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Monday, September 30, 2019

How to Ace the ACT

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If you’re wondering how you can best prepare yourself to pass the ACT with flying colors, you’re not alone. Many students approaching the end of high school wonder how they can ace the ACT and position themselves to get into good colleges. Even students with excellent grades can get nervous when they think about taking the ACT, since your results can have a large impact on the success of your college applications. Don’t worry, though; there are plenty of study tricks and tips you can use to do well on the test. Thorough preparation and a calm, confident demeanor are key attributes you will need if you want to ace the test.


[Edit]Setting Your Study and Score Goals

  1. Review the basic format to understand what you’re studying for. The ACT is a multiple choice test with four sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. The English test consists of 75 questions designed to measure standard written and rhetorical skills. The mathematics test consists of 60 questions designed to measure mathematical skills typically learned before the start of grade 12. The reading test consists of 40 questions designed to measure reading comprehension skills. The science test consists of 40 questions designed to measure a student’s ability to interpret, analyze, evaluate, reason, and problem-solve with the natural sciences.[1]
    Ace the ACT Step 1 Version 2.jpg
    • The test sections vary in the amount of time you have to complete them. You have 45 minutes to complete the English section, but 60 minutes to complete the Math section and 35 minutes for both the Reading and Science sections.
    • You can also take an optional writing test, in which you will be required to write an essay. The writing test consists of one prompt, which you will have 30 minutes to write about. This section has no effect on your overall score.
  2. Create a study plan to keep yourself focused. An actual study plan will help you stay more committed to your practice. To fulfill your plan, try to study at least 30 minutes each day, and plan to start studying 3 months in advance. Also, focus on the areas you struggle with most. While you need to practice all areas of the ACT in order to be truly ready, if you struggle with one subject more than the others, set aside a bit more time for that area than the others.[2]
    Ace the ACT Step 2 Version 2.jpg
    • There is a direct relationship between how much you practice and how well you do on the test, so if you want to ace the ACT, you need to study consistently for several months.
  3. Select a target score that you’d like to get on the ACT. Setting a target score will give you a specific goal to work towards. The test is scored on a scale from 1–36, with an average score falling at about 21. Say that you’d like to get a score of 24, which would put you at about the 75th percentile. Knowing this will help you figure out how much you need to improve when you take your first practice test.[3]
    Ace the ACT Step 3 Version 2.jpg
    • Know how high your score needs to be in order to get accepted to your first-choice school. You can find this out by calling or emailing their admissions office. For example, many Ivy League universities don’t admit students who score lower than a 34.
    • The whole purpose behind the ACT is to determine how ready you are for college, so any goal you create should be for the purpose of getting you into the college of your choice.
  4. Take several practice tests so you’re ready for the real thing. You can find practice tests through the ACT website, third party test prep sites, and in study-guide books. Choose practice tests specifically set up in the ACT format so that you can study while also becoming comfortable with the way the test is set up. This will prevent you from being nervous when you take the actual test, and will also help you understand how the test is timed and formatted.[4]
    Ace the ACT Step 4 Version 2.jpg
    • Take your practice tests at roughly the same time of day you can expect to take the actual ACT at. Since the test is usually held fairly early, taking practice tests in the morning will help your brain develop the early morning thinking habits it needs.
    • You can purchase an official ACT prep tests on the official ACT website:
    • If you would rather not buy a test prep guide, the ACT website also offers free practice questions:
    • The ACT publishes a printed, official prep guide that you can buy, as well. This prep guide includes five retired ACT tests and writing tests.

