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Kristin Fracchia

ACT Practice

The ACT, like any standardized test, can seem like a daunting task. You’ve heard whispers of it in the hallways of your high school, but when it comes time for you to sit down and begin studying, where to start may seem like a giant unknown.

There’s a pesky, yet persistent, myth circulating out there that standardized tests like the ACT and the SAT measure your intelligence. That practicing for such tests is futile.

Back in the dark ages (aka the turn of the millennium) when I took my high school standardized tests, I was a victim of this myth. No one told me to practice. I simply showed up on Saturday morning with my number 2 pencils.

As a tutor, I know that nothing could be farther from the truth.

The ACT is a skill that can be learned: like basketball or basket-weaving. Like any other skill involving some talent, there may be limits to the level you can ultimately attain, but nevertheless everyone has the potential to make improvements, doggone it! You may never become a professional soccer player, but you can learn to improve your passing accuracy. And your training starts now.

How to Practice for the ACT

Spend some time with the free resources at at www.actstudent.org.

This is the official website, and yet it’s amazing how many students take the ACT without ever having visited it! This should be your first stop in your ACT test prep journey. You’ll find free practice tests and advice from the test-makers themselves.

Use reputable study sources.

Every ACT student should get The Real ACT Prep Guide (aka “The Red Book”), which includes a handful of old official exams. You can supplement your study with other great sources like Magoosh or the Barron’s or Princeton Review books. Most importantly, make sure you are getting the most up-to-date books. The test does change.

Get inside the heads of the test-makers.

Try to develop an understanding of what the test-makers “prefer” in terms of the answer choices. For example, after studying the ACT English test for some time you’ll notice how, overall, the ACT test-makers prefer answer choices that aren’t wordy and employ economy of language. This kind of understanding will help you make better educated guesses on more difficult problems.

Plan out a reasonable study schedule.

To make sure you get the ACT test date and testing center you want, register early – at least 3 months before the exam. That way you can create a study schedule, working backwards from the test date. Be realistic with yourself. How much time can you commit each week to ACT practice questions? It’s better to study 20-30 minutes a day than a 4-hour block once a week. Aim to work on ACT material at least four days a week to keep yourself fresh.

Practice Using Good Testing Strategies

Practice timed sections.

The ACT is notoriously a time-pressed test. Make sure you practice taking timed sections and watch the clock to work out your pacing. Maybe you only have time to do 3 reading sections instead of 4, and that might be what you need to get your best score. Maybe you are rushing too much and making simple mistakes. The only way you will be able to find out is if you take multiple timed sections and refine your pacing.

Learn the concepts tested the most often. 

For the ACT English and the ACT Math tests, there are a finite number of tested concepts: grammar, algebra, geometry, basic trigonometry. You will need to figure out what you already know, and what you need to work on. The good news: the questions are predictable! If you learn these concepts, you’ll see them pop up over and over again, and you will know exactly what to do. Talk about a confidence booster.

Memorize the instructions and timing for each test.

Don’t waste valuable time on your ACT test day reading instructions or checking back to figure out how much time you have. Each section has its own set of directions. Familiarize yourself with them now.

Pinpoint your weaknesses and attack them.

Know which sections need more work and plan to address them first. You’ll need more time for your weaknesses. Don’t put off studying for a section just because you dread it!

But don’t forget your strengths are particularly valuable on the ACT.

This is even truer for the ACT than the SAT. Most colleges focus on your overall ACT composite score in admissions, while SAT scores are scrutinized more often by section. Because this composite score is an average of all your section scores, doing even better on your strongest sections can help make up for your weaker sections when everything averages out.

Don’t Stress

Remember that test-taking is a learned skill, not an inherent gift!

Some people may seem to be “naturally” good at the ACT, but even if you’re not one of them, you can still learn how to score highly! Think positively, and focus on your progress in your ACT test prep. Recognize that making mistakes is necessary to improvement. Incorrect practice ACT questions help you hone in on areas that need more work, so welcome them!


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About Kristin Fracchia

Kristin makes sure Magoosh's sites are full of awesome, free resources that can be found by students prepping for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agony and bliss of train running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.

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