How to Study for the ACT: Tips for Stress-Free Study Sessions

Student reading on couch showing how to study for the ACT test stress-free

When it comes to the ACT, there are some things that are beyond your control. But there are lots that you can do to prepare for the unexpected! And the more you take test prep into your own hands, the readier you’ll be for whatever you see on test day. One of the best ways to bust stress when you prep? Planning your study sessions in advance. By knowing exactly how to study for the ACT test in the way that’s right for you, you’ll take charge of the things you can control—while minimizing stress. Here’s how!

Four Tips for How to Study for the ACT Stress-Free

1. Know How Much Time You Will Need to Study Per Week

Understanding the time commitment of ACT prep will help you set up your schedule in a way that’s manageable with the rest of your commitments. So how to study for the ACT test in a given period of time? The pacing of your plan will depend on how much time you have before test day. Plan for the following session frequencies and lengths, working backwards from your official ACT test dates:

  • One month: 3 days a week, 2-4 hours per day (the upper end of this is for students taking the essay/optional writing test), with 4-hour sessions on one weekend day (you’ll use this for an ACT practice test)
  • Two months: 3 days a week, 2-3 hours a day, with 3-6 hour sessions on one weekend day
  • Three months: 2 days a week, 2 hours a day, with 4-hour sessions on one weekend day

As you can see, the longer you have to prepare, the lighter your ACT test prep sessions each week will be. This is why it’s important to start studying for the ACT as early as possible!

In an ideal world, you’d start prepping for the ACT junior year. Why junior year? By this point in your high school career, you’ve covered the material the ACT tests in your classes. But you’ll still have enough time left to retake additional ACT exams or take the SAT instead if you need to. You’ll get your scores well in advance of deciding where to apply to college, and you won’t have to cram ACT study on top of everything else into senior year. All in all, junior year is a solid choice for testing!

2. Schedule Sessions in Advance

When your schedule’s packed, it’s really easy to let longer-term goals (like acing the ACT!) slide, “just for today.” But over time, those dropped sessions start to add up, leading to more and more stress around ACT prep in general.

Don’t let this happen to you! By planning out your sessions in advance, you’ll be more likely to stick to them—and you can also rest easy, knowing that you have this goal under control.

How to study for the ACT test with a schedule? Scheduling too far in advance won’t be useful, as things may crop up in the meantime. The best thing to do is to go month by month, mapping out when you’re going to study for the exam each week. Then, at the start of each week, see where you need to tweak the schedule to fit your other commitments.

Keep in mind that while solid ACT prep does require several hours a week, you don’t have to do these hours in huge chunks to be successful! If you’re struggling to find 3-4 hour chunks of time for test prep, it’s important to realize that you can break these down into smaller chunks. Even 20-minute study streaks will help you reach your goals over time! You can also maximize your study time by following the tips in this post about boosting your ACT score by 10 points, such as starting to study two hours after waking up.

3. Follow a Pre-Planned Schedule

As you start to plan out how to study for the ACT test, realize that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel! Magoosh’s experts have already crafted tried and true ACT study schedules for different periods of time to help students reach their goals. These study schedules are flexible enough to fit into different students’ lives, while still comprehensive: they cover the key material on the test in whatever length of time you have available. Check these study guides out—they’re free resources!

4. Figure Out What Will Motivate You to Stick to Your Schedule

Wondering how to study for the ACT test in a way you can actually stick to? In the end, it’ll come down to the personal factors that motivate you. Here are just a few that students have found helpful in the past!

  • Get a study buddy. Having someone else to whom you’re accountable can really help boost your motivation. If you have a friend or friends who are taking the ACT around the same time you are, this can help keep motivation up for both/all of you!
  • Reward yourself! Setting up a system of external rewards for when you meet your ACT study goals, like watching an episode of your favorite show or getting a fancy coffee from your favorite place, can help keep you on-track.
  • Enlist outside help. Being accountable to an authority figure or a class of people can be really motivating. If you suspect you’ll have trouble sticking to an ACT study schedule on your own, then signing up for an ACT prep course or getting ACT tutoring could be a great way to keep your energy from flagging during ACT study!
  • Be gentle with yourself. And yes, this includes in the planning! Schedule lots of breaks into your sessions. Make sure you’re loaded up with water and snacks to keep your energy high. Take time to stretch and even meditate between practice questions, practice sets, and lessons. The kinder you can be to your mind and body, the less strenuous your ACT prep will feel!
  • Don’t forget to study the things you’re already good at! This may sound counter-intuitive–after all, if you’re struggling on the math section but awesome at Reading, shouldn’t you spend all of your study time going over geometry, algebra, trigonometry, and charts and graphs? No! Not only is it important that you keep your reading comprehension skills polished for test day, but by consistently practicing the reading section, as well, you’ll remind yourself of your strengths, as well as areas you need to improve.
  • Keep the test in perspective. Yes, the ACT is important for college admissions. But at the end of the day, it’s just a snapshot of one morning in a testing room. Other aspects of your application will be equally important to college admissions officers, who know that high school students are more than their test scores. They’ll look at a variety of factors as well, including your grades, your coursework, and your extracurricular activities. So prioritize ACT study, absolutely–but don’t let it cause you undue stress.

Takeaways for How to Study for the ACT Test

So if you’re wondering how to study for the ACT test without stressing yourself out, these tips should help! In the end, it’ll come down to the personal factors that motivate you, so find what works and stick with it. Let us know in the comments below if you have tips for stress-free ACT studying.

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

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