At some point during your ACT studies, you’ll want to (ok, maybe not “want to”, but need to) take some full-length ACT practice tests. But where do you find them and, more importantly, how should you use them?
Why Take Full-Length ACT Practice Tests
First, let’s have some real talk: if you want to do well, you need to practice by taking some full-length tests.
Tough nuggets, Sterling.
The full-length exam is a crucial part of studying, because the ACT is both arduously long and a race against the clock. If you had all the time in the world and could take as many breaks as you wanted to, the ACT would be much easier. But you don’t and you can’t. You need to be able to crush the exam in the time given, and that’s going to take practice.
When To Take Timed ACT Practice Tests
The good news is that you don’t have to take that many full-length exams in order to be well prepared. There are only so many weekends left before the next ACT — you don’t have to fill them all up with practice tests.
If you’re practicing and studying throughout the next few weeks, you should be able to do well with just a few practice tests. Take one early on to see where you’re starting from, take another in the middle of your studies to see what still needs work, and then take one towards the end to figure out what to expect. All of these should be done under conditions as test-like as possible — at a desk or table in a quiet room with a timer.
In between full-length tests, you should also sprinkle in some test sections — also under the timer. Each section is between 35 and 60 minutes, so you can do them after school or before your weekend social life begins. If you find that some sections are harder to finish in time than others (hi, science) then you should do more of those.
So Where do I Find These Full-length ACT Exams
The best source for ACT practice tests is the ACT itself. ACT.org has several released official exams available to download. You can also buy The Real ACT Prep Guide, which contains five full-length exams. Some strategic googling will also turn up good options. If it says “ACT Official” on it, that’s a good bet that it’s high quality material. (Update: ACT just released another free practice test!)
If you’re a power studier, you may also have some other ACT books that you’re using. These are fine for practice and strategy, but I’d recommend that you not use them for full-length practice. Not because they’re bad (necessarily), but because they aren’t going to be as reliable as the real ACT exams.
Between the free released material and the Real ACT Guide, you shouldn’t need any more full-length exams. Save the real ones for when it counts!
Full-length practice tests might not be fun, but they are beneficial. Be thoughtful about how and when you take them, and you’ll be ready for test day!
New Official ACT Practice Test Resource
We’ve heard lots of students bemoaning that the ACT tests in The Real ACT Prep Guide, 3rd Edition are woefully out of date–I mean like five or more years out of date, which is forever in standardized test years. (Check this out for an update on the 4th edition of the Real ACT Prep Guide!) Students prepping for the ACT now were in middle school or even elementary school when these exams were torturing test-takers (many of whom are now suiting up for jobs after college). And since then, there have been some changes in the ACT: the Science section has shifted from its previously consistent format and some students think it is getting a lot harder, comparison passages have been added to many of the Reading tests, and there is a brand new essay coming this fall.
Well we have good news for you! The official ACT test appearing in the ACT’s 2015-2016 Preparing for the ACT guide (available here as a PDF or likely in pamphlet-form at your school) is a recent test. It’s the same ACT that was given to students in June of 2014, except that the essay has been swapped out for a practice essay modeling the new threads of the updated Writing test (bonus!).
So for those of you who aren’t scouring the ends of the Internet universe like we are for the latest and best ACT resources…you’re welcome. Check it out and let us know what you think!