The Ultimate ACT Guide 2021: Registration, Exam Format, Scoring, Sample Papers, And More! – Filo Blog

The Ultimate ACT Guide 2021: Registration, Exam Format, Scoring, Sample Papers, and More!

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Are you a school student dreaming of making it big by getting admission into a top university in the US? Well, you’re probably not alone, as millions of high school every year aspire to make it to the likes of MIT, Columbia University, Harvard University, John Hopkins University, and Northwestern University, among others. So, how does one can enter a US school? A straightforward option is to score good enough in the American College Testing or ACT, which non-profit Act Inc conducts.

For those uninitiated, ACT is an entrance exam taken by millions of students in English-speaking nations worldwide. Most universities in the US accept ACT scores, more than 3000, to be a little more exact.

In 2020, more than 1.67 million students had attempted ACT, which is conducted in a computer-based format outside the US. Scores achieved in the ACT are valid for five years, meaning that students can take the exam in the early days of school life to fulfill their American dream.

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ACT 2021 Registration

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ACT is conducted six times a year, allowing candidates to select the desired date they feel confident enough to attempt the exam. Candidates can register for ACT 2021 either online or offline two months ahead of the application deadline.

Important Dates for upcoming ACT 2021 exam:

ACT DateACT Registration DeadlineACT Late Registration DeadlineACT Estimated Score Release
October 23, 2021September 17, 2021October 1, 2021November 9-December 30, 2021
December 11, 2021November 5, 2021November 19, 2021December 21, 2021-February 4, 2022
February 12, 2022January 7, 2022January 21, 2022February 25-April 7, 2022
April 2, 2022February 25, 2022March 11, 2022April 12-June 23, 2022
June 11, 2022May 6, 2022May 20, 2022June 21-August 5, 2022
July 16, 2022June 17, 2022June 24, 2022July 26-September 9, 2022
ACT 2021 exam (Important Dates)

Documents required for ACT registration

Candidates need to submit a long list of documents while registering for the ACT. For instance, they need to submit their high school details and a headshot photo to complete the registration. For Indians and other non-US students, a passport is a mandatory document required for ACT registration. 

  • High School certificates 
  • Headshot photo 
  • Passport (Only for non-US students) 

ACT Registration Steps 

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Candidates can register for ACT either online or offline or online. Here’s how you can register for ACT online: 

ACT 2021 Online Registration: Step-by-step process 

Step 1: Visit the ACT official website at

Step 2: Click on the ‘Register for the ACT’ button. 

Step 3: Select ‘Create MyAct Account.’ 

Step 4: Enter your personal and educational details. 

Step 5: After your registration is complete, you’ll need to select the ACT date. 

Step 6: Select if you’ll sit for the optional writing section or not.  

Step 7: Choose up to four colleges at which your ACT scores will be delivered directly 

Step 8: Select the ACT test centre

Step 9: Confirm and pay the ACT 2021 fee 

Step 10: Upload your headshot photo 

ACT 2021 Offline Registration

Candidates will need to request an offline registration mail packet from their school or ACTACT’s website. Once received, candidates will need to fill in the personal and academic details. They will also have to select the ACT date and centre in the registration form. 

After completing the registration form, candidates will have to mail it to ACT. Students should note that the delivery of the form takes about seven to ten days, meaning that they need to submit the form per the deadlines. 

ACT 2021 Test Reschedule/Cancellation

Candidates who have applied for a particular ACT can reschedule or altogether cancel the exam. However, in the cancellation case, they won’t get a refund. Candidates can reschedule or cancel ACT by contacting ACT Student Services.  

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In case of a rescheduling or cancellation by the test conducting body, candidates will receive an update on their mentioned communication channels. 

ACT 2021 Fee

ACT 2021 exam fee depends on the nationality of the candidates and also on the fact if they will give the optional writing test or not. For American students, the full ACT (no writing) fee is $60.00, while it is $85.00 for the full ACT with writing. 

On the other hand, ACT 2021 fees for Indian students are $155 for ACT without writing and $166.50 for writing the paper with a writing section. Candidates can pay the fees either via debit/credit cards or online fund transfers. 

ACT 2021 Additional Fees 

Type of FeeActual Fee Description
Late registration$36.00Registration or test date change. 
Standby testing$57.00Refunded if denied admission to the test centre on test day. Also, refunded if registration was cancelled due to no photo upload. 
Change Fee$40.00Charged for Test Date Change or Test Center Change. 
Score reports to 5th and 6th college choices$16.00Request online before the test date. Refundable on written request if you do not test.
Additional Score Reports$16.00On request of additional score reports online. 
Test Information Release$30.00
During registration
ACT 2021 Additional Fees 

ACT 2021 Eligibility

ACT is one of the most lenient exams regarding eligibility, as there are no strict restrictions decided which candidates will take the paper. Candidates in the 11th and 12th standard usually take the ACT.

