mistake.

The topics tested on the ACT are very similar to those tested on the SAT. A few additional topics are tested in the ACT though.

The topics most widely tested on the ACT:

  • High-school level Arithmetic and Algebraic problems
  • Functions and how to increase/decrease the size of functions on a graph. What happens when you add/subtract a constant or multiply/divide by a constant.
  • Laws of shapes like Triangles, Squares, Circles and all Regular Polygons. How to find sizes of angles and sides of figures. Area and Perimeter of various shapes.
  • Solids as well like Cubes, Cones, Spheres as well as Volume and Surface Area of each.
  • How to read and analyze basic X-Y graphs and the number line.
  • Concepts related to Profit, Loss, Discount and Interest.
  • Basic Statistics – Mean, Median, Mode
  • Formation and Solving of Quadratic Equations
  • Set Theory
  • Trigonometry
  • Logic Problems


ACT-test-math1-diag.jpgIn the figure below H ≃F; E, G and I are collinear; and G is midpoint of FH. To prove that HI FE given the conditions stated above, which of the following is a logical order for the 5 steps in the table below?

Statement Reason
1. HG FG  The midpoint of a line segment divides the segment into 2 congruent segments
2. ∠EFGIGH  Verticles angles are congruent
3. ΔGHIΔGFE  Angle-side-angle congruent theorem
4. ∠EFG and IGH
are vertical angles
 Definition of vertical angles
5. HI FE Corresponding parts of congruent triangles are congruent




  1. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  2. 1, 2, 3, 5, 4
  3. 1, 2, 4, 3, 5
  4. 1, 4, 2, 3, 5
  5. 1, 5, 4, 2, 3



4. Each of the variables t, w, x, y and z represents a different positive real number. Given the equations below, which of the 4 vaiables t, w, x, y and z necessarily has the greatest value?

1.23 w = t1.01 x = t
0.99 y = t
0.23 z = t



  1. w
  2. x
  3. y
  4. z
  5. Cannot be determined from the given information




The entire Reading section in ACT is broken up into 5 sets of passages. The total time is 35 minute to answer 40 questions. In each part you see either one long passage or two short comparable passages followed by a set of multiple-choice questions. The passages are short excerpts from articles and books on a varied range of topics. Broadly the topics can be classified as Literature, Natural Sciences, Social Studies and Humanities.

The major Question types here will ask test takers to:

  • determine and explain main idea of passage(s)
  • locate and interpret significant details
  • understand sequences of events
  • determine the meaning of context-dependent words, phrases, and statements
  • draw generalizations
  • analyze the author's or narrator's voice and method
  • make comparisons between opinions and views
  • comprehend complex relationships

These questions do not test the rote recall of facts from outside the passage, isolated vocabulary items, or rules of formal logic. Instead, the test focuses on the complementary and supportive skills that readers must use in studying written materials across a range of subject areas.


Passage 1: (LITERARY NARRATIVE: This passage is adapted from the novel The Men of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor (©1998 by Gloria Naylor)

Clifford Jackson, or Abshu, as he preferred to be known in the streets, had committed himself several years ago to use his talents as a playwright to broaden the horizons for the young, gifted, and black—which was how he saw every child milling around that dark street. As head of the community center he went after every existing grant on the city and state level to bring them puppet shows with the message to avoid drugs and stay in school; and plays in the park such as actors   rapping their way through Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Abshu believed there was something in Shakespeare for everyone, even the young of Brewster Place, and if he broadened their horizons just a little bit, there might be enough room for some of them to slip through and see what the world had waiting. No, it would not be a perfect world, but definitely one with more room than they had now.

The kids who hung around the community center liked Abshu, because he never preached and it was clear that when they spoke he listened; so he could zero in on the kid who had a real problem. It might be an offhand remark while shooting a game of pool or a one- on-one out on the basketball court, but he had a way of making them feel special with just a word or two. Abshu wished that his own family could have stayed together. There were four of them who ended up...

