One of the key ACT test taking tips is to have an effective time management strategy. But to do that, you need to know how long the ACT test is as a whole, but also how long each section of the ACT test is individually.
Each section of the ACT test has a different time limit placed on it, and you’ll want to keep track of each one, so you can use your time effectively.
For more on the length of the ACT test and it’s individual sections, read on.
How Long is the ACT Test?
The length of the ACT test depends on two things: Whether you count the breaks, and whether you are taking the ACT with 4 sections, or 5.
With 4 sections, the official test time is 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete, or 3.5 hours with break times.
With 5 sections, the official test time is 3 hours and 40 minutes to complete, or just over 4 hours with breaks.
ACT Test Times Explained
Why does each section have different times for completion? Or different times to answer each question?
The English section offers the largest number of questions and the least amount of time to answer each one, because there are no calculations involved, nor any critical thinking.
The Reading and Science Sections have fewer passages and fewer questions, with more time to answer, because they do require critical thinking and interpretation of information.
The Math section has the greatest amount of allotted time for each question because of the calculations required to answer the question.
How Long is the ACT Test by Section?
Sections on the ACT test are set up as follows:
English section: 75 questions to be answered in 45 minutes
Math Section: 60 questions to be answered in 60 minutes
Reading Section: 40 questions to be answered in 35 minutes
Science Section: 40 questions to be answered in 35 minutes
Optional Writing Section: 40 minutes
These sections are broken up by 2 ten minute breaks.
How Long Does the ACT Take With Extended Time?
Extended time – also called Time and a Half – is a one of the options for those who need to request accommodations for one reason or another.
With this accommodation the regular 4 section ACT test takes 5 hours.
For those taking the optional writing test, the extended time for the test goes to 6 hours.
Notes For Extended Time Test Takers:
This accommodation allows for extra time, but also other accommodations.
For example, test takers who qualify for the option have the chance to work at their own pace. This can be a mixed blessing, as time will not be called, so you have to pace yourself without any external prompts.
If you think you may need this or another accommodation, please speak to your school counselor for appropriate paperwork as soon as possible.
What are the start and end timings of the ACT exam?
Assuming everything starts at the allotted time, then the test will begin between 8:30 and 9:00 am and finish between 12:15 (for those doing multiple choice questions only) and 1:15 (those taking the optional writing test).
However, double-check your admission ticket before testing day. If you need special testing accommodations, you may have a different time.
Also, if you wind up taking the computerized ACT testing, you may wind up having a testing time later in the morning, or even starting in the afternoon. However, you’ll still have the same amount of time to complete each section, and the overall exam.
For ACT exam with Extended Time:
The start time for those who qualify for Extended Time or Time and a Half testing is the same. However, the ending times would be as follows:
Ending for multiple choice sections: About 1:-30 to 2:00 in the afternoon.
Ending for optional essay: 2:30 to 3:00 in the afternoon.
ACT Exam Structure
The ACT test has a very specific structure for their time on each section
- 8:30 – 9:00 am: Final Paperwork and passing out test booklets.
- English Portion: 45 minutes
- Math Portion: 60 minutes
- Break Time: Ten minute break
- Reading Portion: 35 minutes
- Science Portion: 35 minutes
- Break Time: Ten minute break (dismissal for those not doing the essay section)
- Writing Portion: 40 minutes
This doesn’t change except for those who have requested accommodations, or in case of some sort of severely disruptive event.
How many questions are on the ACT?
Over all the ACT test has 215 multiple choice questions, with the addition of an essay prompt for those who take that optional essay section.
The breakdown is:
- English Section: 75 questions
- Math Section: 60 questions
- Reading Section: 40 questions
- Science Section: 40 questions
Confident writing students will also address a single essay prompt.
In any case, can the ACT schedule vary?
The schedule doesn’t tend to vary at all for any given testing room. National testing centers prefer to keep everything as equal and similar as possible.
However, special accommodations can result in some schedule variation, with the most extreme being computer testing, which is sometimes held in the afternoon.
No matter what, the ACT should take at least three hours to complete the entire test.
What Is the Ideal Pacing for Every Section?
When it comes right down to it, the ideal pacing is whatever you feel most comfortable with. However, expert test prep advisors have these tips to share for each of the four sections:
- The English Section has 5 passages – that’s roughly 9 minutes per passage.
- The Math Section averages 1 minute per question, but this ACT section gets harder as you go one, so leaving yourself more time for later questions is a good idea.
- The Reading Section is usually split into 4 passages, and averaging 8 and a half minutes for each passage will give you plenty of time to finish.
- The Science Test doesn’t have an exact number of questions per passage – but the best pacing seems to average about 6 minutes for each passage
- The Writing Test: One essay. 40 minutes. If you subscribe to the usual structure of 1 opening, 3 discussion paragraphs, and one closing, that’s 8 minutes per paragraph.
What Time Does the ACT Test Start?
The ACT start time is officially 8:30 am, however test administrators say you should arrive no later than 8:00 am – the official Reporting Time.
When do you need to arrive on the ACT test date?
