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How Long Is the ACT With Writing?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Apr 20, 2018 7:00:00 PM

ACT Writing

 

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The ACT is a standardized test that requires endurance. You're asked to answer 215 multiple-choice questions subject area by subject area—a style of testing that causes fatigue for many students. The normal four-section (English, Math, Reading, Science) ACT is already lengthy, but how much longer does it get when you add on the Writing test?

In this article, you'll find out just how long the ACT with Writing is, along with some actions you can take to deal with its monstrous length.

Feature Image Credit: Joe Haupt/Flickr

 

How Long Is the ACT With Writing?

The first thing to think about is how long each section of the test is on the ACT Plus Writing. In the chart below, you can see the order, time, and number of questions for each ACT section, including the optional Writing (essay) section:

Section

Time

# of Questions

1. English

45 minutes

75

2. Math

60 minutes

60

3. Reading

35 minutes

40

4. Science

35 minutes

40

5. Experimental*

20 minutes (approximately)

?

6. Writing (optional)

40 minutes

1 essay

*Given to only some test takers.

If you take the ACT with Writing, the time for each section (English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing) adds up to a total of three hours and 35 minutes of test sections (excluding breaks).

By contrast, the total time of the ACT without Writing is only two hours and 55 minutes. The exception to this rule is when there is an additional 20-minute unscored section ("Experimental" in the above chart) added to the ACT without Writing, raising the total test time to three hours and 15 minutes.

 

How Long Is the ACT Plus Writing Test-Taking Experience?

Just knowing the amount of time each section takes doesn't tell you the whole story. In order to get the full picture of how long the ACT with Writing is, you also have to account for breaks. Below, I've added in the two breaks that occur during the ACT Plus Writing Test:

Section

Time

1. English

45 minutes

2. Math

60 minutes

Break

10 minutes

3. Reading

35 minutes

4. Science

35 minutes

5. Experimental*

20 minutes (approximately)

Break**

5 minutes

6. Writing

40 minutes

*Not scored; only administered to select students not taking the ACT Plus Writing.

**Only for students taking the ACT Plus Writing; all other students are free to leave.

When breaks are included, the ACT Plus Writing takes a total of three hours and 50 minutes. With breaks but without Writing, the ACT is only three hours and five minutes long (or three hours and 25 minutes long if you have to take the experimental section).

Some students dislike the breaks in-between sections. While it's true that breaks do make the test longer (which, in turn, requires you to keep your brain in test mode longer), they're also beneficial. During the breaks, you'll not only be able to use the restroom, but you'll also get the chance to briefly relax your mind. These actions should lead to a higher ACT score (since you won't lose time running to the restroom mid-section, for instance), which will then save you time by making it unnecessary to retake the test.

Be aware that proctors occasionally forget about breaks or accidentally cut the breaks short. That said, the breaks between Math and Reading and between Science and Writing are absolutely your right as a test taker. If it seems as if a break is going to be shorter than the maximum time or get skipped over altogether, be sure to request a break. Read our guide to learn what to do if your ACT testing center experiences any problems like these.

 

ACT Plus Writing Test-Taking Experience With Extended Time

If you normally get extended time on tests in school, or if you think you might need extra time on the ACT, there are a few different accommodations that allow you to have more time.

National Extended Time for ACT Plus Writing will give you six total hours (including breaks) for the ACT Plus Writing. If you qualify for Special Testing time, you may receive even more time (depending on your diagnosis and the accommodations deemed necessary). Check out our guide to learn more about how to request and get ACT accommodations.

 

How to Deal With the ACT Test Length: 5 Key Tips

Even if you don't get extended time on the test, the ACT with Writing is still pretty long. So what can you do to prepare for such a lengthy test? Here are our top tips.

 

#1: Build Up to It

Think of the ACT with Writing as a marathon. Some people have naturally higher endurance levels than others, but everyone still needs to train in order to get up to running 26.2 miles in one go. In the case of the ACT, this means you'll need to start out by practicing questions on individual sections, move up to taking entire sections at once, and finally work your way up to taking full-length, timed ACT practice tests (including breaks).

 

#2: Make Your Practice Tests as Realistic as Possible

It's not enough to simply practice taking a full-length ACT with Writing. If you really want to know how you'll do on test day, you'll need to take practice tests under the exact same (or close to it) conditions that you'll have on test day. This means you should wake up early on a Saturday morning to take your practice test at 8 am, and find a quiet place to take it. It also means following all time restrictions on the test, including breaks.

Be sure to practice using a non-mechanical pencil, particularly on the Writing test. The more closely you can emulate real testing conditions, the better prepared you'll be for the ACT.

 

#3: Use the Breaks Well

Breaks are important for your mental and physical well-being. Get up and move around during these times if your energy levels are getting low. Make sure to bring a snack and water so you can replenish yourself quickly (and don't have to go hunting for a vending machine).

Get back to your seat at least two minutes before the test resumes so that you can calm back down and reenter a test-taking mindset.

If your energy or anxiety levels tend to be high during tests and you're worried that getting up and moving might break your concentration, try to at least do some stretches in your seat. Shaking out and stretching your hands and arms is very important (particularly before the Writing test), as your fingers can get cramped from gripping your pencil too tightly. It might also help to slowly roll around your head and stretch your neck in order to release any tension that's gathered there.

 

#4: Get Enough Sleep Multiple Nights Before Test Day

It's not just the night before that matters—making sure you have a solid night's rest two and three nights before the ACT can make a big difference. I know that for me, a bad night's sleep catches up with me a couple of days later rather than the next day! I recommend aiming for about eight or nine hours of sleep a night, or whatever amount you need to feel well rested.

 

#5: Eat a Balanced Breakfast the Morning of the Test

You don't want to have a sugar crash or an upset stomach halfway through the ACT; you also don't want to faint because you didn't eat anything that morning.

So what should you do? Eat a healthy, balanced breakfast that isn't too greasy or too sugary. Protein and complex carbohydrates (rather than something sweet like cereal) are the way to go.

 

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You must ignore the seduction and sorcery that is a doughnut cupcake (?!?!?!) for your test-day breakfast. (Chris Martin/Flickr)

 

What’s Next?

Want a quick way to boost your ACT Writing score? Read our 15 tips and strategies for getting a high score on the ACT essay.

Get to know the ACT Plus Writing even better with our article on how to get a perfect score on the ACT essay.

Discover how the length of your ACT essay is related to your ACT Writing score.

 

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Laura Staffaroni
About the Author

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.



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