5 Things I Wish I Had Known About the ACT

It was spring 2003, and I was just a 17-year-old high school junior in Franklin, TN. I was doing everything that I could to get into my dream college, Stanford University (sorry that didn’t work out, younger me). I was in the IB Programme and taking AP courses. I was even the treasurer of the French Club. Then there was the ACT, a key piece to my future college applications.

If this is the spring of your junior year of high school, you, too, probably have a lot on your plate even without the ACT. If you’re preparing to take the ACT for the first (or even second time), you might be wondering if you’re forgetting anything important. Or maybe there’s some ‘secret’ knowledge that can help you succeed. I don’t know about any secrets, but here are 5 things I wish I had known about the ACT in 2003.


Focus on Your Weaknesses, Not Strengths

It’s not easy for anyone, especially teenagers, to admit that they don’t know something. Yet the first step to ACT success is identifying gaps in your knowledge and skills.

The best way to identify weakness is, you guessed it, a practice test. Before you do anything else, take a full-length, timed practice test. The results will give you a clear picture of what you know and don’t know. Afterwards, focus on these weaknesses for the majority of your study time.


Make a Plan

You can’t study everything at once. Instead, come up with an ACT study plan. In your plan, set goals, but make sure they’re realistic. For example, if you only have a month until the ACT, aiming for a 5-point improvement to your composite score might be a little much, especially if you’re studying by yourself. Also, setting unrealistic goals has the added negative effect of killing your enthusiasm when the expected results doesn’t happen by a wide margin.


Get Help When You Need It

If you’re running into a few roadblocks while studying for the ACT, that means it’s time to get help. Whether a teacher, tutor, or classmate, another person’s view on a problem or topic can go a long way in clearing up any fuzzy areas you may have.


5 Things I Wish I Had Known About the ACT -Magoosh

When it’s time to get help on the ACT.


Train Your Body as Well as Your Mind

Besides training your mind for the ACT, your body, too, can make or break you on test day. In the week leading up to the ACT, try to sleep 8 hours each night. Lay off the processed foods as much as possible, too. On the morning of the ACT, eat something high in protein. Protein is a slow burning energy source that will keep you awake during the test. Eat sugar and you’ll likely burn out halfway through.


Retakes Are Okay!

The last thing I wish I had known about the ACT is that retakes are okay! It’s natural to feel a little down at the sight of low ACT scores, especially if you put in a lot of effort leading up to test day. Yet there’s no shame in having to take the ACT a second time.  In fact, taking the ACT twice is the best strategy!

That’s all for now, ACT scholars. Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to ACT success!



  • 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.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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