10 Tips for Acing the ACT

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The ACT can be a daunting first step into college, but if you are properly prepared and confident in your knowledge of the test, it doesn’t have to loom quite so largely on the horizon. Try these simple tips to keep overwhelming test anxiety at bay with a little ACT prep.

Practice, practice, practice.

Start practicing for the ACT before you even schedule the test. The longer you have to practice, the more confident you’ll be in your abilities. Plus, you’ll have a better idea of how long you need to prepare and won’t cut yourself short on study time. You’ll also know if you’ll be able to study sufficiently on your own or if you need to check out an ACT prep center or tutoring service.

Aim high.

Know what your goal score is. Scholarships and colleges often require a specific range. Rather than just winging it and hoping for the best, if your practice test scores aren’t what you want them to be, keep working until you feel confident you can score in that range. Additionally, while some colleges take an average of all your attempts, others will look at only the highest score. Make sure you know which is which before taking one completely unprepared just to see what it’s like, thereby bringing your potential score down significantly.

Understand what’s expected.

Figure out the test, and make sure you understand its components. Part of the trick of standardized tests like the ACT is understanding how to take them, not just knowing the answers to the ACT test questions. This means taking as many practice tests as you can before the real thing.

Stay updated.

ACT prep books can be an enormous help. If you don’t want to cough up the money to buy one, you can often check one out from a library or buy one second-hand. The ACT test questions change every so often though, so be sure you get the right version. While last year’s book may be absolutely fine, the 1999 copy is going to be considerably less helpful.

Utilize available study materials.

Once you’ve gone through all the ACT test questions in the book, you might want more or varied question banks. Flash cards and other preparatory materials are great for a little ACT prep. There are also several online sites devoted specifically to this purpose, and some of them are free. The official ACT website for students offers a question a day, as well as purchasable online materials – it may be pricier, but it’s also guaranteed to be what you need.

Write it out.

Don’t forget about the writing portion if you need to take it. Nobody wants to write a five-point essay on the merits of extracurricular activities for no reason, but the practice will not only help you get faster and naturally improve your writing ability; it will help you become familiar with the kind of content on the writing prompts. Look for examples, both good and bad, so you can see how yours measures up. If you can’t be objective about your own essay, ask someone you trust to show you where you can improve.

Switch it up.

Don’t study in only one place. When your brain stores facts and memories, it stores the context in which you learned them as well. This means you pull all of that stuff to the surface best in the setting where you study. If you can study in the room you’ll be taking the test, do. If not, study in as many places as possible so your recall relies less on context.


Get plenty of rest the night before. Staying up cramming (or partying!) isn’t going to do any good. If you haven’t conquered the ACT already, the last 12 hours aren’t going to change much. Additionally, your brain will function better with time to let everything sink in with a good night’s sleep.

Bring required materials.

When you go in to take the test, make sure you have what you need — and only what you need. Number 2 pencils with sufficient erasers, the proper sort of calculator, a watch, and pretty much nothing else.

During the test..

Keep an eye on the time, and don’t waste too much time on any one ACT test question. Going through and answering easy questions first is a good plan. Narrow down multiple choice answers, and make a note of the ones you have absolutely no clue about. In the last few minutes, if you haven’t finished all of them, or you don’t have time to go back through thoroughly, you’re better off taking a random guess than leaving anything blank. Your chances are better if you choose the same option for each guess, rather than blindly picking differently every time. If you have extra time, double check yourself. And under no circumstances should you try to mark anything after time is up, or your whole test is forfeit.

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