How to Prepare for the ACT Test

With so many college applicants boasting respectable GPAs and impressive extracurriculars, a strong ACT score may be all that stands between you and your admission to your chosen school.

ACT is short for American College Testing. It’s a standardized college entry exam designed and administered by a non-profit organization of the same name.

The exam assesses a student’s English, mathematical, reading, and logical reasoning skills. These are the skills necessary to succeed in undergrad programs and the workplace.

The course also includes a writing component. Most universities consider ACT scores when reviewing applicants. As a result, if you intend to sit for the test, you may want to prepare well in advance.

ACT Test Preparation

This section outlines the essential steps you’ll need to do from registration until test day to get ready for the test! This description is aimed mostly at self-study students; however, a skilled teacher or program will assist you through your preparation in the same general order.

#1: Enroll for the exam

If you’ve not yet signed up for the ACT exam, you can apply for the test on the ACT website. If you haven’t previously done so, you’ll need to create an account on the website to enroll for the test.

You’ll input your details then pick a location and date for the test. The wise thing to do is select a location close to home, so you don’t spend so much time on the road on test day. When it comes to the exam date, allow yourself enough time to prepare. Most students usually take 3 to 6 months to get ready for the Act.

However, don’t worry if you have to operate on a tight schedule due to application deadlines! You’ll need to spend a lot of time each week to prepare for a shorter period in such a situation.

#2 Familiarize Yourself with ACT Format and Structure

After registering, the next step is to familiarize yourself with the format and overall structure of the exam. ACT is a 36-point test. The exam consists of Math, English, Reading, and Science multiple-choice sections.

Each section carries 36 points, and your overall score is calculated by averaging the four sections. Additionally, there’s an optional 12-point essay writing section, but it won’t factor in your final score.

The test’s order, number of problems, time, and format of questions are listed in this chart below:

SectionNumber of QuestionsTime Allowed Per SectionQuestion Format
Math6060 minutes5 Multiple choices
English7545 minutes4 Multiple choices
Reading4035 minutes4 Multiple choices
Science4035 minutes4 Multiple choices
Writing (optional)140 minutesEssay Writing prompt
Total:2163 hours 35 minutes (optional Writing included); 2 hours 55 mins otherwise 

#3 Familiarize Yourself with exam Content and Style of Questions

Each section of the test assesses a separate set of knowledge and skills. As a result, how you prepare for ACT English will be unique from the way you prepare for ACT Mathematics, for example.

Furthermore, you will want to become familiar with the ACT’s own specific formats and question styles before test day. Otherwise, even if you are familiar with the material, some questions may throw you off!

Here’s more information on each section of the ACT exam tests:

What Does ACT English Test?

The ACT’s English section consists of 75 multiple-choice questions to be answered in 45 minutes. What’s covered includes English language usage and mechanics (grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and usage). It also covers rhetorical skills (including style, strategy, and organization).

Tips and Tricks

  • Listen to each sentence as you read them out. Sometimes it’s easier to hear grammatical errors than detecting them in texts.
  • Eliminate colloquial terms, even if they are frequently used in casual conversation, they are still wrong
  • Avoid guesswork; again, use elimination to narrow down your answer choices.
  • Do not focus excessively on one question. Feel free to skip tough questions so you can circle back later.

What Does ACT Math Test?

The ACT math section contains 60 problems to be solved in 60 minutes. ACT math tests pace and problem-solving skills. That is why practicing a lot of ACT math before the exam is important.

Here’s the breakdown of ACT Math content

Pre-AlgebraP20-25%
Elementary Algebra15-20%
Intermediate Algebra15-20%
Coordinate Geometry15-20%
Plane Geometry20-25%
Trigonometry5-10%

By the start of 12th grade, many students are familiar with these math skills. You’ll find the ACT math content simple if you’re an advanced student.