Q. 1 : The point of view from which the passage is told can best be described as that of:

  1. a man looking back on the best years of his life as director of a community center in a strife-ridden neighborhood.
  2. a narrator describing his experiences as they happen, starting with childhood and continuing through his adult years as an advocate for troubled children.
  3. an unidentified narrator describing a man who devoted his life to neighborhood children years after his own difficult childhood.
  4. an admiring relative of a man whose generosity with children was widely respected in the neighborhood where he turned around a declining community center.

Q. 2 : It can reasonably be inferred from the passage that which of the following is a cherished dream that Abshu expects to make a reality in his lifetime?


  1. Establishing himself financially so as to be able to bring his original family back under one roof
  2. Seeing the children at the community center shift their interest from sports to the dramatic arts
  3. Building on the success of the community center by opening other centers like it throughout the state
  4. Expanding for some, if not all, of the children the vision they have of themselves and their futures

Q. 3 : It can reasonably be inferred from the passage that Abshu and the Masons would agree with which of the following statements about the best way to raise a child?


  1. For a child to be happy, he or she must develop a firm basis in religion at an early age.
  2. For a child to be fulfilled, he or she must be exposed to great works of art and literature that contain universal themes.
  3. For a child to thrive and be a responsible member of society, he or she must develop a sense of discipline.
  4. For a child to achieve greatness, he or she must attach importance to the community and not to the self.



Passage 5: LITERARY NARRATIVE: Passage A is adapted from the essay “In Orbit” by Brenda Miller (©2011 by Brenda Miller). Passage B is adapted from the essay “On July 20th, 1969…” by Robert Silverberg (©2009 by Robert Silverberg).

Passage A by Brenda Miller

July 20, 1969: I’m running in a wide circle at the far end of the cul-de-sac, around and around until I settle in the dust under a thorny bush, but then my name floats into the game, calling me back as dusk descends on the neighborhood. Other names unfurl like ribbons, doors opening and closing— Bobby, Brenda, Laura! —and none of us kids even says goodbye, we just disperse, our small band so easily dissolved. I leave my perfect hiding place—knees scratched, my hair smelling of sap—to go back inside, where it’s too hot and smells of stuffed cabbage, the television on to the evening news. Father, mother, brothers—we’re all angled toward the...

Questions 1-3 ask about Passage A.

Q. 1 : The last paragraph of Passage A (lines 37–49) marks a shift in the passage from:
  1. a description of events leading up to a sudden action by the narrator to a reflection on the intentions and meanings behind that action.
  2. an overview of a family dilemma to an explanation of how the narrator solved that dilemma.
  3. an example of the narrator’s typical response to family events to an analysis of the narrator’s personality.
  4. a chronology of a historical event to a summary of the narrator’s circumstances at the time.

Q. 2 :  In Passage A, the narrator’s descriptions of Armstrong suggest that she sees him as ultimately:
  1. self-confident and triumphant.
  2. isolated and alone.
  3. awe-inspiring and heroic.
  4. stiff and ceremonial.



Passage 5: LITERARY NARRATIVE: Passage A is adapted from the essay “In Orbit” by Brenda Miller (©2011 by Brenda Miller). Passage B is adapted from the essay “On July 20th, 1969…” by Robert Silverberg (©2009 by Robert Silverberg).

Passage B by Robert Silverberg

Moon Landing Day—we gathered before the television set to watch Apollo’s final approach to the lunar surface. (And who ever imagined that we would watch the event as it happened, on television, in our homes?) “Two thousand feet,” Aldrin said, and Houston said, “Eagle looking great. You’re GO.” With the incredible crawl-line at the bottom of the screen saying something like LIVE TRANSMISSION FROM THE MOON. Followed by long anxious moments as the landing vehicle drifted over the barren surface, moving between craters and a boulder field—I am looking at the MOON, I told myself, I am looking at the MOON—and then came the great plume of dust as...

Questions 7-9 ask about Passage B.