[Edit]Targeting Areas of Study

  1. Brush up on your punctuation and noun-pronoun agreement rules. Essentially, you should brush up on the standard rules of English, especially as they apply to grammar. Try checking out a grammar guide like the Chicago style manual or Strunk and White from the library. Improve your knowledge of English grammar and mechanics is especially important if you tend to struggle in this area in general.[5]
    Ace the ACT Step 5 Version 2.jpg
    • Vocabulary flashcards may do you some good, but you’d be better off studying the rules of English grammar than enlarging your vocabulary.
    • Make sure that you have a thorough understanding of how to use commas, colons, semi-colons, and dashes.
  2. Memorize math formulas so you’ll know them for the test. Algebraic variable manipulation and plane geometry are the most important subjects to study for the mathematics portion of the test. But, the ACT itself will not provide you with any formulas you need for answering the questions. To avoid floundering on the math portion, make sure that you memorize the most essential trigonometry, algebra, and geometry, formulas and understand how to apply them.[6]
    Ace the ACT Step 6 Version 2.jpg
    • When you’re taking practice tests, if you find that you’re unfamiliar with a certain formula or equation (e.g., calculating the sine and cosine or using the quadratic equation), make sure to learn how to use those formulas.
    • Use flashcards to help you memorize formulas and brush up on your math knowledge in preparation for the test.
    • Note that calculus is not tested on the ACT. Trigonometry questions may appear, but there will only be a limited number of these. The hardest trigonometry questions usually deal with sine, cosine, and tangent graphs, as well as the unit circle.
  3. Familiarize yourself with general scientific knowledge. The science section will require you to have some general science knowledge, but will mostly test your science reading comprehension. You’ll be given a variety of charts and figures and experiment descriptions and expected to answer detailed questions about them. So, re-read a couple of your high school science textbooks and get used to thinking analytically about charts and sample experiments.[7]
    Ace the ACT Step 7 Version 2.jpg
    • When practicing for this section, try answering data representation sections first before answering more complex questions in the practice test.
  4. Practice writing draft essays to prepare for the writing section. Complete a draft essay once a week using writing prompts suggested by the official ACT study guides. This way, you’ll be used to answering the types of prompts you’ll see on the test. Keep yourself on a strict 30-minute timer. Before you write, analyze the prompt and decide what angle you want to take when answering.[8]
    Ace the ACT Step 8 Version 2.jpg
    • A five-paragraph essay needs an introduction, three body paragraphs with supporting points, and a conclusion. Ideally, one of your body paragraphs will be a contradictory point with your rebuttal.
    • ACT essay prompts typically give a statement about a cultural or social issue, then provide 3 perspectives that respond to the issue. You’ll be asked to think analytically and analyze the perspectives.

[Edit]Preparing Yourself and Your Supplies

  1. Stimulate your mind and body the night before the test. Go for a short run, ride your bicycle, or work on a puzzle. The idea is to stimulate yourself without exhausting yourself. Physical activity gets the blood pumping, which can improve blood flow to the brain and make it easier to stay alert and focused during the text. Similarly, mental stimulation can get the metaphorical gears turning in your head, preparing your brain for the problem solving it will need to perform on the test.[9]
    Ace the ACT Step 9 Version 2.jpg
    • Then, make sure that you get a good night’s sleep. A good night’s sleep is very important since it allows you to wake up refreshed and recharged. Aim for a full 8 hours the night before the test.
  2. Eat a healthy breakfast the morning of the test. The breakfast you eat should be healthy but fairly normal in size. If all you usually eat in the morning is a bowl of cereal, opt for a healthier cereal option and hydrate yourself with orange juice. This will make sure that your body has plenty of energy and that you won’t get hungry or crash halfway through the test.
    Ace the ACT Step 10 Version 2.jpg
    • Do not eat a large meal if you are not used to it, since eating a lot of food can cause you to slow down and become tired.
  3. Gather the materials that you’ll need for the test. Your school should inform you of what to bring with you on the day of the test. If nothing else, you will need to have an appropriate ID, approved calculator, #2 pencils, and your test ticket. Bring a silent watch (but none with smart abilities like the Apple Watch) to keep track of time, as there may not be a clock available. Bring multiple pencils, erasers, a scientific or graphing calculator, and a water bottle.[10]
    Ace the ACT Step 11 Version 2.jpg
    • You should also lay out a route from your home to the testing center. If you have never been to the testing center, take a drive there before the day of the test to familiarize yourself with the roads.

