Breaking Down the ACT

Jeremy Caldwell ‘19, Tufts University

The ACT is one of two main standardized tests that most colleges might ask for when applying. It’s not as popular as the SAT, but it could be a better choice for you to take. Let’s review the format of the ACT.


The ACT is split into five sections (four required sections and one optional essay), each of which is graded on a scale from 1-36. The first four sections are then averaged together to get one overall score from 1-36. You can’t lose points on the ACT for getting a wrong answer.


For the English section, you have 45 minutes to answer 75 questions. If that seems like a lot, that’s because the ACT focuses more on time management and quick thinking than the SAT. Each of the questions in this section is multiple choice with 4 answer choices. 

The questions in this section are organized into 5 sets of 15 questions, each following a short reading passage. The questions will focus mostly on grammar and punctuation, with some questions about sentence structure and word choice. For this section, it’s helpful to study how to combine sentence clauses, proper use of punctuation (:;-,), verb conjugations, and transition words between sentences/paragraphs, since these are the most common types of questions. 


Next is the math section, where you have 60 minutes to answer 60 questions. While all questions are worth the same, the math section is organized in order of difficulty, so make sure to leave time for the end of this section since those questions will probably take longer to answer. This section is also multiple choice, but there are 5 answer choices for each question. 

About one third of the questions in this section will involve modelling, or interpreting diagrams and graphs. The questions are split fairly evenly between different areas of math: numbers, algebra, geometry, functions, and statistics.


After the English and Math sections, you’ll be given a short break. Now is a great time to run to the bathroom, stretch your legs, and have a snack. No matter what, don’t just stay at your desk. There are still three sections to go, so take the chance to move around and clear your head. You’ve got this!


The Reading section might seem pretty similar to the English section, but it focuses more on your reading comprehension skills. You’ll have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions, split between 4 reading passages. Like the English section, each question is multiple choice with 4 options.

Most of the questions will focus on key ideas and details from the readings, so circle anything that stands out while reading. Some questions will also focus on the technical aspects of the writing, like the structure of the passage. You may also be asked to compare two shorter passages. 

Unlike the SAT, the ACT doesn’t focus much on difficult vocabulary. There might be vocabulary questions in the Reading section, but they’ll be based on words in the passage that you can define using context clues.


Like the Reading section, you’ll have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions. If science isn’t your favorite subject, don’t worry. Most of these questions focus on interpreting graphs and data, not memorizing concepts or formulas; many will also involve more close reading, which is why it’s paired with the Reading section. 

Each question will be multiple choice with 4 options, and will be split fairly evenly among different sciences like geology, biology, chemistry, and physics. About a quarter of the questions will also involve the scientific method. For example, you might have to read a paragraph and figure out the hypothesis and methods. 


If you aren’t doing the writing section, you’re done – congratulations! If not, you only have 40 minutes to go, but make sure to stretch your hand. 


The Writing section is your last push, and focuses on your ability to make an argument and defend it. You’ll be given three passages that discuss different perspectives on a contemporary issue. Then, you’ll have 40 minutes to write your own perspective and connect it to at least one of the other perspectives. 

While you’ll be graded on the quality of writing and the organization of your argument, students tend to do better in this section when they discuss two or three of the perspectives and how they connect to each other. Even if you disagree with a perspective, mention how it might be connected to yours and what you can learn from it, or why you might disagree with it. This shows that you thought critically about several perspectives before offering your own.

Key takeaways

The ACT might seem like a lot to process, but think of it like a time management test, like multiplication tables. Every question is worth the same, so start by answering the ones that feel easier to you. Then take your time with the remaining questions – some of the sections offer you clues to the right answers, so look closely at questions and passages. Most importantly, pace yourself. This test is long, but you’ll get through it if you stay focused! As with any other test, practice can also be one of the best ways to get ahead. Check out some test prep options here. As long as you stay organized and get familiar with the structure of the ACT, you’ll be able to enter the test room feeling confident!

The Major Decision: What Should You Study

Wiener Douyon, CollegeFindMe Intern

What’s a major?

The question that any senior could ponder for hours is a simple one: “What do you want to major in?” Your major, or academic concentration, is a set of courses around a subject that you’ll eventually get a degree in. However, this will in no way cement your future. Besides, who knows what they will focus on for the rest of their lives? Just like how you are always changing and growing, so are your interests and passions.

So, instead of agonizing over a decision that may change in a couple of weeks, focus on what you are passionate about now. This guide will help you figure out how to choose your major. Let’s begin!

