To get a great ACT score you need to learn the exam format, practice effective strategies, and master the pacing for each individual test.
However, even if you do lots of solid ACT preparation, it’s still possible to get a bad ACT score on ACT test day if you do any of the following.
Don’t let any of these top ten foolish mistakes ruin your ACT test prep!
1. Move too slowly through the first 1/3 of a section.
Make sure you bring a watch, and always be aware of how much time you have left for any given ACT test. Don’t rush through the exam, but don’t allow yourself to be surprised when time is called, either. Free ACT practice questions are available at the ACT student website. Use them to practice pacing, especially on the ACT Reading Test, where timing is critical!
2. Bubble your answers incorrectly.
The monitor will go through the instructions for bubbling in the ACT answer grid carefully before the official test begins. Make sure to listen and ask any questions. Bubble in your choices fully and darkly, so that there is never any confusion as to which choice is intended. If you need to erase and change an ACT answer, always erase neatly and as completely as possible. Remember, you’re only allowed to use No. 2 pencils on the ACT exam. Be sure to bring extras, with good erasers!
3. Be late coming back from the breaks.
The ACT test maintains a tight schedule, with allotted breaks. The monitor will not wait for you if you are late. If you go to the bathroom, make sure to return quickly. Don’t use your cell phone during the break (or even take it out of your backpack), and don’t wander away from the ACT test center. If you are late, the time will come out of your allotted time for the next ACT section.
4. Use a pen on the answer grid.
Pencil must be used for all sections of the official ACT. The scantron will not be able to read your answers if you bubble them in pen. Always use No. 2 pencils when you study so you get in the habit of writing in pencil. Mechanical pencils aren’t allowed, even with No. 2 lead, so don’t bother bringing any to the test.
5. Choose not to write the essay.
The essay is optional on the ACT, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it! A good ACT Writing score is a great way to augment your college application. You will need to practice writing at least 3-4 essays to work on your template and feel confident with the 30-minute time limit. Get friends, family, and teachers to read your essays and give you feedback. A little more focus on the ACT essay can take a bad ACT Writing score and turn it into a good one!
6. Copy off your neighbor.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “cheaters never prosper,” and it’s true! College admissions are looking for candidates with the best ACT scores, of course, but also students with character and integrity. Preparing for tests like the ACT helps to build the skills you’ll need for college requirements. By failing to prepare, you are leaving your future uncertain, and there is no guarantee that on test day the person you are cheating off knows the correct answers. The best schools regularly accept students who have slightly lower standardized test scores, but who are exceptional in other ways. Don’t let ACT test pressure convince you that cheating is a good idea!
7. Leave lots of questions blank.
Unlike the SAT, there is no wrong answer penalty on the ACT. That means you should make sure to guess on every single ACT test question!
8. Try to cram the night before.
The ACT is not a test you can successfully cram for. Taking the test exhausted is a surefire way to wind up with bad ACT scores. Make sure you are sleeping regularly at least six hours a night in the weeks leading up to ACT test day; create an ACT test prep schedule and stick to it. Cramming never works, so don’t try it with college applications either!
9. Show up late to the test center.
If your ACT test center is somewhere other than your school, make sure you know exactly where it is located and the fastest way to get there. Aim to arrive at least half an hour early to play it safe. If you have trouble getting up in the morning, make sure to set two alarm clocks! It may sound silly, but this is part of your ACT test prep! Maybe even pack your ACT bag ahead of time to decrease test day stress.
10. Forget to bring extra batteries and pencils.
It would be terrible if your calculator suddenly stopped working in the middle of ACT test day, or the proctor ran out of sharpened pencils. Bring batteries and pencils, just in case. The best schools want students who are always prepared!
Also check out our Magoosh ACT Youtube Channel video for more on what NOT to do on ACT test day!
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About Rita Neumann
Rita creates fun, inspiring, and educational resources that introduce students to Magoosh and help them prep for their exams. She earned both her BA and Master of Pacific International Affairs from UC San Diego, where she also studied Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Rita loves education and marketing, just as much as she loves vinyasa yoga and baking chocolate chip cookies.
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