So, how long is the ACT? It’s an important question, and not just because you have the rest of your Saturday to plan. Knowing how long the ACT takes will also dictate how you study and prepare, and how you approach test day. In this article, we’ll answer all the questions you have about how long the ACT is, and we’ll give you some tips to help you make the most of every minute.

Okay, let’s cut to the chase. How long is the ACT?

In the chart below, you’ll see the four main ACT sections and how long each one takes:


If you’re like me, and you don’t enjoy sitting still for long periods of time, you’ll be happy to hear that there is a 10-minute break after the math test and before the reading test. This is a great time to get up, stretch, use the restroom, and have a quick snack or drink. Just remember that you won’t be able to check your phones during the break – the ACT prohibits all use of technology during this time.

In addition to what you see above, there is also a 20-minute “experimental” section after the science test. This portion of the test helps the ACT create future questions and is not a part of your overall test score. While it’s easy to mentally check out and not take these questions seriously, try your best to answer them well. Remember, you’re SO close to the finish line!

Wait – I’m taking the writing test. What about that section?

If you choose to take the writing portion, this will happen after the experimental section. You’ll get a five-minute break while students who aren’t taking the writing test are dismissed, and then you’ll have 40 minutes to answer one writing prompt.

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Altogether, the ACT will take two hours and 55 minutes, or three hours and 35 minutes if you’re doing the writing test. This does not include the 10-minute break, the experimental section, and time spent checking in students or explaining test directions. If that feels like a long time, just think about the movie “King Kong.” The 2005 remake is three hours and 21 minutes long and it still made over $550 million dollars.

No spoilers here – just enough of a tease to make you wonder how Naomi Watts ended up being held by a massive gorilla with New York City in the background.

A few more quick notes on how long the ACT takes, while you try to remember what streaming site has King Kong (Spoiler – it’s HBO Max):

  • You should be at the testing center no later than 8 am. Arrive early if you can. If you’re late, there’s a chance they won’t let you in. Nothing personal – they just need to take care of everyone who did show up on time.
  • According to the ACT website, students who don’t take the writing test usually are dismissed before 12:35 pm.
  • Students who take the writing test can expect to be dismissed before 1:35 pm.

How much time should I spend on each question?

Now that you know how long the ACT takes, perhaps you’re wondering if you’ll have enough time to answer all of the questions. Let’s talk about that next. Here’s how the sections break down:

  • 75 English questions (45 minutes to answer)
  • 60 Math questions (60 minutes to answer)
  • 40 Reading questions (35 minutes to answer)
  • 40 Science questions (35 minutes to answer)
  • 215 questions total (175 minutes to answer)*

*TestGeek has another great article about how many questions are on the ACT. You can read that one here.

Now let’s dig a little deeper and see how much time you’ll have per question:

English – 36 seconds per question

This section may seem a little scary because it’s the section where you have the least amount of time per question. However, there are a couple of things working in your favor here. For starters, this is the first section of the test, so your energy levels are still high, and your brain is firing on all cylinders. Also, even though there are passages on the English test, you do not have to (nor should you) attempt to read or comprehend the whole passage. Questions deal with single words, phrases, or sentences, and these types of questions can usually be answered fairly quickly and without much context.

Math – 60 seconds per question

You’ll have the most time per question on the math section. This is good news since many math problems will require you to do calculations or written problem-solving. Also, the questions on the ACT math test are usually ordered by difficulty, meaning questions 1-20 are easier than questions 41-60 for the majority of students. So don’t be surprised if you speed through the beginning of the math section, and take more time on later questions.

Reading/Science – 52.5 seconds per question

Don’t take that reading/science number at face value. This stat can be deceiving. Both the reading and science tests will require you to read passages to answer questions, and this metric doesn’t take that into account.

So how much time will you spend reading? The reading test has four passages, each around 800 words. The science test has either six or seven passages, and you can expect those passages to be considerably shorter than passages from the reading section. They may also include accompanying graphs and charts. Keep in mind that the science test is less about your knowledge of biology or chemistry, and more about your critical reasoning skills.

How can I prepare for the time limit?

Now that you know how much time you’ll have per question, you can start thinking about how to make the most of that time. A good rule of thumb is to try these ideas out while you’re taking practice tests. This will make things feel easier and more natural when you sit down to take the test. You don’t want to try anything for the first time on test day.

Here are a few ways you can practice answering questions more quickly and more efficiently.

Know your own preferences

Everyone has their own test-taking quirks and rituals. Do you like to read the questions on the reading section before you read the passage? Do you like to mark down your answers in your test booklet first, and transfer them to your answer sheet later? Are you one of those people that spends an unreasonable amount of time trying to fill in each bubble perfectly? No? Just me? Glad to know I’m the only crazy one here.

