What is the Hardest ACT Section? How To Uncover Your Most Challenging Part

If you’ve signed up to take the ACT, you might be wondering: what is the hardest ACT section? And how hard is the ACT in general? The hardest parts of the ACT actually depend on you and your skill levels!

The exam is not necessarily “difficult” in the traditional sense, but it may be more difficult for one student compared to the next. We’ll cover what some students struggle with on the ACT and give you some tips on how to overcome your hurdles.

Some Students Struggle with the Content

The ACT has four sections plus an optional writing section. The sections include English, Math, Reading, and Science. These parts of the exam can test on:

Barron's ACT flash cardsEnglish

  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Sentence structure

Math with a calculator

  • Algebra I and II
  • Trigonometry
  • Geometry


  • Reading comprehension in a number of different subjects


  • Graphs
  • Understanding of passages
  • Research tables

Writing (Optional)

  • Write a persuasive essay

And some students find the actual content of the exam difficult. If they struggle in math, for example, the math section of the ACT, even with a calculator, can feel like an uphill battle. Especially with no provided basic math formulas, this could be their “hardest section of the ACT.” But not every student struggles in math – they could have a hard time in Science, English, or Reading. So the hardest section of the test will absolutely vary from student to student.

Some Struggle with the Structure

There are 215 questions on the ACT and only 3 hours to answer all of them! And each section only has a specific amount of time to answer those questions. For example, in Science you get 35 minutes to answer 40 questions.

This time constraint can be very difficult for some students. Test takers can’t linger on those tough questions; if they do, the run the risk of not having enough time to complete the rest of the section. And if you’re rushing, you could be misreading questions, too.

When it comes to the passages, it’s a whole lot of reading (and comprehension of the reading) to cover. English, Reading, and Science all have passages and you’re going to have to answer questions on that content. If your reading speed is a bit on the low side, this could cause you to be constantly behind.

How Can You Identify and Overcome these Hurdles?

Taking the ACT is already a stressful event. Your college admission acceptance may be riding on a strong score. This, in turn, can make the ACT more difficult than it needs to be, too. However, by focusing on your challenges now and identifying your “hardest part of the ACT” you can work to improve your score.

  1. Look to your high school experience. Do you struggle with math already? Or science? This could already give you some clues as to where you’ll have a hard time on the ACT. You might also discover, on reflection, that you have a difficulty with tests that have time constraints or you’re a slower than average reader.
  2. Take a practice ACT. This is where you download or print off an official practice test and set up in your room or a study with no distractions for the entire period of the test. Turn off your phone, let your family know, and put on noise canceling headphones if your dog is being a bit loud.
  3. Evaluate your completed practice test. Go over your answers and see how you scored Did you do great on Science but poorly on English? Were you unable to complete the Reading section in time? These results will be able to tell you exactly where you should devote your study time  over the next few months. Regularly taking ACT practice tests can also show how you’re improving.

Don’t Forget To…

  • Take the scheduled breaks that come with the ACT
  • Never look at your phone or computer
  • Don’t look up math formulas or have a cheat sheet with you
  • Use a pencil
  • Have a piece of scrap paper
  • Never turn back to previous sections if the time limit for that section has passed
  • Never look forward to future sections
  • If you have time left in a section and have finished, go back to review your work
  • Use other test taking techniques  that will help when you sit for the real ACT

If you follow all of these rules, you can get as close to the real ACT you can in a more comfortable setting. You won’t have the stress of the actual exam, of course, but taking practice tests can help you overcome that anxiety, too.

There is no clear cut answer to the question “What is the hardest part of the ACT?” It will vary greatly from person to person. Some students will struggle with the content, others with the time constraint, others with the anxiety that comes with test taking. However, taking steps now to identify your weaknesses (and your strengths) will pay off big time when it comes to taking the real deal.

The ACT does have an official test prep guide that you can get to help you if you are nervous or fee like you need additional resources.

Colleges often look for a certain score in their applicants. If you want to get into your dream college, you’ll definitely want to do well on your ACT. Use the College Search tool to look up your dream school and find out what they’re looking for in a student.