Getting ready for the ACT exam goes beyond just reviewing trigonometry and grammar rules. Doing well on the ACT requires pacing and stamina so you can keep up your focus over hours of testing. So just how long is the ACT test? And how many questions do you have to answer per minute? Learn the ins and outs of ACT timing so you know how to maximize your time on the ACT.
ACT Test Length
The ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes long (or 175 minutes), but 3 hours and 35 minutes long (215 minutes) if you take the ACT Plus Writing. Each section is given in one chunk and takes between thirty and sixty minutes.
|Subject Area||Total Questions||Time (in minutes)|
|Writing (Optional)||1 essay||40|
You will receive just one 10-minute break after the Math section and a 5-minute break after the multiple-choice sections if you are taking the ACT Plus Writing. Definitely use that time to stretch, drink some water, and have a snack, since you will be testing for over an hour before and after the break.
Time Pressure on the ACT
Despite the fact that the ACT is almost three hours long (or three and a half hours if you take the ACT Plus Writing), the time pressure can be intense.
This table illustrates about how much time you have to spend on each question on the ACT. Of course, in practice, your pacing will vary depending on question type and difficulty. But this gives you an idea of just how much you need to accomplish during each minute of the ACT.
|Subject Area||Approximate Time Per Question|
The ACT’s sections are given in single chunks. This means that developing your stamina and focus will be key to doing well on the ACT. You could be the best mathematician in the world, but that won’t mean anything on the ACT unless you can work quickly and keep your energy up for a full hour of math problems.
Preparing for Each Section
Let's talk about how to hone your time management skills on each of the four sections.
The English subject area will feel the fastest since you have to answer 75 questions in just 45 minutes. Especially if this is a challenging subject for you, take time to practice not only the content but the pacing of this section. To improve your speed, start by giving yourself unlimited time on practice English sections. Then narrow that time to 60 minutes. Finally decrease that to 45 minutes. This will help you build accuracy and speed as well as get comfortable with the ACT’s format.
The ACT math section has 60 questions in 60 minutes. This is nice because it will be easy to keep track of pacing – try to average one question per minute. Similar to the English section, if that speed is difficult for you, start by giving yourself unlimited time to get used to the type of Math questions the ACT asks, then decrease that to 75 minutes, and finally 60. The goal is to increase speed without sacrificing accuracy.
Reading and Science
Although they test very different subject areas, the ACT’s Reading and Science sections are formatted very similarly. Both sections deal with breaking down information – whether that is a chart, research report or a longer passage. As you study, develop a system. Will you skim the passage or chart first and then read the questions, or will you read the questions first and then look at the information?
Both systems can work equally well, so try both and figure out which one works best for you. Once you choose your system, practice so you can execute it smoothly. The goal is to be able to very quickly break down passages and data without going so fast that you make mistakes.
Dealing With Fatigue
The best way to prepare for the ACT’s intense pacing, and to increase your test-taking stamina, is to take full, strictly-timed practice tests. If you can, take these on Saturday mornings, so you can prepare for your energy level during that time of day.
Taking practice tests will help you get used to the ACT’s format and pacing, especially in the English section where you have about 36 seconds per question. When you are taking practice tests, simulate actual test conditions as much as possible. Bubble in your answers to account for the slight bit of time that will take.
Finally, if you are taking the ACT Plus Writing, practice writing your essay after you do all of the multiple-choice sections. Yes, it’s definitely tough to write an essay after nearly three hours of multiple choice, but that's what you will have to do on test day. Practicing beforehand will give you the best chance of focusing and overcoming fatigue on the day of the ACT.
Mark your calendar – Saturdays are for practice tests!
Test Day Tips to Deal With ACT Length
The day of the test, you'll have woken up early that morning (possibly after being nervous and not sleeping well). You'll be two hours into the test, and you might feel an energy crash. What do you do?
Here are quick tips:
- Eat a nutritious breakfast that isn't too greasy or sweet. Complex carbohydrates can give you lasting energy.
- Always take advantage of breaks. Use the restroom even if you don't fully feel like you need to, since you don't want to have to use the bathroom in the middle of the test.
- Bring a snack and water so you can replenish your energy and thirst without wandering through the school halls.
Looking for ACT practice tests? We've compiled links to free, official ACT practice tests.
Now that you are prepared for the ACT’s pacing, get other advice for doing your best on test day. Read our test day tips so you can be both mentally and physically prepared for the ACT.
Where is the best place to take the ACT? Read our guide to find the best testing location near you.
What's a good ACT score? Read our guide to figure out the ACT target score you should be aiming for.
Want to improve your ACT score by 4+ points? Download our free guide to the top 5 strategies you need in your prep to improve your ACT score dramatically.Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.