How Long Is the ACT With Breaks?


While the test-taking part of the ACT is strictly timed at 2 hours and 55 minutes, the actual time you'll spend in the testing room is longer due to breaks, check in, and other factors. This guide will take a closer look at how long the ACT is with breaks and the amount of time you can plan to spend at your testing center.

First, let's consider how long the exam itself is versus how long your whole test-taking experience will be.


How Long Is the ACT?

Strictly speaking, the ACT is exactly 2 hours and 55 minutes (175 minutes) or 3 hours and 35 minutes (215 minutes) with the optional essay. In terms of the specific amount of time per section:

The sections always come in this order, and you can't return to work on a section once time has been called. You also can't flip ahead to other sections. The only exception is for students with approved accommodations, like extended time or Special Testing. 

The ACT is a fast-paced and time intensive test, and you only get one ten-minute break during the multiple-choice sections. This break always comes after Math and before Reading. If you're taking the essay section, then you'll get a five-minute break after Science and before beginning the essay. This is also when students not taking the ACT with Writing will leave the testing room.

To give a more realistic sense of how long the ACT will take, including breaks and other factors, let's look at the entire ACT test-taking experience.


The test will take all morning.


How Long Is the ACT Test-Taking Experience?

How long is the ACT with breaks? Including your 10 minute break, the ACT without Writing will take a total of 3 hours and 5 minutes from the time you start testing. With Writing, the ACT will clock in at 3 hours and 50 minutes, with the following schedule. (For simplicity's sake, I used a start time of 8:30 AM. Depending on how much time it takes for set up, students begin testing somewhere between 8:30 and 9:00, so you can shift this schedule forward accordingly.)


Total Time

Start Time

End Time


45 min




60 min




10 min




35 min




35 min



Break (some students leave)

5 min



Optional essay

40 min




230 min


For the most part, this schedule is standard for all students in all test centers across the country and world (give or take a minute to switch between sections). At least, it's supposed to be. It's possible there could be some variations if the proctor isn't strict about break times, or if there's some disruption like students taking too long to return to their testing room or someone getting dismissed for cell phone use. 

A few students have reported that their proctors skipped over their breaks completely, which both messes with your pacing and is totally unfair. If you find this happening to you, make sure to speak up, as you're entitled to take a ten-minute break after the Math section. 

The only other exception, as mentioned above, is for students who get accommodations for extended time on the ACT or extended or additional breaks. Otherwise, testing conditions should remain the same for all students. 



What other procedures come before you start taking the ACT?


What Are the ACT Test Day Procedures?

You should plan to arrive at your test center by 7:45 AM at the latest. Students should be checked in by 8:00, and latecomers won't be admitted. Your test will be on a Saturday morning at your chosen test center, unless you were approved for an alternative testing date due to religious reasons. 

Test centers vary in size, and larger ones might be holding other exams that same morning. It might take some time to get through the check-in line, hang up your belongings, high five your friend good luck, and find your room and assigned seat. I would advise getting there before 7:45, around about 7:30, to be safe. Make sure to save your admission ticket even after you're admitted, as you'll need it to fill out personal information on the test.

Once all students are checked in, the proctor will read directions and hand out the tests. You'll spend some time filling out your personal information. All of this will take 30 minutes to an hour, so you'll actually begin taking the ACT between 8:30 and 9:00. 

In rare cases, students will be asked to take an unscored fifth section. This may be multiple choice or student-produced responses, and it's used to test out future material. In the past, this sections has been just 16 minutes. 

Most students will be finished and dismissed from the testing room between 11:30AM and 1:00PM, depending on when your exam starts and if you take the essay. The only exception is students with extended time, who will either stay until around 2:30 to 3:00 or take the ACT at their school over multiple days. 

Considering the ACT is an intense marathon of a test, you should make sure to get there early and take advantage of break times. Don't add any extra stress to your morning by running late or getting distracted by being hungry or thirsty.



Don't go hungry on test day.


How Can You Be Well-Prepared on ACT Test Day?

Do you ever have a morning where it feels like everything's going wrong and you're constantly running 15 minutes late? You do not want your ACT test day to be one of those mornings. To make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible, you should pack your bag with everything you need the night before, like Number 2 pencils, your calculator, snacks, and a drink.

Try to go to bed early and eat a nutritious snack in the morning (definitely want to avoid a mid-test sugar crash). Take advantage of your 10-minute break after the long Math section to get up and move around. Re-energize with a snack and drink of water. Clear your mind, and get ready to shift from Math to Reading.

Just moving around and looking off into the distance will help refresh you before returning to tackle the Reading section. I would suggest returning to your seat about a minute before you start up again to settle in and get back into test-taking mode. Again, if your proctor isn't giving you a break (rare), speak up and get your time. You should have your ten minutes before Reading and five minutes before the essay. 

Just by being aware of the test day schedule and preparing with official ACT questions, you shouldn't have too many surprises on test day. Let's briefly review the most important pieces of information about the length of the ACT.




To Sum Up...

  • The ACT is about three hours (or three and a half with Writing), but the entire test-taking experience will be around four and a half (or five) hours.
  • Upon arrival at the test center, you'll spend half an hour to an hour getting checked in, seated, and filling out information on your test.
  • You get one ten-minute break after Reading and one five-minute break after the multiple choice sections.
  • Arrive by or before 7:45AM and plan to be picked up or drive home at between 11:30AM and 1:00PM, depending on when your exam begins and if you take the optional essay.

Prepare the night before, get there early, and take advantage of your break times. Before you know it, you'll be all finished and can enjoy the rest of your weekend!


What's Next?

For more on timing and what to expect on test day, check out our expert guide answering all your questions on the length of the ACT.

Students and test experts agree that the ACT has been getting harder and more difficult to finish over the past few years. What does the ACT have to say about this? Has it been getting even more challenging? Read all about changes in the ACT here.

Are you wondering when you should sign up to take the ACT for the first time? This guide describes the most important considerations to help you choose the best test date for you.



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About the Author
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Rebecca Safier

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.

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