However, those studying in grades 6 to 9 can also attempt the ACT as the scores are valid for five years. Moreover, there is no upper cap on the age limit for attempting ACT, while the lower limit is set at 13.

ACT 2021 Exam Pattern

ACT 2021 will ask 215 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) that will test the knowledge and expertise of candidates in five subjects: Reading, Mathematics, English, Science, and an optional Writing section.

Candidates get 2 hours 55 minutes to complete the MCQs and an additional 40 minutes to write the question/s asked in the optional writing section. Candidates get two breaks in the exam: one after the Math section and the other before the optional writing paper.

Here’s a breakup of the ACT exam:

SectionTotal Number of QuestionsDuration
English7545 minutes
Mathematics6060 minutes
Reading4035 minutes
Science4035 minutes
Optional Writing TestOne essay prompt30 minutes
ACT Exam Breakdown

ACT 2021 Exam Mode

A few years ago, the ACT was conducted only in pen and paper format. However, students in the US now can select the mode of the exam between paper-based and computer-based. Outside of the US, the exam is conducted in a computer-based format.

ACT 2021 Syllabus

Overall, the ACT 2021 syllabus includes such as Mathematics, English, Science, Reading, and an Optional Writing Paper. Here’s a subject-wise breakup of all important topics for SAT:

ACT English Syllabus

ACT English section features passages on which MCQs are asked in the exam. In total, candidates get 45 minutes to provide their responses to 75 questions. The section tests skills such as sentence construction, usage of words, mechanics of sentence formation, and rhetorical abilities, among others.

ACT Science Syllabus

ACT Science section contains 40 questions that candidates can solve in a maximum of 35 minutes. The three major passage types in the science section include Data Representation, Conflicting Viewpoints, and Research Summary.

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In total, seven passages are there in the ACT Science section, followed by tables, charts, and/or graph-based questions. The section basically tests data interpretation, data analysis, problem-solving, and evaluation skills, among others.

ACT Reading Syllabus

Just like the Science section, the ACT Reading also consists of 40 questions to be solved within 35 minutes. The questions are distributed in four sub-sections: 3 with one lengthy prose and one with two short proses.

The questions in the exam are somewhat similar to the questions asked in the first year of college life. Most questions are related to sections such as Social Studies, Natural Sciences, Humanities, and Literary Narrative or Prose Fiction.

The section tests skills such as how candidates think and how they ideate in real life. Other skills that are tested in the section include organisation and development and uniformity of knowledge/ideas.

ACT Maths Syllabus

Candidates get the most time at 60 minutes to solve 60 questions asked in the Mathematics section of the ACT. Candidates are allowed to use a calculator while attempting ACT Maths questions.

Moreover, the questions are limited to individual topics: Here’s the breakup of topic-wise ACT Maths questions:

Topic Total Number of Questions 
Elementary Algebra10
Intermediate Algebra9
Plane Geometry14
Coordinate geometry9
Elementary trigonometry4
ACT Maths questions (Breakdown)

ACT Optional Writing Section Syllabus

The writing section in ACT is optional. However, most candidates do attempt the section, as many universities consider the ACT optional Writing section scores as well for giving admissions. 

Candidates get 40 minutes to complete the section to explain and defend a pressing issue with at least three viewpoints. The section follows a completely different marking scheme that we will discuss later in this blog. 

This section is scored on four categories: Ideas and reasoning skills, organization and development, language use, and structure.

ACT Practice Papers

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For preparations, attempting ACT practice papers is a must for all candidates. Candidates can attempt either section-wise papers provided on ACT’s website or go for paid full papers to test their preparations for the competitive exam. 

Here are the direct links for ACT Subject-Wise Practice Papers:

ACT 2021 Maths Practice Papers

ACT 2021 English Practice Papers

ACT 2021 Reading Practice Papers

ACT 2021 Science Practice Papers

ACT 2021 Writing Practice Papers

ACT Score Calculation

ACT scores for each section are provided in the range of 1 to 36. The composite score, which is also provided in the range of 1 to 36, is calculated by taking out the average scores of the four sections: English, Maths, Reading, and Science. 

ACT Composite Score formula: 

ACT Composite Score = (English Score+ Maths Score+ Reading Score + Science Score)/4

What is a Good or Passing Score in the ACT?

