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Susanna Langholm

Tackle Your ACT Timeline: Route 1


As a former administrator for an exam prep franchise, I am very well-acquainted with the time management plight experienced by all ACT-takers: When should I start studying? For how long should I study? and When should I take the test? A regular part of my job was meeting with anxious parents and students, who presented to me their score goals and study timeframe with hope in their eyes. “Is this feasible?” they would ask. “Can I reach X score in X number of weeks?” Being confronted with unrealistic aspirations was devastating to me- If only, I thought, they had come in two months earlier. Less often, I would meet with eager, ahead-thinking sophomores who had a solid eighteen months on their hands. These cases were much easier to map out; however, I recognized a “complacency” pitfall that could prove troubling for these students: With all the time in the world, it’s easy to lose track of it. Even students with the “optimal” amount of time to study for the ACT need help commanding it. The students I met with frequently didn’t take into account just how much of a time-suck social and extracurricular activities could be, and we were then left to either reprioritize or to lower score expectations.

BUT. All is not lost. With a reasonable, accurate portrait of how much time you have for the test, you savvy Magooshers will know exactly what to expect and how to get there- without stress or procrastination getting the best of you.


Route 1: Ahead of the Game

You’re new to your high school career, but know you’re in the perfect spot to position yourself to go far. The ACT is twelve, eighteen, even twenty-four months away- but you want to get on top of it and stay there. Good for you!

Here’s how to do that.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the test. This is the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with the exam: Its format, its wording, its expectations for your skills. Buy a practice book and go through all of it. Note what confuses you.
  2. Take a test cold. If you do not have a PLAN coming up (the formal pre-ACT practice test, which closely mirrors the real thing but doesn’t count) take one on your own. Stick to the test’s sequence and time yourself (don’t cut corners!) This score will give you the BEST indication of where you need to start. Most importantly, don’t panic: This initial round is in no way indicative of where you’ll end up. MOST people don’t do nearly as well the first time around as they do in the end (and that’s what we’re here for!)
  3. Think about your (non-ACT) goals. Gunning for Harvard? You’re going to need a 36, or close to it. Goals not quite so lofty? You might not need to freak out about perfection just yet. It may seem early, but now is the perfect time to think about what schools you want to go to and what they require. Peruse some school websites and meet with your guidance counselor. Even contact your dream school’s admissions representative- they like to hear from ambitious students like you. Once you know what they want, you’ll know what your score goal will look like. And aim high: If you have a range, assume the top score is what your school wants- you never know what other factors may be in favor of the admitted students with lower scores.
  4. Identify your weaknesses. A low score is not a death sentence: It’s an opportunity to impress yourself- and admissions counselors- with the hard work you’ll put in to make that number skyrocket. Figure out what confused you and compartmentalize your time accordingly. Start from the biggest “trouble” areas and work towards the smaller ones. Not sure how to get unstuck? Begin by searching this site: Chances are, Magoosh has already published an enlightening post on it. 🙂

Magooshers, when there’s a will, there’s a way: I have seen enough success stories in my career to say that with certainty. No matter how much time you have, (realistic) score boosts are possible. Know what to expect and stay motivated, and you’ll end up one of those success stories, too!.


About Susanna Langholm

Susanna holds a BA in Education & Liberal Studies from Smith College and has spent the better part of her college and post-graduate years helping students achieve success both in and outside of the classroom. Most recently, Susanna served as the Assistant Director for a tutoring franchise catering to college-bound exam prep students, learning a thing or two about the ACT in the process. When she’s not navigating the test-taking waters for the sake of her students, Susanna can be found reading, writing on her education blog, skiing, or planning a future filled with international travel - her favorite (but most expensive) hobby.

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