You’re ready to take the ACT — that all-important test can determine your future college options. So exciting! A little knowledge and prep work can go a long way toward securing your future dreams. You might be curious about a couple of the most basic questions such as what is a good ACT score? And how long is the ACT?

Put simply, the ACT is two hours and 55 minutes — if you don’t take the writing test. But there are a few more details you may want to know ahead of time about the length of each test. (Hint: You’ll want to know this ahead of time. Each test is a different amount of time.) Two other factors could change your situation:

  1. You might decide to take the writing test.
  2. You might opt to take an extended time test due to a learning disability or other qualification.

Let’s break it all down. You’re racing the clock (in a controlled manner, of course!) when you take the ACT. Here’s what you need to know.

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What Time Does the ACT Test Start and When Does it End?

First, check your email instructions for your assigned reporting time. Your assigned test center reporting time is usually going to be 8 a.m.

Your testing center might not be the familiar halls of your high school or your comfy English classroom. It might be at a nearby college or even another high school. Consider doing a practice drive to your testing center a few days early if you’re not quite sure where it is.

On the day of the test, you don’t wanna wake up at 7:54 a.m., blast through the kitchen (without breakfast) and blow six stop signs on your way to the testing center. Instead:

  • Set your alarm (or three alarms, if you have to), eat a good breakfast and arrive by 8 a.m.
  • Pat yourself on the back if you arrive earlier than 7:45 a.m., but know that if you do arrive early, you might have to wait outside until testing staff members get your room ready.
  • Follow directions for checking in — a test administrator will tell you what to do once you arrive. You’ll officially start testing after 8 a.m. as soon as all examinees are checked in and seated.

You should be done with the standard-time ACT test (without writing) at about 12:35 p.m. — Just in time for lunch!

How Long is the ACT with Writing?

You can choose to take the ACT writing test. Some colleges and universities want to see how you write, but it’s not required for every college. Not sure whether you need to take the writing test? Ask your admission counselor at each college about that school’s admission requirements.

The ACT writing test tacks on a 40-minute essay test to the other four tests. The writing test is fairly simple to understand. You’ll get a prompt that describes an issue and three different perspectives on that issue. You must answer the prompt in pencil on the lined pages of an answer folder provided to you. 

You’ll be dismissed about 1:35 p.m. if you take the ACT writing test.

How Long is the ACT with Extended Time?

The ACT offers National Extended Time, also called 50 percent extended time. In other words, you’ll get extended time on each section of the ACT and you’ll get a break after each section. You’ll need to be approved ahead of time for extended testing. Learn more about ACT accommodations.

Overall, the extended time ACT gives you:

  • 70 minutes to complete Test 1 — English
  • 90 minutes to complete Test 2 — Mathematics
  • 55 minutes to complete Test 3 — Reading
  • 55 minutes to complete Test 4 — Science
  • 60 minutes to respond to the Writing test prompt (if you choose to take the writing test)

It may not take you every spare minute of extended time to finish each test. For example, let’s say there’s a group of extended time test takers who finish with the English test early. All examinees can move on to the next test (Mathematics) once everyone’s finished. However, all examinees in the room must work on the same test at the same time.

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Parts of the ACT

There are four distinct subject tests on the ACT: English, mathematics, reading and science. Here’s an overview of each type of test you’ll take during the ACT test and how long each section lasts. 


The English test on the ACT is 45 minutes long and contains 75 questions.

You’ll be given writing passages on this test that will ask you to evaluate specific writing elements. For example, you might need to determine a passage’s tone or might simply need to select the correct English-appropriate answer. Take a look at specific underlined portions of the test and consider all answer choices before you choose the one that best responds to the question.

There’s a great English test prep example on ACT’s website. Check it out!


The Mathematics test on the ACT is 60 minutes long and contains 60 questions.

You’ll find the following types of math problems on the mathematics test:

  • Pre-algebra
  • Elementary algebra
  • Intermediate algebra
  • Coordinate geometry
  • Plane geometry
  • Trigonometry

All problems vary from straightforward “solve-for-x equations” to graphs and charts.

Planning to use a calculator? Be sure you check out the latest calculator policy so you know you’re using the right type of calculator. Make sure it works and that you know how to use it! (It’d be a shame if you borrowed someone’s ultra-powerful calculator on test day and then couldn’t figure out how to turn it on.)

You don’t technically need a calculator to solve any equations on the mathematics test. All problems can be solved without a calculator, but having one sure is handy.

Check out the helpful mathematics test prep example on ACT’s website.


The Reading test on the ACT is 35 minutes long and contains 40 questions.

As you might imagine, this test is stuffed with various reading passages about and tests your comprehension. Topic clusters include fiction, social science, natural science and the humanities. You’ll answer questions about how well you understand a particular passage. It’s important to:

  • Read each passage carefully.
  • Consider all of the answer choices (read those carefully, too!) Look back and forth from the passage to the questions as you answer them.

Here’s a great example of what you might find on the reading portion of the ACT.


The Science test on the ACT is 35 minutes long and contains 40 questions.

Luckily, you don’t need to be a budding biologist to do well on the science portion of the ACT. You just need to be able to read charts and graphs and interpret the scientific information involved. Be sure you read each question carefully so you understand the scientific information included in each passage. scientific information in the passage when answering the question. There could be conflicting viewpoints in each passage, according to ACT, so be careful!

Here’s what to expect on the ACT Science test.

When to Take the ACT

The ACT (and SAT, for that matter) can be taken any time during high school. Most school counselors recommend taking at least one test by June of junior year, and, for good measure, another test soon after. Some states allow you to take the test for free. Check with your school counselor to find out whether your state allows you to take the ACT for free.

Think you might want to take the ACT as a sophomore? Or maybe you’re not ready as a junior and think it’s better to wait till senior year. Take into account your desired level of preparation, readiness for the test and college deadlines and goals.

Get Ready for the ACT Now!

Now that you know how much time you’ll have for each individual portion of the test, it’s time to practice. Get a feel for how much time you have on each question by going through timed tests.

It really is a “timing” thing. Your ability to move swiftly and accurately through the test and check it consistently against the rest of the time you have allotted is the key — whether you’re on standard or extended time.

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