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Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Should I Take an ACT Diagnostic Test?




Seriously. Yes! Even if you only have one week to go before test day, you should take the time and do a diagnostic exam (this one’s free!). At the very least, take fifteen minutes (if it’s the day before the test) and look over the sample problems on the ACT’s website. You’ll do better if you know what you’re getting into!

Yeah, Okay. But Why Should I Take a Diagnostic Test for the ACT?

You may think you know how you’ll do—maybe you’re a great test-taker and you plan on acing the ACT. Take a diagnostic exam. Maybe you have test anxiety and you’ve been putting off an ACT diagnostic. There are tools out there that can help you, such as therapy and gradual exposure to test questions, so definitely explore those. But a diagnostic test can still help you, as well: you can learn about the test in an environment that you control.

I Really Don’t Want to Go to an ACT Prep Center

We get that. That’s why we’re here, after all! Even though many test prep companies will offer you a diagnostic exam with the course, you don’t need to take the test with them to have a test-day experience. Here’s what you can do instead…

So What Do I Do?

– Set aside a solid block of time. We’re talking 3-4 hours, and more if you get extended time (usually 1.5 x traditional timing, but this can vary).
– Make sure that you’ll be undisturbed. Put a sign on your door if you have to, or go to the library. Silence is golden for the diagnostic (and on test day)
– Gather your materials. Kristin has a great list for test day, and these are good things to keep with you during practice, as well.
– Sit down with the test. Peter has given us an amazing list of free practice materials here, because Peter is awesome. You can get official practice from the ACT—and, of course, stellar materials from Magoosh. This is great especially if you want to take several practice tests, so you can track your scores.
– Go for it! If you can, take the mandatory breaks as well, so you get a feel for what it’s like to take a test for this long.  

The Point of It All

After you’ve finished up, score your ACT test. But don’t just look at the score—that’s maybe 10% or less of the point of taking a diagnostic!

What’s that? That’s the entire reason you took the diagnostic? Nope. You now hold in your hands the key to your ACT approach. Go over the questions you got right. When were you guessing? When were you unsure but correct? Go over the questions you got wrong. Did you bubble in the wrong answer choice by mistake? Common rookie error. Now you won’t do that on test day!

Now you know where your strengths are—these are the questions you’ll approach first on test day. You also know where your weaknesses are—this is what you’ll study over the coming days or weeks before test day.

See? Just a few hours, and look at all the information you gathered. Aren’t you glad you decided to take that diagnostic?

Ready to get your highest ACT score? Start here.
About Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!

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