5 Dirty Little Secrets About the ACT

Founder, iOpen Tutoring & College Prep

Jan   2017



Is the ACT looming in your future? Whether it’s around the corner or a year (or more) away, it’s good to prepare for this important standardized test. But before you find yourself behind the test desk vigorously filling in multiple choice bubbles, make sure you know about these dirty little ACT secrets! They may just save you on test day…

1. The Science section doesn’t require you to have much science knowledge at all

What?! Yep, you read that right: you can still score high on the ACT Science section even if science isn’t your strong suit. The ACT will bombard you with science terms, but this does not necessarily mean you need to know all of these terms. Some students even call them a distraction. You’ll find that if you skim over the terms and focus more on reading the charts and graphs provided (which often include all the information you need), you can still score in the 30s.

2. Basically everyone struggles in the Science section anyway

Okay, so even though we’ve established that you don’t need to be a science whiz to do well on the ACT, you may still have trouble in this section. But that’s okay too. In fact, you’re hardly alone; the Science section is the lowest scoring section for American high schoolers. In some recent years, the average score for the ACT Science section was in the low 20s—a pretty far cry from the highest possible score of 36.

It’s no secret that American high schoolers struggle with this section due to the complex graphs, charts, and science terms it throws at them. So if you find yourself struggling on this section, don’t stress! Do your best with this section (remember that skipping questions does not cause you to lose points) and try to boost your overall ACT score by doing better in the other sections: Math, Reading, English, and Writing.

3. The ACT Reading section can be completed without reading the whole passage

Okay, you have 40 minutes to complete five reading passages and their accompanying questions. That’s eight minutes per passage, which is a decent chunk of time—but it can go by quickly, especially since each passage covers a different topic. That means wrapping your brain around new concepts, some of which you might not be so familiar with.

But you can still conquer the ACT Reading section because it relies heavily on finding keywords from the questions within the passage. That makes skimming a lot easier. Often times, these key words are used verbatim in the questions, meaning that specific terms and phrases from the questions can be found word for word in the text. So practice skimming in your test prep and keep your eyes peeled for those keywords on test day.

4. You might want to skip the Writing section

This tip is a little tricky, because you need to be extra super sure that all of your potential colleges (even your backup backup colleges) don’t require the Writing section. (You don’t want to be caught without a Writing score if one of your schools needs it.) But the Writing essay is always optional, so if all the schools you’re applying to don’t require it—and writing isn’t your strong suit—you should probably skip the essay.

Writing the ACT essay for schools that don’t require it is like putting a giant red flag on your application. It will catch college admission folks’ attention, and they will be sure to read it. So, how confident are you in your writing abilities? Perhaps you’re a strong writer, and you’re proud to show off your skills. On the other hand, you may feel like your writing needs a bit more improvement before it can potentially be used to determine whether or not you’re admitted into college. If that’s the case, you might want to skip the essay.

5. If you want to do really well on the ACT, you need a test-taking strategy

Studying for the ACT should include strengthening your academic skills—but it should involve far more than that. Many students who study for the ACT simply drill each academic subject covered on the test, which is a great way to help increase their scores. However! Even if you’re a master in English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing, this is only a portion of what you need to do to land your highest potential score.

The most effective ACT test-takers have a real strategy, and you should develop a game plan for test day: How many questions can you afford to skip and still reach your desired score? How long should you take on each question to guarantee you don’t miss any before time runs out? Should you answer the questions in order, or should you jump around? Each student is unique, so each test approach should be crafted differently for each student. Many students find knowledgeable ACT tutors (whether private tutors or tutors through their high school or community) helpful in crafting their game plans for test day, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.

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About Jacleen Charbonneau

Jacleen Charbonneau is the founder of and senior tutor at iOpen Tutoring & College Prep. She specializes in college prep, test prep, and English subjects for teens around the world, conveniently hosting her services through Skype and FaceTime. She graduated with a BA in English from Assumption College and will soon hold her MA in Counseling Psychology, which provides her the right skills to not only to assist students academically but to understand them on a deeper level. You can check out iOpen Tutoring & College Prep's website at iOpenTutoring.com