Redefining majors

In many ways, choosing a major is almost as hard as finding the best-fit college. That’s because deciding on a major is linked with finding your purpose. It’s very rare that someone figures out their purpose by senior year of high school.  So let’s redefine what a major is. Instead of treating it like our destinies, let’s say that it is your field of interest. Some interests may include Astrophysics, Art History, Electrical Engineering, or Dance!  

Choosing a major

By believing that majors are basically areas of interest, all you have to do is to find what you like to do. Here are some questions to help you find out what you’re looking for in a major:

  • Atmosphere
    • Do you enjoy working in a team? Are you the most efficient and determined working alone? It helps to understand how you function and which type of environment you would thrive in. Choose a major that suits your working style. A business major needs to be prepared to work in groups, while a computer scientist might have more alone time.
  • Office Type
    • Do you want to work at a desk? Outside? In a studio? At home? Different majors tend to lead to different types of workplaces, so ask yourself where you picture your future job taking place. If that seems too far in the future, think about where you like to study!
  • Job Availability
    • You want to make sure that your major will help you get jobs that are available. For example, the tech industry is booming right now, while railroad engineering is a bit less in demand. While your first priority should be pursuing your passions, it helps to consider the job market now and in the future.
  • Salary
    • You may feel pressured to pursue a major that promises a high salary. Remember, your happiness is important too. A big paycheck isn’t the same thing as finding fulfillment. Always follow your heart, even if the money isn’t there at first.
  • Courses
    • Finally, take a look at the courses required and offered by any given major. You may think you want to be a film major, but it turns out you don’t like any of the film courses taught at your school. Look for a major that gets you excited, not just one that seems like it’ll be a good investment for the future. 

Final note

What you major in does not determine your future. Finding a job is about pursuing your passions and offering valuable skills, not just checking boxes. Even once you’ve decided on a major, keep trying new things! Whether through electives, clubs, internships, or independent research, you can absolutely chase multiple passions at once. This will help you become a more well-rounded individual with a unique set of skills to offer any employer. At the end of the day, your enthusiasm and passion are much more valuable than a transcript, so look for a major that feels right to you!

If you’d like to hear from some current college students why they chose their major, check out this video!

Back to School Blues

Emily Sun ‘21, Boston Latin School

I stretch my arms and lean back in my beach chair. The sun is still shining brightly in the sky, and I can smell the slightly salty scent of crashing waves. I love summer!

As much as I’ve enjoyed my share of beaches, an entire month has already passed and now it’s August. To me, August means… school starts in a month! I bet many of you aren’t the most excited at the thought of going back to school. Me neither! After all, what’s waiting are nights of grinding away at homework and stressing over tests — even college app deadlines if you’re a senior. 

However, going back to school also means seeing friends and either playing sports or joining after-school club meetings. It was fun having tons of free time, and snacking whenever I wanted, but inevitably school is looming ahead. 

As I think about the good and the bad of returning to school, I have some suggestions for how you can make the best of your August before school starts.

Finish your summer homework

That might mean summer math packets, or books on a summer reading list, but either way you will need to complete it. I’m trying to spend an hour 2-3 days a week getting it out of the way so I’m not staying up late the night before school starts to finish everything.

Prepare yourself mentally and physically

  • Mentally: Each year of high school becomes more important and the courses get harder. Similar to finishing my summer homework, I’m also reviewing some of the notes I took in class last year. I’ll be taking AP classes this year, so revisiting some concepts that weren’t easy will help build my confidence. I’ll also know where to ask for extra help from teachers once school starts. Getting back into concentrating and homework mode is not fun, but I did this last year and it made starting sophomore year much easier. 
  • Physically: Since I’m free from getting up early for school I go to bed VERY late and therefore wake up VERY late. My summer sleep schedule has been quite… wacky. To avoid being overtired during the first few days of classes, I try to adjust my schedule the week prior to school so waking up at way-too-early-in-the-morning for school isn’t so painful. And now that I’ve finished binge-watching Black Mirror, I can get to bed at a decent hour too. 

Keep in touch 

Summertime is a great time to establish personal connections at jobs, internships, or summer school while exploring your interests or passions. I’m interning at CollegeFindMe, and I plan to keep in touch with my manager so if I need advice, a reference on my resume, or a recommendation letter for college, I’ll have someone other than a teacher or coach to help me.

Enjoy the rest of your summer! 

Even as you prepare yourself for school, summer is still a time for you to have fun. Catch up with your friends, see a good movie or enjoy being outside – whatever makes you happy! Good luck everyone!