How Long Is the ACT?

Picture of a blackboard with a clock drawn in chalk
February 2, 2024


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 2/2/24

You’ve aced your classes, sought out meaningful extracurricular activities, and each day brings you closer to your high school graduation. One of the only obstacles left is your college entrance exam: the ACT. Read on to learn about the ACT test’s duration!

College entrance exams are a significant stepping stone to meeting your college application requirements. You have two options: the SAT or the ACT. If you decided the ACT is more your speed, you probably want to know how long you'll be glued to your desk on test day.

Read on to learn more about the ACT, including how many hours you’ll spend completing the test, how many questions you’ll answer, and more. 

How Long Does the ACT Take?

The ACT lasts 3 hours, though it's 2 hours and 55 minutes of active testing time. It takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes to finish when you add breaks. If you choose to do the optional essay part (called the ACT Plus Writing), the test will be about 3 hours and 40 minutes long, or just over 4 hours with breaks included.

How Long is Each Section of the ACT?

Minus the essay you would write if you decide to take the ACT test with writing, the entire test has 215 questions. Here's a breakdown showing how many questions are in each section.

Section Number of Questions Minutes Per Section
English 75 45
Mathematics 60 60
Reading 40 35
Science 40 35


The ACT English section has the most questions for you to answer. Given this information, you have 52 seconds, on average, to complete each question across all sections. However, some questions may be more straightforward or complex, taking more or less time. 

How long each ACT section takes for you to answer depends on your proficiency and time management skills. 

How Long Is the ACT Test With Writing? 

Now that you have a breakdown of the ACT’s timing, you’re probably how long the ACT is with writing. If you decide to try your hand at the optional essay question, be prepared to add 40 minutes to your time. 

If you're feeling burnt out after spending three hours trailblazing through multiple-choice questions, you'll have the opportunity to relax and sharpen your pencils before taking a stab at the writing section. Students who decide to take the writing section are typically dismissed at approximately 1:35 p.m.

Whether or not you choose to do the writing section is entirely up to you and your school list. Most colleges, including many of the country's top-ranked schools, don't require the writing test. However, it's best to do adequate college research and ensure no school on your list requires the writing test before you opt out. 

How Long Is the ACT With Extended Time? 

So, how much longer is the ACT with extended time if you've requested accommodations? Through National Extended Time, students are allowed 50% more time on each ACT section. 

This means that a test-taker who is granted National Extended Time will have

  • 70 minutes to complete English 
  • 90 minutes to complete Math
  • 55 minutes to complete Reading
  • 55 minutes to complete Science 

If you take the writing test with extended time, you'll have 60 minutes to complete one essay. This is a relatively new addition to the ACT's policy. 

Before that, students had five hours total to self-pace through the ACT. However, studies found, "Having to pace themselves requires an additional demand of them beyond what is required of examinees testing with standard time or other types of extended time." This finding was what inspired ACT to change the policy in 2018. 

ACT Timing Tips

ACT Timing tips

To answer 215 questions in the allotted time, you’ll need to implement some test-taking strategies to keep yourself on track. You can save time on the test with these ACT timing tips: 

Skimming passages: Try reading every passage's first and last sentence and skimming the rest first. There will be times you need to read more carefully, but this is a great way to save time. After all, the ACT requires a lot of reading. 

Cross out answers you know aren't correct: This can help you focus your thinking and help you get to the correct answer sooner. 

Start with more straightforward questions: No rule says you have to complete all questions in order. Feel free to leave the more complex questions that require more time for the end. 

Move on if you’re stuck: This common ACT pitfall can lead to lower scores and more frustration. If you feel you’re spending too much time on a question, move on and return to it later. 

This can seem like a lot of content to cover in three short hours; however, learning more about the ACT’s format and honing your skills can help you navigate the test with speed and accuracy. 

If you’ve used these strategies and your score isn’t increasing, click here to learn some tried and tested score-boosting tactics. You may also want to consider taking practice ACT quizzes to familiarize yourself with the format of ACT questions.

If you need help practicing for the ACT, you can check out this free ACT Practice Questions Pop Quiz. This pop quiz also includes explanations of the answers to help you better understand the exam. 

FAQs: The ACT’s Length 

If you still have questions about how long the ACT is, check out these FAQs! 

1. How Long Is the ACT Without Writing? 

The ACT is under three hours long without the writing test. 

2. How Can I Get Extended Time On the ACT? 

You’ll need to work with a school official to submit a request for ACT accommodations, including extra time. 

3. How Many Hours Do I Have to Complete the ACT? 

It depends: you have just under three hours to complete the ACT without writing. With writing, you have over 3.5 to complete the test. If you qualify for extended time, you have 4.5 hours to complete the test without writing and 5.5 hours with writing. 

4. How Many Breaks Are Given During the ACT Exam?

The ACT has one 10-minute break after the Reading section and a 5-minute break after the multiple-choice sections. Ensure you use the breaks to destress from the section you just completed. 

Final Thoughts 

The ACT test is a long and challenging test that requires your focus for at least three hours. Now that you know how long the ACT is with and without the writing test and with extended time, you can plan accordingly as you study.

Remember, the ACT is a marathon, not a sprint. Build endurance and focus using practice tests, well-tailored study strategies, and schedules. With enough preparation and endurance, you’ll be ready to ace the ACT in no time! 

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