In addition to all your ACT studying, you also need to prepare for test day. When exactly does the test start? What time will you hand in your scantron, gather your arsenal of No. 2 pencils, and leave the test center? Is timing the same for all students, or does it vary by location?
This guide will go over the exact start and end time of the ACT so you can plan your Saturday morning. Assuming you haven't arranged an alternative testing date or other accommodations, what time do you need to arrive?
When Do You Need to Arrive?
You must be in the test center by 8:00 am at the very latest. Test administrators are strict about denying entrance to latecomers. Since students are usually admitted at 7:45, you should really aim to arrive between 7:30 and 7:45.
There's often a line of students waiting outside, so it's definitely a good idea to get there earlier than 7:45. You'll check in with your admission ticket and ID and find your room. Seats are assigned, but first you may have to store your bag and snacks somewhere outside of the testing room.
Once everyone is checked in and seated, the proctor will pass out the test booklets and scantrons. She'll give you instructions about how to fill out your personal details and take the test. All of this takes about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how many students there are and how long it takes everyone to get settled.
While you arrive to the test center by 7:45, you'll actually start taking the test between 8:30 and 9:00. From the point you start in on your first English question, how long does the exam take?
How Long is the ACT?
Added together, the four multiple choice sections of the ACT take a total of 2 hours and 55 minutes. With the 40 minute essay, that increases to 3 hours and 35 minutes.
Besides the four sections, English, Math, Reading, and Science, you also get a 10 minute break. This break is always supposed to be after Math and before Reading. If you're taking the essay, you'll also get a 5 minute break first. If not, this is when you'll pass in your test and leave the testing center.
On rare occasions, some students are asked to take an extra fifth section (lucky them). This will be at the end and, don't worry, it won't be scored. It's just used to test out material for future tests. The questions could be multiple choice or student-produced responses. In the past, this section has been just 16 minutes long.
Typically, without this rare extra section, the ACT is 3 hours and 5 minutes, or 3 hours and 50 minutes with Writing including the break(s). Apart from a slight variation in start time to get everyone checked in, are there any other differences in how long the test takes in different test centers?
Are There Any Variations In the ACT Schedule?
The ACT should be standard at 3 hours and 5 minutes or 3 hours and 50 minutes across the board. Since it's a globally administered admissions test, ACT test-taking conditions should be standard for all students. The only exception involves accommodations for extended time or Special Testing.
The only variations in the ACT schedule might be if a proctor isn't strict with break time, or if students take extra time to return to the test room. There could also be a delay if a proctor had to dismiss a student from the testing room, although she might wait until the test is over to deal with an issue so as not to interrupt everyone else. Generally speaking, everyone taking the ACT will get the same amount of time.
Because of this, you can know what to expect for your Saturday morning schedule and when to arrange to be dropped off and picked up.
When Will You Leave the Testing Center?
Students taking the ACT are generally dismissed around 12:15, and those taking the ACT with Writing are dismissed around 1:15. Beyond the test, it takes a few minutes for the proctors to collect everyone's tests and to gather your things and leave. The proctor will dismiss everyone, and you'll be all done and free to go.
The ACT can feel like a time intensive and pressure-packed test for most students. Besides arranging your pick up and drop off time and knowing what to expect, is there anything else you can do to prepare for test day?
Plan For Your Test Day Schedule
The ACT is already stressful, so you don't want to add to your stress by running late or feeling clueless on test day. Instead, you should familiarize yourself with exactly what's coming and have a ready plan for those things that are in your control, like your schedule. You don't want to be running late and diving through the doors just before they close. That would just distract you, create anxiety, and be no fun for anyone.
Instead, leave early and give yourself plenty of time to arrive to the test center by 7:30, or 7:45 at the latest. Pack your bag the night before with everything you need, like Number 2 pencils and a calculator. Go to bed early, and eat a nutritious breakfast that will fuel your test-taking for the next few hours.
Bring a snack and water for the break is a good idea, too. Don't underestimate the effect your physical state has on your mental clarity! Who can focus on trigonometry problems when their stomach is rumbling for everyone to hear? Staying energized and hydrated, as well as taking advantage of your break time to move around out of your desk, will be refreshing and help you reset before diving into the challenging Reading section.
Put simply, prepare yourself so the morning of your test goes as smoothly as possible. Bring everything you need, and know your exact testing schedule. By 12:15 or 1:15, you'll be all finished and ready to celebrate completing the ACT!
Did you know that more recent ACT practice tests are better representations of what you'll get on test day, while the older ones are a little too easy? At least, that's what test experts say. Read here about whether or not the ACT has been getting harder in the past few years.
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.