Build up to it like you’re training for a marathon

Two hours and 55 minutes is a long time for anyone who’s not used to sitting through King Kong, Titanic, or Avengers: Endgame. The best way to prepare is to work your way up. Start by doing one section at a time, then try two, until you’re able to complete an entire practice test in one sitting.

Identify the questions that take you the most time

Do you get stuck on questions about trigonometry on the math section? Do you wish you could skip all the questions about comma usage on the English section? There is no shame here – but what could help is saving the hardest questions for the end of the test. That way, you won’t spend so much time trying to come up with an answer that you miss the opportunity to answer easier questions.

Take fewer untimed tests

Make the testing conditions as realistic as possible. Try taking a full practice test on a weekend morning. This will give you the best idea of what it will be like to actually take the test.

Don’t always practice with a visible timer

The proctor will usually give you a five-minute warning that time is about to expire, but don’t rely on them. Your approach may also change when you aren’t constantly thinking about the clock.

Calculate how much time you’re taking

If you’re taking a practice test and you run out of time, take note of how many questions you had remaining, and how much time you spent per question on the ones you did answer. Check back to this article to see how much time you have per question, and calculate the difference.

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How can I save time on test day?

starting line of a race
Remember, the ACT is not a race. The only reward you get for finishing first is more time to sit and try to stay awake.

In addition to practicing for the time limit, there are also some things you can do on the day of the test to maximize your time and ensure that you finish. This will help if you’re concerned about finishing in time, or if you simply want more time left over to check your answers or review questions you’re unsure about. Here are a few ideas on how to test faster without sacrificing accuracy:

Do the easiest questions first

Flip through the test and answer the questions that only require minimal effort. This allows you the rest of the time to deal with questions that are more challenging

Pace yourself

A trick is to break the test down into smaller portions. For example, rather than looking at the reading test as a 35-minute test, give yourself eight minutes to finish each passage’s questions. Since there are four passages total, you’ll still have three minutes left before time expires to review your answers.

Bring a watch

You’ll know exactly how much time has gone by, and how much time is left. However, make sure the alarm is turned off. You could be asked to leave if the alarm goes off during the test.

Know what to expect

If you’ve taken practice tests, you know what kinds of questions are coming. Once you see them on the actual test, you’ll be able to read through them faster and with better comprehension. This gives you extra time to actually answer the questions.

Don’t use a new calculator

You don’t want to waste time on the test figuring out how to use a new calculator. Use the same calculator that you’ve been practicing with.

calculator with a yellow background
Read the questions before you read the passage

Consider reading the questions first, so you know what you’re looking for in the passage. This can make skimming easier and more effective.

Stop staring at the clock

It won’t make time slow down and it only takes away time (and focus) from answering questions.

Skip the questions you don’t know. You can come back to them later

Perhaps a fresh look will help make the problem easier, or maybe you’ll see something elsewhere on the test that will jog your memory about how to approach that problem. Worst case scenario, you run out of time and don’t get to work on harder questions that you may not have gotten right anyways.

Save a minute or two at the end to make sure you can mark an answer on each question

Even if you’re just guessing, there’s no extra penalty for a wrong answer. So you might as well put something down in case you guess right.

student taking a test

Are there any special test accommodations available?

While the ACT wants the test to be appropriately challenging for high-school-aged students, the ACT also wants to make sure that the test is accessible for anyone who would like to take it. You can visit this link to learn more about submitting a request for special testing accommodations. Accommodations might include extra breaks, extended testing time, or a test booklet with larger print, to name a few examples. All accommodation requests must be submitted no later than the late registration deadline.

Typically, only students with a documented disability – one that causes them to work more slowly than other students – will receive special accommodations. In most cases, requests are only granted for students who are already receiving and utilizing accommodations to complete their schoolwork. If you take tests in the time allotted at school, you probably won’t be considered for an ACT accommodation.

Accommodations are also considered for new English learners, or for temporary conditions like a broken arm. Learn more here about applying for these types of accommodations.

What do I do with all this information?

Now that you know how long the ACT is, you probably won’t make lunch plans for the day of the test, but a matinee movie doesn’t have to be off the table. After all, you studied hard for the ACT. You’ve definitely earned an opportunity to relax!

In addition to looking at movie showtimes with greater confidence that you can make it on time, there’s more you can do with this information. Knowing how much time you have can help how you prepare for the test, and how you navigate the questions on test day. Keep in mind that everyone has the same amount of time on the ACT, but not everyone will use that time the same way. You’ll want to make sure you maximize the time you have on the test so that you’re set up to earn your best possible score.

If you want some extra help preparing for the ACT’s time limit and coming up with the best test-taking strategies possible, you can reach out to Test Geek, and we’ll connect you with one of our world-class tutors. We would love to help you prepare to earn your best score on the ACT.

Brady Ross

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