ACT English Section

ACT English Test Outline

The ACT English test is a 45-minute assessment on which students answer 75 multiple-choice questions. All of these questions are based on reading passages, with approximately the same number of questions per passage. Test-takers receive a section score of 1 to 36 as well as three reporting category scores, with the latter given as percentages of correct answers (there is no penalty for guessing in any scoring area). All ACT administrations present the test's sections in the same order, and the English test is given first. Test-takers who finish early must wait until the 45 minutes assigned for ACT English have expired before moving on to the next section. There is no break after the ACT English test (the only breaks are after the second and fourth sections).

ACT English Reading Passages

There are five reading passages included on the ACT English test, each of which is about 300-350 words. Many different styles of writing are included, from first-person narratives to descriptive essays. Passage topics are intended for general readerships and may cover historical events, trends in the arts, scientific observations, author experiences, biographies of important people, and numerous other subjects of interest to high school students. ACT English passages are not intended to assess knowledge of any other subject, and all questions can be answered from the information included therein. Reading passages are rendered in standard American English.

ACT English Question Types

All 75 ACT English questions are multiple choice with four answer options, and there are about 15 questions associated with each of the test's five passages. Within the reading passages, questions are referenced either via underlined text with the question number underneath or with a box enclosing the question number. A few questions concern the passage as a whole, and these questions are always explicitly labeled. For questions on underlined text, "NO CHANGE" (leaving the indicated word or phrase as it is) is always the first answer option. ACT English questions fall into one of three reporting categories: Conventions of Standard English (39-41 questions), Production of Writing (22-24 questions), and Knowledge of Language (11-13 questions).

ACT English Skills

The purpose of the English test, according to ACT, is to "measure standard written English knowledge and skills along with English language conventions." Conventions of Standard English questions cover verb tenses, punctuation, conjunctions, pronouns, and other issues of grammar. Production of Writing questions are concerned with reading passage organization, topic development, and author purpose. Knowledge of Language questions focus on the ability to edit someone else's writing by choosing answers that improve passages. The ACT English test does not evaluate spelling or vocabulary.

ACT English Scoring and Benchmark Data

The mean ACT English score has been most recently reported at 20.3, while the median score is slightly less (a 19 is in the 46th percentile, and a 20 is in the 52nd percentile). Almost two-thirds of all test-takers (64%) score 22 or below on ACT English. Scores of 25 and 30 are in the 79th and 91st percentiles respectively, and only 1% of students receive scores of 35 or above. The College Readiness Benchmark for ACT English is a score of 18 or above. According to reports published by ACT, 61% of all test-takers in the latest high school graduating class met this sectional benchmark, which was a higher rate than for any other portion of the ACT.

ACT English Scores, University Admission, Course or Test Waivers, and Scholarships

Although it is not a particularly widespread practice, some universities have minimum ACT English score requirements for consideration of admission (students below these thresholds are not even eligible to apply). Additionally, it is common for postsecondary institutions use ACT English scores for placement purposes, and students whose performance is at or above a specified level may be able to waive introductory English courses and/or testing requirements. Finally, there are many scholarship opportunities available to students with outstanding ACT scores. Undergraduate university applicants are advised to conduct thorough research on all of the above issues.

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