Navigating the ACT: Understanding Its Duration and Structure

09/02/20248 minute read
Navigating the ACT: Understanding Its Duration and Structure

The ACT can be a crucial checkpoint on the journey toward college admission. In this blog post, we break down the ACT's timing and offer practical tips to help you make the most of every precious minute. Good time management will make your test-taking experience as smooth as possible!

Whether you're a first-time test-taker or looking to enhance your performance with a retake, understanding the ACT's duration is a crucial step toward a high score. Read on to set the stage for effective preparation.

Overview of the ACT

Before getting into the timing of the ACT, let's familiarize ourselves with its overall structure. This standardized test is composed of four main sections: 

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Reading
  • Science

In addition to these core sections, the ACT offers an optional Writing (Essay) section. While not mandatory, this component is an opportunity for you to showcase your analytical writing skills.

The decision to include the Writing section adds an extra layer to the test, impacting the overall duration of the ACT. 

Timing of Each ACT Section

Understanding the ACT's total duration requires a breakdown of the time allocated for each section. The section timing is as follows:

ACT Section Duration
SectionNumber of QuestionsTimeTime per Question
English7545 minutes36 seconds
Math6060 minutes60 seconds
Reading4035 minutes53 seconds
Science4035 minutes53 seconds
Writing (optional)1 essay40 minutes
Total215 questions175 minutes without Writing, 215 minutes with Writing

As we proceed, we'll explore effective strategies for managing the timing of the ACT so you can approach it with confidence.

Total Test Duration

The ACT introduces brief breaks between some sections. There is a 10-minute break between the Math and Reading portions (sections 2 and 3). And if you choose to do the Writing test, you’ll enjoy a 5-minute break after the Science section. These intermissions are moments for a mental reset, helping you approach the next section with renewed focus.

The core ACT — excluding the optional Writing section — lasts 2 hours and 55 minutes. If you complete the essay portion, the total duration extends to 3 hours and 35 minutes.

Understanding the ACT duration is like mapping out the terrain before a journey. As we progress, we'll explore effective strategies to get the most out of your time on the ACT.

Strategies for Effective Time Management on the ACT

Let's lay out some strategies to help you conduct a symphony of effective time management throughout the ACT.

1. Don’t be committed to going in order.

Identify questions you can conquer swiftly, and return to tackle the more difficult ones if time permits. Otherwise, you risk getting held up by one difficult question instead of answering several others that you know.

2. Simulate the real conditions of the test.

Full-length practice tests are your best friends. They not only assess your content knowledge but also train your mind for the endurance required. Mimic real test conditions, complete with breaks, to build stamina and acclimate yourself to the test rhythm. Take a practice ACT here.

3. Know thy sections.

Each ACT section comes with its unique challenges. Understand each section, including its question types. This recognition will make you feel confident on test day!

4. Rule out obvious wrong answers.

As you read through the questions, cross out any answers that you KNOW are wrong. Even if you decide to skip that question for now, you'll have a better chance of choosing the right answer when you come back to it.

5. Use remaining time to check your answers.

If you finish the test with time to spare, don’t squander it! Use the extra time to go back and check your answers. You may notice something you missed the first time around.

Blog Banner
Blog Banner

Special Accommodations for Extended Time

For students with documented needs, the ACT offers special accommodations like extended time. These accommodations aim to level the playing field for students with disabilities or other conditions that may affect their ability to complete the test within standard time limits.

Extended time allows eligible students extra time to complete each section of the ACT. The amount of additional time granted varies depending on the student's specific needs and the accommodations recommended by their qualified professional evaluator.

How to Apply for Accommodations

Here are the steps, as outlined by the ACT, for requesting accommodations:

  1. Register to take the ACT at Be sure to choose “Yes” when asked to confirm you need accommodations.
  2. Forward the email you receive from the ACT to your school counselor, along with a Consent to Release Information to ACT form. Your school counselor will formally submit your accommodation request.
  3. Review the decision notification with your school counselor. It will likely arrive between 5-10 days after submitting your request. You can submit an appeal any time before the late registration deadline.
  4. Once approved, make arrangements with your school to test within the special testing window.
  5. Upload your photo and review your admission ticket to make sure it shows your accommodations. Print your admission ticket and take it with you to your testing center.

Special accommodations, such as extended time, ensure that all students have equal opportunities to demonstrate their abilities on the ACT. By understanding the accommodation application process and how it impacts test duration, eligible students can access the support they need to perform their best on exam day.

The Bottom Line

As you prepare for the ACT, keep time management in mind. Don’t forget to incorporate time management techniques into your study routine — it can make a huge difference in your performance on test day! 

For personalized guidance on mastering the ACT, book a free consultation with an expert academic adviser today. Their expertise can put you on the path towards achieving your target score.

Start implementing time management techniques today and take proactive steps towards conquering the ACT with confidence. Your dedication and strategic approach will pay off!

Why AP Exams Matter More Than Ever With Crimson CEO Jamie Beaton