7 Tips to Ace the ACT

Oct 08, 2018
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If you are a high school student, at some point you will be expected to take the ACT or SAT in order to get into college. Many schools set minimum scores for acceptance and often higher scores can help students earn more financial aid. If you want to improve your chances on the test, here are some tips to ensure you practice good study habits.

1. Know how the test is written

There are endless resources to help you study for the ACT. The ACT is meant to be tricky and the questions are not always obvious. The point of the test is to really see if you know the material. So, the questions are written in a way that may throw you for a loop.

Studying random websites or books is often not useful because they are not featuring questions that are trying to trick you. Instead, it is best to study official ACT practice tests. These practice tests are written in the same manner as the real test so you can get used to how the questions are twisted to confuse you. The tests have patterns, once you find them it will be easier to prepare for the real test.

Here is a free downloadable official ACT practice test.

2. Quality over quantity

Do not spend hours on end studying every page of every book you can find about the ACT. The same applies to websites or any other study materials. Focus on what will help you improve the most. You don’t need to know every subject inside and out. You will get the most improvement for your study time by focusing on the areas in which you need the most help. Remember not to exhaust yourself. Consider the ACT a marathon instead of a sprint. You need to score well overall, not just in one subject.

3. Learn from your mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, it is normal. However, if you keep repeating the same mistake over and over again throughout the test, then you haven’t learned what you are doing wrong. If a question is written to confuse you and you answer incorrectly, then chances are you will get several more questions wrong since the ACT features patterns throughout the test.  

Recognize where you are performing poorly. Take a practice test and it will be pretty obvious. Then work on those mistakes so you don’t have the same issue on the real test day. If you are getting 10% of the questions wrong throughout the test, then your score will likely be a 32. So, if you learn to recognize your mistakes early on, then you can drastically improve your score in the future.

4. Choose what to study

Once you identify your areas of weakness, you need to focus your studying in those areas. If you struggle in science, then you need to devote more time to the science questions. Perhaps you’re great at subject verb agreements in English. Do some refresher studying in that area, but don’t read an English prep book cover to cover just to say that you put in a lot of time to study. Most people tend to ignore subjects where they struggle. It is easier to just study material that you like or already understand. However, if you already know that material, then you aren’t really studying or improving, your just stroking your own ego. 

5. Remain diligent

Sometimes when we are familiar with certain subjects, we get really careless. We choose obvious answers because we didn’t read a question thoroughly. If we would have taken the time to slow down and decide what the question is really asking, we could choose the right answer and maintain a high score. Ensure you are answering what the question is really asking. Are you supposed to find a radius or are you really supposed to find a circumference? Slowing down will help you decide what the question is really asking since the ACT is designed to trick you. Ensure grammar rules are being followed when you choose your answer. An answer may appear correct at first glance, but upon further investigation usually you can see that a rule is not being followed and you can eliminate an answer choice for the question. Often, we speak differently compared to how correct English is written. 

6. Work on your time management

If you want to ensure you get your best score, then you need to improve the speed at which you answer questions. Many students spend so much time staring at questions that stump them, that they don’t have time to finish all the questions. One strategy is to pace yourself to get through all the questions with 5-10 minutes to spare. Then spend those minutes going back and checking answers that were more difficult. This way you can go back through the test and double check your answers and verify that you read the questions correctly in the first place. There is not much time you can waste on the ACT. So, if you are stuck on a question for more than 30 seconds, mark it and move on. Otherwise you could miss a lot of easier questions at the end of the section because you spent too much time on a few tricky questions. Improving your time management skills will allow you to finish with a few minutes to spare so you can go back to the hard questions and decide on an appropriate answer.

7. Stay positive

Many people who study hard are often confident when they begin a test, but once they find a question that really confuses them, they dwell on it for too long and lose their motivation. Don’t let this happen to you. Try to remain positive and focus on the next test question. Negativity will cloud your judgment and it will be hard to focus on the remaining questions. If you don’t know an answer, then take your best guess and move on. There are multiple sections on the test and most people aren’t strong in every subject. So shine where you can and use your best judgment in other sections where you struggle.  Maintaining a happy and clear mindset will be better for your mental function than worrying over a few tricky questions.

Knowing these tips and implementing them will be challenging but worth it when you get your score back after the big test.

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