Tips and Tricks

  • Assess your strengths and weaknesses early on and concentrate on areas that are difficult for you.
  • Narrow down your answer choices using the process of elimination. Don’t select an answer until you’ve eliminated all but one.
  • Only use a character when necessary. Otherwise, you’ll work faster by hand. Also, feel free to skip questions you don’t know and come back later.

What’s The ACT Reading Section Test?

The contents of ACT Reading fall into the following three broad categories: Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. You’ll get four passages to read and answer 40 multiple choice questions in 35 minutes.

The passages are written at the college freshman level and come from various sources, fiction and nonfiction. Rather than assessing acute vocabulary or memory techniques, this section assesses your understanding and analysis of reading material.

Key Ideas and Details– Identify the main ideas and themes
– provide accurate summariesDraw conclusions and inferences based on chronological, comparative, and causal relationships
Craft and Structure– determine the meanings of words and phrases
– examine the writers’ use of language
– examine the structure of the text
– recognize the authors’ goals and perspectives, as well as the viewpoints of the characters
– distinguish between various viewpoints and sources
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas– recognize the author’s assertions 
– distinguish between opinions and facts
– connect different ideas in the texts
– examine how authors present their points of view
– assess the logic

The percentage of questions asked is as follows:

  • Key Ideas and Details   55-60%
  • Craft and Structure 25-30%
  • Integration of Knowledge 13-18%

Tips and Tricks

  • Skim each passage first to get the overall message then read again carefully to note specific details
  • Look for the best answer; not the only correct one
  • Eliminate statements that appear contentious, extreme, or irrelevant
  • For vocabulary questions, read the entire sentence and even the ones surrounding it for clues

What Is Assessed on the ACT Science Exam?

The science part consists of 40 multiple-choice questions (based on several passages) that must be answered in 35 minutes. You’ll have to use your interpretation, evaluation, analysis, problem-solving, and reasoning skills to answer questions related to Earth, physics, and biology.

According to the ACT website, you should have completed at least three years of high school science, one physics or earth science course, and one biology course before taking the ACT.

What Is Assessed on the ACT Writing Section?

The ACT’s optional writing portion assesses logical thinking and persuasive Writing by requiring test-takers to write a convincing assignment. You’ll have 40 minutes to produce a coherent essay that presents your viewpoint on the assigned topic and contrasts it with three other viewpoints listed below the passage.

Although some schools and universities require applicants to submit their writing scores in addition to the four mandated parts of the ACT, this section is 100% optional.  It won’t affect your ACT’s overall score, but it will contribute to an English Language Arts (ELA) score for acceptance to some college schools.

Tips and Tricks

  • Work out the flaws in each sentence and enhance the flow of your overall message using a rough copy on scrap paper.
  • Cite material evidence to help strengthen your arguments
  • Avoid making irrational or extreme comments
  • Balance your argument by citing all three points of view

#4: Diagnose Your Strength and Weaknesses

Once you have a general understanding of what the ACT assesses, take advantage of Inc, six free and official practice tests to diagnose your strengths and weaknesses. By doing so, you establish a baseline of your skills. Identifying your weaknesses so you can work on them is an important part of exam prep.

When you take your initial practice test, simulate test-day-like conditions. That means you’ll need to find a quiet environment, use number 2 pencils, approved calculators, time yourself, and take breaks just like in the real exam. If you intend to take the writing section, don’t skip it in the practice tests.

The back of the booklet contains scoring guidelines. Use them to score your work, then evaluate your performance by section. Sections with the highest scores are clearly your best, while sections with the lowest scores are your worst.

Analyze your incorrect answers to identify patterns. For example, if you answered all data representation questions but excelled on all research summaries on the science part, you’ll need to work on your data representation skills.

#5: Set a Target Score

Once you know where you are now, set a target score for how much you hope to improve. It must reflect the schools you are interested in and should be something you can realistically attain in the time you have. Within a month, a 1-to-2-point improvement is completely reasonable.