Candidates need to understand that getting decent marks in the ACT doesn’t ensure a college admission to the university of their choice, as the colleges release their separate cutoff lists. 

So, for getting an admission, students need to target the cutoff of a particular college/s in which they want to study for the next few years. Therefore it would be innocuous to say that there is no such thing as a passing score for the ACT. 

However, there’s a breakup of ACT scores based on the past few years’ cutoffs: 

SubjectHigh ScoresGood ScoresAverage ScoresBelow Average Scores
English29-3624-2820-2319 or lower
Maths28-3624-2720-2319 or lower
Reading30-3625-2921-2820 or lower
Science27-3624-2621-2520 or lower
Composite Scores 28-3624-2720-2619
ACT scores based on the past few years’ cutoffs (Breakdown)

Which Universities/Colleges accept ACT?

From California Institute of Technology to the prestigious MIT, more than 3000 public and private universities and colleges in the US accept ACT scores. Several scholarship agencies also offer grants to American and other nationality students based on their ACT scores.

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However, each university or college has a separate cutoff and other sets of eligibility criteria in place for admissions and scholarship programs.

ACT Cutoff

ACT cutoff usually differs from one college to another. The cutoff of a particular college could also vary between two different years. Therefore, it’s tough to mention the exact cutoff for ACT 2021.

However, based on previous year ACT cutoffs, here’s how the upcoming session cutoff for top universities could look like:

UniversityACT Cutoff
California Institute of Technology36
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)35
Brown University34
Carnegie Mellon University34
Columbia University34
Dartmouth College34
Harvard University34
John Hopkins University34
Northwestern University34
Princeton University34
Stanford University34
Cornell University34
University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign31
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor33
Emory University33
Georgia Tech33
University of Notre Dame34
Tufts University33
Georgetown University35
University of Pennsylvania34
University of California – San Diego33
Haverford College33
University of Southern California33
Carleton University33
University of Virginia34
University of Texas(Austin)33
University of Wisconsin – Madison31
University of British Vancouver25 + 10 in writing
University of Bristol24
University of Tulsa24 to 31
Northwestern University34
New York University30 to 34
McGill University30
Upcoming session cutoff for top universities

Wrapping Up!

The best way to make sure you are making the utmost out of this guide is to go through it in serial order. First, try reading the blog and unravel basic tips and strategies and how to handle the basics of how the test works.  

We’ve left nothing out of this prep guide. It will equip students with all the right information they need to bolster their preparation and ace this ACT like a champion!

Are you confused about which test to take: ACT or SAT? Well, Did you Know? Unlike SAT, the ACT includes a section completely for science. So, if science is one of your strongest pursuits ACT exam will more beneficial to you than SAT exam! For more quick assessments between these exams, Do read: SAT vs. ACT: Which one should you take? and Why? Answers Here!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Which Entrance Exam is Tougher- ACT vs SAT?

Answers: Both ACT and SAT exams test candidates’ readiness for college. The exams also look very similar as they test almost similar candidates. Therefore, it’s pretty tough to choose which one is tougher between the SAT and ACT. 

Teachers and experts usually mark both exams at a similar difficulty level. That may be the reason why it’s completely left on candidates to choose which exam to attempt before entering the college journey. 

Q2. Do Colleges prefer the ACT over SAT or vice versa?

For admission purposes, colleges or universities accepting both ACT or SAT scores do not prefer one over the other since both exams have almost similar difficulty levels. 

Q3. Which one should a student take – SAT or ACT?

Most students prefer attempting both the SAT and ACT to improve their chances of getting admission into top US colleges and scholarships. However, if you want to give only one exam, it would be better to attempt full-length practice tests to find which one suits you the best and help you score higher. 

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Q4. What are the differences between SAT and ACT exams? 

One of the significant differences between SAT and ACT is that the former stresses more focus on reasoning skills while the ACTs knowledge of entry-level college subjects. Previously, SAT had negative marking while ACT didn’t. But with the latest exam changes, both papers have eliminated negative marking schemes.

Q5. How to contact Act Inc for information related to ACT? 

Candidates and their parents can contact Act Inc, which conducts ACT, on the official website. They can visit to find solutions to their queries.  

You can also post your direct queries here:

Q6. What is the Age Limit for the ACT? 

There is no upper age limit for the ACT. However, the lower age limit is capped at 13 years. Parents of students yonder than 13 can contact ACT Inc to check if their ward can write the exam.

Senior Content Curator at Filo!

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