[Edit]Taking the Test

  1. Stay calm during the test to maximize your score. Panic will only hurt you in the end, and if you think you will fail, you risk setting your sights on failure instead of success. Go to the testing center with as much confidence as possible. If you find yourself getting nervous or stressed during the test, stand up, take a sip of water, and do a couple stretches to clear your head.
    Ace the ACT Step 12 Version 2.jpg
    • Remember that very few test-takers finish every question on every part of the ACT!
  2. Work the easiest questions first and don’t be afraid to skip tough ones. You need to pace yourself throughout the test in order to ensure that you have enough time to answer all the questions. If one question has you stumped or confused, make a mental note to come back to it later and move onto the next question. It’s much better to answer 10 questions correctly than to spend 15 minutes puzzling through 1 impossibly difficult question![11]
    Ace the ACT Step 13 Version 2.jpg
    • There’s also no need to answer the questions in order. If the last question seems like the easiest to you, solve that one first! Answer the questions you know first before returning to the ones you have to mull over.
  3. Answer every question even if you’re not sure of the answer. There is no penalty for wrong answers on the ACT, so it is in your best interest to guess the correct answer rather than leaving a question blank. It’s best to make an educated guess, if possible, rather than randomly penciling in answers to questions you didn’t finish.[12]
    Ace the ACT Step 14 Version 2.jpg
    • Only resort to randomly penciling in answers if you have less than a minute left and don’t have time to make educated guesses.
  4. Eliminate incorrect answers to find the correct one. Since the ACT is a multiple-choice test, you can use the process of elimination to improve your chances of answering problems correctly. For example, say that you’re given choices A, B, C, and D, but you quickly deduce that B and C are incorrect. You can guess either A or D and have a 50% chance of being right, which are much better odds than the 25% chance you’d have if you hadn’t eliminated answers.[13]
    Ace the ACT Step 15 Version 2.jpg
    • In the math section, you can quickly eliminate any answers that aren’t remotely close to the number you came up with (even if your answer doesn’t match any of the given answers).
    • In reading and science, many incorrect answers to the questions may initially seem feasible. However, if even 1 aspect of the answer seems wrong to you, you should eliminate the answer.
  5. Leave yourself 5 minutes at the end to check your work. While you’re taking the test, put a small, light mark next to questions that you struggled to answer or don’t feel confident about. During the final 5 minutes of each section of the ACT, review the questions that you marked. Reread the question, check your work, and correct any answers that you may have answered incorrectly the first time around.[14]
    Ace the ACT Step 16 Version 2.jpg
    • If you’re waffling between 2 different answers, go with your gut feeling. It’s also a good idea to trust your first impulse rather than overthinking the problem.


  • Remember that you can take the ACT more than once. You can take the ACT multiple times, so if you do not ace it your first time around, you can try again later. But it’s best to shoot for a great score the first time so that you do not have to repeat the test again.
  • If you’d like an extra, fun way to study for the test each day, review the ACT “Question of the Day.” This question is available on the ACT website for free:
  • Do not drink a bunch of caffeine in the morning right before taking the ACT. You can have a cup of coffee or tea if that is part of your morning routine, but drinking a lot of caffeine in the morning to give yourself an energy buzz is risky since you will likely find your blood sugar and energy crashing halfway through the ACT.
  • Figure out in advance whether or not the college you want to attend wants you to take the optional writing portion of the test. Since this part is optional, many colleges and universities do not need to see it, so you can skip taking it if that is the case. Many colleges and universities do want to see that score, however, so you should find out beforehand before opting out of it.
  • Resist the urge to cram for the ACT. The test covers a wide range of material, and the amount of material you need to study for is vastly greater than the amount of information you need for a standard high school test.

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