However, a 6-point improvement within the same timeframe is a bit unreasonable. Of course, you’ll need to put in more time to improve your points.

Below are a few rough estimates on how much prep time it takes to gain certain points

  • 1-2 Point Improvement: Approximately 20 hours of prep
  • 2-4 Point Improvement: Approximately 40 hours of prep
  • 4-6 Point Improvement:  Approximately 80 hours of prep
  • 6-9 Point Improvement:  150+ hours of prep

#6: Create a Study Plan

Once you establish your target score, create a personal and consistent study plan. You should start early and prep regularly to avoid pressure in the last days before the exam. You don’t want to be forced to cram stuff. Determine the number of hours to prep weekly.

No. of hours to prep per week = No. of hours needed to improve your target score / No of weeks to the exam.

You should also schedule consistent study times and days throughout the week. For example, you might study for about an hour every day except weekends, when you would study for three hours.  Or perhaps you’ll study for 40 minutes on Monday and Friday and two hours every other day.

Consistency helps keep you on track. Also, inform someone else on your schedule so they can remind you when you are busy; they’ll help hold you accountable.

#7: Learn ACT Content

Having established the goal and the schedule, you are ready to begin learning content. To answer ACT questions correctly, you must have content knowledge. That means learning English grammar and mechanics, brushing up your Math and science skills.

You’ll need to study any ACT material you aren’t familiar with yet. You should. Devote the majority of your time hammering your weak subjects. However, go over what you already understand too to avoid backsliding.

There are many ways to prep for the ACT. Take a look at their pros and cons below. Only you can decide how to most successfully learn and evaluate stuff for your learning needs

#8: Learn ACT Strategies

 To succeed in the ACT, you need more than knowledge. Even bright students get thrown off in the exam if they don’t know effective strategies to approach different questions in the test, manage their anxiety, and allocate time per question.

A strategy consists of things like eliminating wrong answers, guessing when necessary, managing your time and anxiety, and other tips relevant to specific sections of the test. There are many books and courses designed by perfect scorers to let students know the secrets and strategies they used to achieve excellent scores. Take advantage of programs such as Dr. Patel’s Prep Expert ACT to learn strategies for taking the ACTs.

#9: Use Professionally Chosen ACT Practice Questions and Tests

Practice questions and practice exams are two essential components of ACT preparation. Practice questions might help you focus on the skills you really ought to improve for the test. You should practice the individual types of questions, subjects, and sections you need to put more work on. Make a point of thoroughly working through any questions you fail to learn from your mistakes.

Another part of practicing for the ACT is to complete a few full-length practice tests. When doing a full test practice run, use an approved practice test and recreate the test day experience. For example, start at the same time as the actual exam will start, time yourself, use correct pencils and calculator, and take breaks to re-energize, refresh and rejuvenate, just like in the actual exam.

#10: Learn Mental Math

You can use a calculator in ACT Math. But some problems are quicker to calculate mentally than using a calculator. Consider prepping your mind into a calculator to help speed your progress in the exam.

Using your brain to add, multiply, and divide quickly and sum numbers will save you a lot of time in the exam. Several online books that’ll teach you fast mental math if you are not sure where to start.

#11: Practice A Lot of Reading

There is a substantial amount of reading material on the ACT. There are four long, comprehensive passages spread through the test; and 40 questions based on them which you will be allowed only 35 minutes to tackle.

The questions themselves aren’t particularly difficult. They are, in fact, quite straightforward. However, the reading part is the most challenging as your brain will probably run out of energy (ideally not during the first passage).

To prevent this from happening, read many fiction and nonfiction books while preparing for the ACT.  This will help you get used to reading and also develop speed.

#12: Download A Student Study App for Studying on The Move

On the internet, there are many apps that help prepare you for the ACT. These sites’ platforms offer access to practice questions, flashcards, and video tutorials. With study and practice resources on your phone, you can prepare for the ACT and keep track of your progress on the move.