It’s a good idea to make sure you know where the testing center is and how long it takes to get there before exam day.
On your scheduled Test Day, it’s suggested test takers arrive before 8am, ideally between 7:30 and 7:45 so you’re there in plenty of time for checking in.
Strategies on How to Pace Yourself During the ACT Test Times
Everyone has their own personal strategies for pacing themselves on the ACT test. However, here’s some common ACT timing tips:
- On any of the four sections, there are subject areas that are easier and some that are more difficult. If you can quickly pinpoint your best subject area, you can answer those questions quickly.
- If you know the answer, go ahead an mark it down.
- It’s a long exam, so don’t rush, even if the sections are timed.
- Once you’ve answered the easier questions, save time by random guessing the ones you know you don’t know. There’s no guessing penalty, so don’t leave any question unanswered.
Tips to excel on your ACT test date
When you’re preparing for the ACT, particularly the night before:
- Take a couple timed practice tests to build endurance and timing skills.
- Make sure you know how to get to the test center and how long it takes BEFORE the actual test day.
- Forget last-minute cramming, get a good night’s sleep.
- Be sure you have all your materials and tools, like your ID and your calculator for the math questions, in one place.
- Eat a good breakfast – and bring snacks and drinks for the breaks to keep your energy up.
When you’re actually in the test center:
- Arrive in plenty of time to check in and take a seat.
- Keep track of how many questions you want to get for each section, but don’t worry about it. It’s a goal, not a hard and fast line in the sand.
- Stay relaxed. Nothing throws a test taker off like stressing out.
- On the math and science parts of the test, do a quick read through and answer the ‘easy’ questions first – it’ll be a time saver in the end.
A Few Unconventional Test Taking Tips:
- If you have trouble with running out of time, go ahead and guess the last few questions on the test at the beginning.
- You can always change the answers later if you make it to them after all.
- If you’re in the last two minutes with too many questions to go – just fill in the remaining questions with your ‘Letter of the Day’.
Since there’s no guessing penalty, it pays to make sure every bubble is filled in.
Writing Test (the Essay)
Not everyone takes the writing test, but if you do, here’s some things you can do to help your timing for this ACT section and your overall ACT score:
- Read the prompt carefully.
- Outline what you want to say before you start writing – writing students know this is helpful to prevent losing time if you lose your train of thought.
- Depending on the prompt, you may want to add personal details – or you may not.
Finding the Right Pace for You
No matter how fast you can work through a section, the ACT takes two hours and 55 minutes to finish. So your timing and picking your pace should be a comfortable pace for you.
Some people prefer giving themselves an even amount of time per question.
Others prefer tackling their easy subject areas first, and taking more time on the harder sections.
Still others time themselves for the occasional five minute break to stretch, especially in sections that are their strength.
By taking practice tests, you can figure out what type of pacing works for you.
Strategies to pace yourself
There are plenty of strategies to pace yourself.
The most highly recommended suggestion is to wear a stopwatch. You’ll also want do your deep breathing.
And, whatever strategy you come up with before the actual test day, stick to it.
Time Management Tips For The Test Takers
One of the first time management tips is to set a plan for yourself, and stay with it. It can be easy to be tempted to change tactics mid test, but don’t do it!
If you have a stopwatch or a way to keep time, wear it and use it to keep track of starting and ending times of each section, so you don’t get surprised.
The more easy questions you get out of the way early on in a section, the more time you have for the harder parts.
ACT Test Time Breakdown For Each Question:
If you’re being literal, there’s an average of:
- 36 seconds per question in the English portion
- 60 seconds per question in the Math portion
- 52 seconds per question in the Reading portion
- 52 seconds per question in the Science portion
In actual practice, the questions you find easier will take less time, which means you’ll have more time for harder questions. That’s one reason it’s advised to answer all the easy questions first.
Also, there’s the fact that the questions for the English, Reading, and Science sections divided into passages, which must be read before the questions can be answered. This will cut down on the time for answering each question.
Realistic Timing For English, Reading and Science Sections:
Each section has a different number of passages, which can make timing different.
- There are 5 passages each with 15 questions
- Each passage and set of questions should take about 9 minutes to go through
- Plan 2 – 3 minutes to read through the passage.
- If you have 6 minutes to answer the 15 questions, that’s about 24 seconds per question
- There are 4 passages with 10 questions each
- Each passage should take about 8.5 minutes to go through.
- Plan about 1.5 – 2.5 minutes to thoroughly read the passage.
- If you have 6 minutes to answer the questions, that’s about 36 seconds per question.
- The Science portion of the test doesn’t have a set format.
- The recommended pacing is 6 minutes per passage,
- Can be divided by number of questions per passage
- Can also be divided by difficulty per passage.
- Odds are, you’ll only have about 30 to 40 seconds per question, possibly as few as 20 seconds.
How long is the ACT? 215 questions, with one essay if you choose to take the optional essay section.
How long does the ACT take? 3 to 4 hours depending on whether you do 4 sections or 5.
As long as you have a good time management strategy and a stick to it, there’s no reason you won’t be able to manage the test, no matter how long each section feels – or how fast time passes on the harder sections.