Practice Makes Perfect: How to Prepare for the ACT

Taking the dreaded ACT soon? Fear not! We've got some killer tips to help you nail it.

Looks like the SAT is on the run.

For the first time since its inception, the ACT had more test-takers than those of the SAT in 2011. And with the odds ever in your favor, chances are that you too are about to take the ACT. Here are some tips to help you prepare for the test’s five sections: English, Math, Reading, Science, and the optional Writing (essay).

Practice, practice, practice

Wait, isn’t this piece of advice usually saved for last? Well, you’ll see why this is a good first step in the next section. But most importantly, taking practice tests will increase your score without you even being aware of it. When you sit down for about three hours and run through an entire practice test, you’re preparing your mind and body for the kind of workload you’re about to go through. Most students aren’t used to doing two-plus hours of problems in one sitting, so by practicing, you won’t run out of stamina halfway through the real test. On top of this, your subconscious will pick up on the patterns and the types of problems that reoccur throughout ACTs. Even if you might not study up on what you did wrong, your mind will dig up old facts that will help you with future problems that are similar to ones you have seen before. It’s like you’re improving without any effort at all.

Know where you’re making mistakes

Now, why did I mention practicing before studying? Because taking old ACT tests will create your “foundation;” this will help you know what areas to study and focus on. Are most of your mistakes in English about sentence structure? Did you forget most of pre-algebra while in the Math section? Or did you struggle with the detested Conflicting Viewpoints passage in Science? By pinpointing the areas where you are weak, you can save a lot of time instead of reviewing pretty much everything that could possibly be on the test. You can get books, look online, or even hire a tutor to get a deeper comprehension of what you’re struggling with specifically.

Essay exclusive: how to earn double digits on the Writing section

If you want to score a 10 or above (with 12 as the greatest possible score), you’ll have to manage your 30 minutes wisely. Your essay grade is holistically scored; that is, no single aspect of writing is more important than any other. Rather, it is the effectiveness of the writing as a whole that is most important. This means when each of your two trained readers score your essay, either with a 1 (low) or 6 (high), they will consider the overall impression your essay creates by all of the elements in your writing. Thus, you can earn from a 2 to a 12 as the sum of the two readers’ ratings. 

In order to get that little bump from a 9 to a 10, readers want to see what I call the Big Three: context, counterargument, and conclusion (plus introduction). Although it is an argumentative essay and you want to assert your point, you will have to acknowledge the other side’s perspectives on the issue (context). Start with, “People are increasingly worried about the trend toward __________.  Some claim __________.” This can be easily followed by your counterargument: “However, I believe __________ because __________.”

Your conclusion (and intro) also play a huge role. Just as in English class, they cannot only state and restate the thesis (although doing that is also essential); they must somehow add to the overall impression of your essay. An easy way to do this is a hook for the introduction and a zinger, which can be thought of as a “call to action,” at the end. Makes it a lot more interesting to read for your audience of two, doesn’t it?

Best wishes! Remember to stay calm and, well, stay calm! Most of the time, you will always have a second chance at the ACT and by then, you will be extra prepared to reach the score you want.

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About Yu-Bin Moon

Yu-Bin Moon is a senior at Adrian Wilcox High School in Santa Clara, California. She is co-president of the WHS Quill Club, first violinist of the Silicon Valley Korean School Ensemble, and an intern for various enterprises. She hopes to aid students in all their endeavors as a participant in the CollegeXpress student writers program.


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