Utilize these innovative apps.  By sneaking in lessons when you are on the bus, standing in line, or just taking a short break during the day, you will cover an enormous amount of content.

#13: Make Sure You’re Are Ready for Test Day

Make sure to engage in all of your finest test-taking techniques to set yourself up for success on test day.   So, get plenty of rest the night ahead, have a well-balanced, protein-rich breakfast, bring pencils, approved calculators, water, snacks, wear a sweatshirt and layers because exam centers are often cold.

It would also be best if someone drove you to the exam center. This will help you relax while you’re on your way. Furthermore, the support of your family and friends before the big exam will be quite beneficial!

Different ACT Preparation Methods and How to Choose the Best One for You

Here, we discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the most popular ACT preparation approaches. 

Self-Preparation

A lot of students prepare for the ACT mostly independently, using online resources, study books, mobile apps, etc.

The advantages 👍

  • Flexibility. Since you choose when and what to study, you can customize your study schedule to your own learning style and needs.
  • It’s also the cheapest option there is. You won’t have to pay anything if you use public libraries. But of course, you will need to know exactly what you need to focus on.

Disadvantages: 👎

  • Maintaining motivation can be difficult. It can all go wrong if you don’t have your parents or friends to hold you accountable.
  • Creating and sticking to a customized study plan is no easy task. You must identify your own weaknesses, collect resources, research answer explanations, score your work, analyze performance, etc.
  • Self-diagnosis can be difficult, particularly if you have much growth to do. Even if you are aware of the weak topics, you may not know where to start or how to approach the matter. Sometimes it’s vital to seek assistance!

Online ACT Self-Paced Courses

Online programs are a relatively new innovation in test preparation; online programs are greatly considered the best way to prepare for standardized tests.  Various instructional methods are used in online courses, including video classes, books, and practice exams.

Advantages 👍

  • Many online courses provide customizable study schedules, pre-and post-diagnostic tests, and performance tracking
  • Many online courses are accessible to users of both desktop and mobile devices.
  • Many online courses rely on video instructions to make studies engaging and fun
  • Most online programs provide thousands of practice questions with text and video explanations and full-length practice tests
  • Scoring and reviewing practice work is easy
  • Online courses are cheaper than hiring a tutor

Cons 👎

  • They cost money
  • Not all of them are the same. Just because a big-name exam-prep company is fronting an online ACT program doesn’t mean it’s suitable for you; do your research to avoid wasting time and money. 

Live ACT Classes

Live ACT classes are provided in-person or online. Groups of students sit in a virtual or real class and listen to a teacher.  

Pros

  • Someone to hold you accountable and make sure you grasp the basic concepts of the ACT syllabus
  • You can interact with the instructor and other students
  • You can ask questions and seek clarifications where needed

Cons

  • The level of personalization is very little since the instructor prioritizes the need of the many over those of an individual student
  • Unless the lessons are recorded, you can’t always pause, go back and rewatch
  • The quality of the instructor matters
  • Live online or in-person ACT classes are expensive 

Private ACT Tutor

It’s no secret that hiring a qualified ACT tutor is one of the best ways to prep for the exam, especially if you have difficulty grasping certain concepts or are looking for top marks to get into Ivy League schools. Act Tutors tailor their teaching methodologies and pace to individual students’ progress, learning style, and habits.

Advantages

  • Personalized study schedules
  • Personalized feedback
  • Direct instructions
  • Your tutor will keep you motivated

Disadvantages

  • A tutoring service can be very expensive ($150 to $300 per hour).
  • It’s not easy to determine if a tutor truly is good.
  • You won’t be able to work with your tutor all day; instead, you’ll only have tutor access for a limited period. As a result, you need to be able to prepare independently when they are not around.

ACT Prep Books

Since the internet’s invention, the use of test prep books has declined in popularity. Most students already have busy schedules; they prefer online courses since they can study anywhere anytime as long as there’s the internet.