Q. 7 : Which of the following statements provides the most accurate comparison of the tone of each passage?

  1. Passage A is fondly nostalgic, while Passage B is impersonal and scientific.
  2. Passage A is optimistic and exuberant, while Passage B is sarcastic and cynical.
  3. Both passages begin by conveying some sense of the narrator’s wonder but conclude with a note of disenchantment.
  4. Both passages begin by conveying the narrator’s doubt but conclude with some sense of lasting pride.

Q. 8 :  Compared to the narrator of Passage A, the narrator of Passage B provides more information about:
  1. Armstrong’s actions after setting foot on the moon’s surface.
  2. Armstrong’s qualifications for a moon voyage.
  3. the prior accomplishments of the space program.
  4. the order of events throughout the moon landing broadcast.




The ACT Science Test is a 35 minutes long, 40 question section. Here students are tested on their understanding, analysis and evaluation skills required in the sciences. The ACT assumes that the test takers have either finished or in the process of finishing 3 years of core science courses. One year of Biology and/or Earth Science is also assumed. This combination of courses is what the ACT thinks will prepare you for college level courses.

In this test, each set of scientific data is followed by a set of multiple-choice questions. The scientific information is conveyed in one of these formats:

  1. Pure Data in the form of graphs, tables and other schematic formats
  2. Experimental summaries and research results
  3. Opinions in the forms of related hypotheses. Usually conflicting with one another.

The questions that follow the scientific information will ask test takers to:

  1. Identify and comprehend the material presented and the concepts that the material relates to
  2. Analyze any relationships between the data and the conclusion/hypotheses that the data is related to.
  3. Make predictions and generalizations based on the given data.

Keeping all this in mind, a lot of the ACT test takers will tell you that you do not need to know complex scientific formulae or hard to remember laws. Majority of, if not the entirety of, the Science Section is pure data-crunching. All the answers to the questions asked will be in the passage and graph/chart/table provided. All you need to do is look.





This is a 40-minute writing section where the test taker’s writing skills are tested. The test describes a situation or issue and then gives us three different perspectives on the issue. Now you have to analyze these perspectives and generate a perspective of your own. Finally your essay must clearly explain the relationship between your generated perspective and the three perspectives presented. It is important to note that your perspective does not matter to your score.


Intelligent Machines

Many of the goods and services we depend on daily are now supplied by intelligent, automated machines rather than human beings. Robots build cars and other goods on assembly lines, where once there were human workers. Many of our phone conversations are now conducted not with people but with sophisticated technologies. We can now buy goods at a variety of stores without the help of a human cashier. Automation is generally seens as a sign of progress, but what is lost when we replace humans with machines? Given the accelerating variety and prevalence of intelligent machines, it is worth examining the implications and meaning of their presence in our lives.

Read and carefully consider these persectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about the increasing presence of intelligent machines.

Perspective One:
What we lose with the replacement of people by machines is some part of our own humanity. Even our mundane daily encounters no longer require from us basic courtesy, respect, and tolerance for other people. 

Perspective Two:
Machines are good at low-skill repetitive jobs, and at high-speed., extremely precise jobs.In both cases they work better than humans. This  efficiency leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone.

Perspective Three:
Intelligent machines challenge our long-standing ideas about what humans are or can be. This is good because it pushes both humans and machines towards new, unimagined possibilities.

Essay Talk

Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on the increasing presence of intelligent machines. In your essay, be sure to:

  1. analyze and evaluate the perspectives given
  2. state and develop your own perspective on the issue
  3. explain the relationship between your perspective and those given

Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others, in partial agreement, or wholly different. Whatever the case, support your ideas with logical reasoning and detailed, persuasive examples.


A sample essay prompt is given above.





Each of the 4 sections are scaled to the range of 1(low) to 36(high). The average of the four sections is computed and rounded to give a composite score. The Composite score of the ACT matters more to Universities than individual section scores. The essay is graded by two individual evaluators on four writing domains –Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, Language Use and Conventions. The essay is scored from 1(low) to 6(high). Your score is provided with a Percentile score as well. For example, a percentile of 65% means that 65% of high school students who took the exam have scored in your range or below you.




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