The Most Important Things to Study for the ACT

When you start to study for the ACT, it can feel like there’s so much material to master. For a lot of students, this means that they end up overlooking one (or more) important content areas in each section. Don’t let this happen to you!


The Most Important Things to Study for the ACT -Magoosh


With that in mind, this post will cover some of the most commonly overlooked areas. Caveat: The following list is not a comprehensive guide to the topics on the ACT exam. Instead, it’s an explanation of those topics that tend to ‘fall through the cracks’ when it comes to studying. Take a look at these subjects, and make sure to give them their due time and attention during your study sessions!

English: Punctuation and Grammar

Ah yes, punctuation and grammar! Two things most English speakers seem to struggle with at one point or another. The absolute bane of many students’ (test-taking) existence, these topics can make or break your English Test score.

My advice: Download a copy of The Elements of Style. It’s free! Don’t forget to actually read it, too 🙂

Math: Pre/Basic Algebra

When prepping for the ACT, students tend to focus on the hardest material, and assume that they remember Math concepts from 1-2 years ago. Though you do have to know some Trigonometry to earn a perfect 36 on the ACT, A LOT of the questions test your Pre/Basic Algebra knowledge.

My advice: First, if you’re one of the students who hoards old classwork (It’s okay, I was one of them, too), you have an advantage when studying these topics. If you’ve saved your old tests, they are a great resource because you can easily recognize topics with which you struggled in the past. If you don’t have any old tests, fear not! Check out ACT Algebra: Everything You Need to Know to get your bearings and dive back into old material.

Reading: Reading Strategically

When taking the ACT Reading Test, reading strategically can make a huge difference in your score. A lot of students should begin their practice by skimming the passages for essential information mentioned in the questions.

My advice: if you’ve never had someone teach you this skill, it might be a little difficult to learn on your own. Even so, you should start by taking a practice Reading Test without a timer. Read the questions and mark important information (names, places, references to specific lines of the passage), and then scan the passage for when the information appears. It might take you an hour to do this the first time, and that’s okay! Over time, your speed will improve, and you’ll be able to successfully finish the Reading Test within the 35-minute window.

Science: Graphs and Charts

For starters, reading strategically is just as important on the Science Test as it is on the Reading Test. That being said, the Science Test throws in another variable: graphs and charts. Potentially befuddling, graphs and charts have the potential to derail test-takers’ Science Test success.

My advice: Just like with the Reading Test, start slow and take your time during your first few practice tests to build your skills. Also, taking multiple practice tests will expose you to the many different types of graphs and charts ACT uses on the Science Test.

Final Thoughts

The ACT can seem like a complicated beast at first. But if you ‘plug the gaps’ in your knowledge/skills, you’ll have yourself some mighty strong armor when going into battle on test day. Till next time, Magooshers.


  • 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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