So you’ve spent lots of time preparing for the ACT, taking practice tests, and studying nonstop. The If you are a student going through the college admissions process, you’re probably taking ACT or SAT at some point in high school. While some schools, like New York University and George Washington University, are test-optional, having a good score on your ACT can only improve your college application.

Once you’ve completed ACT registration on and paid the registration fee, the only thing left to do is prepare for test day! Other than spending lots of time studying and taking ACT practice tests, another way to prepare is to make sure you are also aware of all the logistics of the testing process. I’m sure you’re wondering what time the ACT starts or just how long it will take you, so this guide will walk you through how much time you need to set aside, how much time each section will take you, and when you should plan your rides for!

What Time Does the ACT Start?

The ACT begins at approximately the same time across all test centers. The test is scheduled to begin The ACT begins at approximately the same time across all test centers. The test is scheduled to begin at 8:30AM, although that may change by a few minutes depending on the proctor in your testing room and whether students are late or not. Let’s break down how the morning of your test date will go:

  • 7:30-7:45AM – Arrive at testing center.
  • 8:30AM – Begin ACT exam.
  • 11:35AM – Dismissed from testing center (no Writing section).
  • 12:20PM – Dismissed from testing center (Writing section).

How Long Does the ACT Last?

When you arrive at the test-taking center, you will have to present your admission ticket and identification to secure your assigned seat. It’s a good idea to get to the testing center as early as possible so as to reduce your chances of being late or getting stuck in a long line of students coming in. The best time range to shoot for is 7:30-7:45AM, as most students will be arriving at 7:45AM.

Once inside, you may have to find a place outside of the testing room to place your belongings if the proctor does not have a space set aside in the room. Be sure to have your required materials easily accessible, including No. 2 pencils, an acceptable calculator, water, and a snack!

Once all students are situated at approximately 8:00AM, the proctor in your room will begin to read the testing instructions, which could take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. The test beings following these instructions, which should be within minutes of 8:30AM. Students then take each of the four sections of the exam until approximately 11:35AM, with a 10 minute break in the middle between Math and Reading. Those taking the optional Writing portion will have a 5 minute break before diving into their essays, which will take them to about 12:20PM.

Occasionally, some students are asked to take an extra fifth section that is not scored, but rather just to test out future ACT material. This section can take any form and lasts around 16 minutes long, not adding much time to a student’s time in the testing center.

Overall, without this rare fifth section, the ACT is three hours and five minutes or three hours and 50 minutes, including the Writing section.

Once you are finished with the test, the score release is always 2 weeks after the national test date. Your score report will be on the ACT website, where you can then decide if you will send the scores to colleges (check out this blog post on how to send your test scores to colleges) or retake the test on another for the chance of a better score.

ACT Starting Time for Each Section

It is important to know how much time each section of the ACT exam takes so that you know how quickly you must answer the questions and which sections to focus on while taking the test. Below is a table breaking down the total time for each section, as well as the approximate start and end times, based on the official ACT start time of 8:30AM.

SectionTotal TimeStartEnd
English45 mins8:30am9:15am
Math60 mins9:15am10:15am
Break10 mins10:15am10:25am
Reading35 mins10:25am11:00am
Science35 mins11:00am11:35am
Break*5 mins11:35am11:40am
Writing (optional)40 mins11:40am12:20pm

*Some students leave after the Science section, therefore not needing this final break before the optional Writing section.


The English section consists of 75 questions, and students have 45 minutes to complete this section. Thus, students have 36 seconds to answer each question.


The Math section only has 60 questions, but students have 60 minutes to complete it, meaning that they have about 1 minute to answer each question.


The Reading section consists of 40 questions with 35 minutes to complete this section. Thus, this gives students about 52 seconds to answer each question.


Lastly, the Science section has 40 questions, and students have 35 minutes to complete this section. This gives students 52 seconds per question again.

