Planning to take the ACT soon? Whether you’re hoping to bump up a few points or taking the exam for the first time, planning ahead and preparing strategically can help you achieve your full potential. Without further ado, here are five tips for acing the ACT:
1. Use the right study material
There are so many ACT prep books on the market that it’s quite easy to get overwhelmed by their sheer number. Most test prep companies, such as Kaplan, The Princeton Review, and Barron’s, to name a few, offer comparable review summaries of the most tested concepts. However, if you’re looking for practice questions, released ACT practice tests or the practice exam included in the ACT’s annual preparation guide (titled Preparing for the ACT) are the closest you can get to the real thing. Although other companies try to mimic ACT’s style of questions, there will always be inherent differences. You can ask your school counselor or check out the ACT website for these resources. Additionally, there are a number of mobile apps that you can incorporate in your preparation schedule. One of my favorites is Play2Prep (available for both Android and iPhone), which provides customized daily training, allows you to play practice games against other players, and tracks your progress.
2. Review concepts
The ACT is designed to test concepts covered in typical high school courses. So, fortunately, you’re not likely to run into many vocabulary questions based on obscure words or math concepts beyond trigonometry. Nonetheless, it would be wise to look over any formulas you may have forgotten (like the midpoint formula per se from back in eighth grade) and brush up on English skills like subject-verb agreement and pronoun antecedent.
3. Practice, practice, practice
This couldn’t be emphasized more. Once you have mastered the concepts, it’s time to move on to practice tests. The more you expose yourself to ACT-style questions, the more prepared you will be to hit them out of the park on test day. Not only will you become more familiar with the types of questions the ACT tends to ask, but you will also boost your confidence and become aware of the kinds of answers they are looking for and common distractors not to fall for. When you take practice exams, make sure to not just total up your composite score. What’s more important is to go over each question you missed and analyze why you got it wrong, so you won’t make the same mistake again. While going over missed questions, it is also a good idea to review any questions you had trouble with or guessed on but ended up getting right. (I recommend marking these questions while taking the practice exam so you can look at them later.)
4. Time yourself
The ACT is a battle between speed and accuracy. As many students are unaware of before taking the exam for the first time, time is not on your side when it comes to the ACT. The English section, for instance, requires you to complete 75 questions in 45 minutes. Yes, that’s about 36 seconds per question. Naturally, completing practice multiple-choice questions under the same time constraints of the actual ACT can help you better prepare yourself for the exam. If you’re planning to only take a portion of a practice test, make sure to maintain the time limits set by the ACT.
5. Keep it real
In line with timing yourself during practice drills, trying to mimic real testing conditions as much as possible can help you get a more accurate picture of your score range; this includes keeping your phone out of sight; no TV, food, or other distractions in the background; not talking to other people while taking the test—the list goes on. If you’re not particularly used to waking up early on a Saturday morning, consider taking a full practice exam at 8:00 a.m. the Saturday before test day to get your head in the game. Also, when completing practice questions, it would be optimal to take the entire exam in one sitting (with the breaks prescribed by ACT of course), but if you don’t have that much time to devote, you can still take the exam in portions. The caveat behind taking the exam across multiple sittings is that you won’t be able to factor in the fatigue that usually settles in when taking multiple sections back to back, like with the real exam. Nonetheless, some practice in multiple sittings is still better than no practice at all! And all in all, no matter what score you end up with on test day, what’s most important is that you tried your best.