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Thomas Broderick

The Most Important Things to Study for the ACT

Hello Magooshers! Mr. B again. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the ACT Prep class I taught a few years back. There always seemed to be a topic on each of the ACT’s four tests that students seemed to ignore at their peril. I don’t want this happening to you.


The Most Important Things to Study for the ACT -Magoosh


The following list is not a comprehensive guide to the topics on the ACT, just those that I feel tend to ‘fall through the cracks’ when it comes to studying. Take a look at these subjects, and make sure to give them their due time and attention during your study sessions.

English: Punctuation and Grammar

Ah yes, punctuation and grammar, the two things most English speakers seem to struggle with at one point or another. The absolute bane of my existence for most of my elementary/middle school life, these topics can make or break your English Test score.

My advice: Download a copy of The Elements of Style. It’s free! Don’t forget to actually read it, too 🙂

Math: Pre/Basic Algebra

Here’s something interesting I discovered while teaching ACT Prep: students tend to focus on the hardest material, and assume that they remember Math concepts from 1-2 years ago. Though you have to know some Trigonometry to earn the perfect 36 on the ACT, A LOT of the questions test your Pre/Basic Algebra knowledge.

My advice: First, if you’re one of the students who hoards old classwork (It’s okay, I was one of them, too), you have an advantage when studying these topics. If you’ve saved your old tests, they are a great resource because you can easily recognize topics where you struggled in the past. If you don’t have any old tests, fear not, check out ACT Algebra: Everything You Need to Know to get your bearings and dive into old material. Also, your local library should have some old ACT test prep books that go over these very topics and provide practice problems.

Reading: Reading Strategically

When going over the ACT Reading Test my ACT Prep class, I spent most of my time focusing on teaching students how to read strategically. A lot of students’ practice boiled down to skimming the passages for essential information mentioned in the questions.

My advice: if you’ve never had someone teach you this skill, it might be a little difficult to learn on your own. Even so, you should start by taking a practice Reading Test without a timer. Read the questions and mark important information (names, places, references to specific lines of the passage), and then scan the passage for when the information appears. It might take you an hour to do this the first time, and that’s okay! Over time your speed will improve, and you’ll be able to successfully finish the Reading Test within the 35-minute window.

Science: Graphs and Charts

For starters, reading strategically is just as important on the Science Test as it is on the Reading Test. That being said, the Science Test throws in another variable: graphs and charts. Immensely befuddling, graphs and charts have the potential to derail your chances of Science Test success.

My advice: Just like with the Reading Test, start slow and take your time during your first few practice tests to build your skills. Also, taking multiple practice tests will expose you to the many different types of graphs and charts ACT uses on the Science Test.

Final Thoughts

The ACT is a complicated beast, to say the least. If you ‘plug the gaps’ in your knowledge/skills, you’ll have yourself some mighty strong armor when going into battle on test day. Till next time, Magooshers.

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About Thomas Broderick

Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

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