Extended Time Schedule

For students with accessibility needs, the proctors of the ACT can grant extended time to take the exam. This need must be identified upon initially signing up for the test, and students will be notified of their approval for extended time.

Below is a table that details how long each section of the ACT will take with extended time:

SectionTotal Time
English70 mins
Math90 mins
Break15 mins
Reading55 mins
Science55 mins
Break*15 mins
Writing (optional)60 mins

*Some students leave after the Science section, therefore not needing this final break before the optional Writing section.

What to Bring with You to the Test

When preparing for the ACT, your mind is sure to get filled up with plenty of vocabulary and math equations, but it’s important to not forget the physical items you must bring with you!

  1. ACT Test Ticket: It is best if you carry multiple copies of your testing ticket in case you lose one or need to hand it over. Remember, you won’t be admitted into the exam room without this ticket!
  2. Identification Proof With Photo: Make sure any I.D. you have is acceptable by the ACT standards and is not expired. An acceptable form of identification must be an original, valid ID issued by a city/state/federal government agency or your school, with the name on your ID matching the name on your admission ticket.
  3. ACT Student Identification Form With Photo: This form proves your identity if you do not have a photo ID as described above. Make sure you finalize this form one week before the ACT test day.
  4. Basic Calculator: Scientific calculators are not allowed on the ACT, since they allow students the ability to cheat. It’s always best to bring a basic calculator with you. If you want to learn more about the types of calculators you can take with you, then read the ACT Calculator Policy on their website.
  5. Mask: As of right now, the ACT is requiring all students to bring and wear masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Students cannot currently enter the testing facility without a mask.
  6. No. 2 Pencils: Best idea is to bring two pencils and two erasers, just in case! 

Time Management Tips for the ACT Test

Some sections of the ACT should be treated as a sprint (such as the Math and Writing sections), while others need thought put into each question (such as the Reading and Science questions). Either way, the best way to get a good ACT score is through practice. Practice the types of questions will see on test day, and you’ll feel much better about your score when you finally leave the testing center.

Here are a few more tips to practice during your preparation period, but also to apply on test day:

Skim Through the Paper Before You Start

For the Reading and Science sections, you must read through multiple passages, then answer questions based on those passages. It benefits most students to skim through the passage and the questions to get a good idea of what they should be looking out for before diving into the sections wholeheartedly.

Do Not Leave Any Answers Blank

The ACT does not give any penalty for incorrect answers. There is no harm in attempting questions you are unsure of or don’t know, so make sure to fill in ALL answers before time runs out!

Answer the Questions You Are Sure About Before Attempting the Difficult Ones

For the Math section, it may be a good idea to skim the page and see which questions you can easily and quickly answer and attack those first, then go back and spend time analyzing those that you are more uncertain about. For the most part, the more difficult questions are nearer to the end of the section, but that does not always hold true!

This principle also applies to every other section of the ACT; if you see a question that you know will take you a lot of time and thought to answer, skip over it and come back to it once you have gotten more correct answers under your belt.

Keep an Eye on the Clock

Throughout the test, it is important that you keep an eye on the clock. Most students bring a watch (it cannot be a smartwatch or one with an alarm) to keep track of how much time they have remaining in each section. Most proctors will give a 10 or 5-minute warning so you are more prepared for the end of each section, but don’t rely on them, keep an eye on the time for yourself!

Find Out More About the ACT with Our Tutors

Here at SoFlo ACT tutoring, high-scoring students from top colleges will provide tailored ACT prep courses. Whether it is your junior year of high school or the fall of your senior year, our tutors will teach all ACT test-takers best test-taking practices and encourage them along their test-prep journey. Try out a session today!

About the Author

Keli Pegula

Keli Pegula is a sophomore at Dartmouth on the Pre–Med track. She’s a SoFlo tutor who scored 1480 on her SATs and 34 on her ACTs. When she’s not at school in Hanover, she might be in her hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania — the town where the iconic TV show The Office is set!

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