Last Updated: May 8, 2018
For many high schoolers, the ACT can sound simultaneously like a mythical beast and an indescribable, unseen darkness threatening ultimate destruction. This is how I felt in the year leading up to my first time taking the test. What I quickly discovered, however, is that while the ACT is wholly unique, it is not unconquerable. Admittedly, it’s not like your regular test, but the same strategies that help me survive high school in general are easily transferable to the ACT. Here’s what you should do:
The month before
In an ideal world, you would’ve been studying for an hour each night, every night for a month and a half before the ACT. Let’s be honest, though: we’re all busy, and a significant number of high schoolers don’t have an extra hour to devote to studying for a test a whole month away. However, many test-taking sites and courses recommend getting a start on studying pretty far-out, and I would agree that that’s a smart move.
Remember, the ACT will be composed of sections on Reading, English, Science, and Math. (That’s right: subjects you know and have been studying already!) Each section must be completed in a timed setting. When you’re thinking of a study strategy that work for you, does that mean looking at a particular subject in depth, or taking online practice tests?
Do you do best on tests by memorizing facts and ideas? Feel free to do that with the ACT. Do you find success by utilizing already available, outside resources? There’s a great wealth of test prep materials available on ACT.org! When my test was a month away, my personal strategy was to familiarize myself with the format of the ACT, but it’s really up to you. Choose studying methods that already work for you as a high schooler, and get a head start that’s comfortable for you.
The night before
The night before the test is when you should give yourself a break from thinking about the ACT. Go to bed and get a healthy nine to 10 hours of sleep; make sure the hour before you sleep is spent doing something relaxing like reading a book rather than sitting on your phone.
Do not spend the night before the ACT cramming. Having a strong and rested brain is infinitely more important than any facts you might shove into your head the night before. This is a hygienic skill you may already have practiced for regular school tests, and it’s just as helpful for the ACT as it is for daily life.
The morning of the test
You wake up. Now what? Go through your normal routine, and make sure you get a full, healthy breakfast. I had whole wheat toast and a full glass of milk the morning of my test, for what it’s worth. Tossing in a fruit or vegetable would be a great idea. The point is, give yourself some of those real, nutritious foods that will wake your brain up and keep it active long term.
Pop, energy drinks, and sugary pastries are not such a good idea. They’ll wake you up, but they’ll give you a sugar crash halfway through the test—not the ideal result. I’d also recommend doing some reading as you wake up: get your mind working and prepared for the large amounts of thinking you’ll have to do later.
Related: Tips for a Higher ACT Score
After the test
Relax! You just took the ACT, and if you’ve made healthy choices and did some preparation ahead of time, you likely did better than you expected. It’s behind you now, so de-stress and calmly await your scores. Recognize that no matter what you get, the ACT is just one test and one small part of your life.
You’ll find that the ACT will not traumatize you, nor is it unconquerable. If you have systems for making it through your high school classes and tests, you already have many of the fundamentals you need to reach your goals on the ACT. All you have to do is transfer strategies that are already helpful for everyday life to the test. When you’re healthy and prepared, it can even be fun to test your brain and try and crack the ACT. Good luck!