The same isn’t possible with most books unless they are PDFs. In addition, most books are uninteresting, out-of-date, or even sub-par in the eyes of students. Nonetheless, there are solid reasons to prepare with books, and if you hunt hard enough, you can discover effective ACT prep books.

Advantages

·  Cheap

·  Can supplement online courses and classes

·  Can be read in areas without internet

·  Disadvantages

·  Not easy to move with

·  Some books are very comprehensive and thus require intermediate skill levels

·  Some books are poorly edited

Important Resources for ACT Preparation

There are several high-quality materials available to help you prepare for the ACT. Here’s a quick look at some of the best.

ACT Practice Questions and Tests

The single most significant resource for ACT preparation is practice exams and questions. To build confidence and stamina for the exam, you need to do a lot of practice.

The best practice tests for the ACT come from the makers of the test themselves. ACT Inc provides six full-length practice tests. One of them is online, while the remaining are in PDF format.

You can also get other practice questions and tests online but always stick with the official stuff because the ACT syllabus is vast and not easy to simulate.

ACT Prep Books

Preparing for the ACT can take between 10 and 150+ hours, depending on your expected score improvement. A majority of online courses provide the same amount of study and practice time. But if you do not wish to purchase an online course, an ACT prep textbook will do.

Some courses lack enough study and practice material, so you may want to supplement your preparation with a textbook. Online courses often contain books that correlate with what’s taught in the video and live lessons, so if you don’t understand something in class, you can return to the book to clarify.

Some of the best ACT prep books include

Where Is the ACT Taken?

You can check for available testing locations near your home using the test center locator on the ACT website. There may be various options available in your state or the local area, even for students residing in Canada and US territories.

The ACT organization is also looking into the possibility of remote proctoring where students can take the exam from their homes via computers.

How Much Does the ACT Cost?

The current registration fee for ACT non-writing tests is $52, which covers a maximum of four colleges. If you add the writing part, the cost goes to $68; if you decide not to take the writing test before the exam, the extra $16 fee will be returned. You will incur additional costs if you request your scores to be sent to more than four schools. Other optional expenses apply as follows:

  • Textbooks (about $30 each)
  • Self-paced courses ($100-$499)
  • ACT preparation classes (up to $799-$1800)
  • Private coaching fee (fees range from $40 to $200 per hour)

Are There Fee Waivers?

Fee waivers for the ACT and the optional essay part are available for students who satisfy certain conditions. Waiver applicants must be enrolled in grade 11 or 12, live in the United States or a US territory, and fill out an ACT waiver form indicating financial hardship.

Waivers can be requested through the counseling office at your school. You can apply for two waivers per exam, and they will be used once you register for the exam. Waiver recipients can also access free ACT study and practice resources.

Is It Possible to Retake the Exam?

You can take the ACT any number of times you have to till you get the score you want.  Many students today sit for the ACT at least once during their junior and senior years of high school.

More than 50% of graduating students who retake the exam improve their overall score on successive attempts. You will eventually pick which score to submit to universities. Therefore, if you aren’t content with your initial score, try retaking the ACT.

What Is a Good ACT Score?

The highest possible score in the Act is 36. In 2019, most students scored around 20.7. What constitutes a “good” score varies depending on the schools you want to join. The Princeton Review has a college search tool to help you know what ACT score the school you want to get in requires.

The middle 50 percent is the score range of the 25th to the 75th percentile of students accepted by your dream schools. For example, if a college’s middle 50 percent is 26-30, 15% of those admitted scored below 26, 50% scored between 26 and 30, and 25% scored above 30.

Wrap Up 🎁

Want to learn more about ACT courses, classes, and tutoring near you? Feel free to check our review of the best AC.T. courses, classes, and tutoring programs and a chart showing a side-by-side comparison of the best 10 ACT prep programs on the market. Wishing you the very best in your endeavors.