The ACT exam is a popular entrance exam for studying in the USA. A more modern and quickly growing alternative to the well-known SAT, its purpose is suggested by its full name, The American College Test — to measure a student’s readiness for college study.
On a side note, it is a little bit annoying that the SAT and the ACT sound almost the same when spoken aloud, isn’t it...?
Anyway… In a recent article, we covered the topic “SAT vs ACT: Which should you take?”. There we covered the similarities and differences between the two, to enable you to choose the one that’s right for you.
But since you’ve come this far, we’ll assume you’re considering (or have decided to) sit the ACT exam, and want the best tips, tricks and preparation guidance to ensure you get a great score.
Let’s get down to business then!
ACT preparation tips
- Plan ahead of time
- Get to know the format
- Create a study schedule (and stick to it)
- Practice test, practice test, practice test
Tips & tricks for the ACT exam
- Do the easiest questions first
- Write on your booklet
- Focus on the wrong answers
- Answer every question
- Take care of your answer sheet
- Leave time to review!
ACT preparation tips
1. Plan ahead of time
We stress this point in every single one of our MANY exam preparation articles, and we’ll stress it again here.
Cramming at the last minute for a test is a bad idea! I know, I’ve been there and done it, and I have the bad scores to show for it!
Once I realized that giving myself plenty of time to prepare for a test was the right way to go, everything changed.
So ahead of your ACT exam, start studying around 6-8 weeks in advance. This means you won’t have to study too hard! Just a few hours a week, then more regularly as your test comes closer.
You’ll thank yourself for it later.
2. Get to know the format
Knowing how the test looks and functions is huge. Even the smartest people can get distracted or waylaid by a test pattern that’s unfamiliar to them.
We’ve covered the pattern, structure and content of the ACT exam in our article on SAT vs ACT, so give that a read when you’re done here!
By becoming familiar with the format, you’ll know so much more about what to expect on test day. Sure, the actual content of the questions are nearly impossible to predict, but you’ll be well prepared for the style, pace, and feel of the test.
3. Create a study schedule (and stick to it)
This ties in perfectly with the two points above. By giving yourself plenty of time, and by making a study schedule that you can stick to, you’ll become more and more familiar with the inner workings of the test and the requirements for a good grade.
The internet is chock full of great ACT preparation materials, so all you need to do is find them, and give yourself enough time to put the work in.
And speaking of useful ACT preparation materials... Check out the 10 Best ACT Books for preparation
4. Practice test, practice test, practice test!
There really is no better way of preparing for the ACT exam (or any exam), than by doing regular practice or sample tests.
You’ll know the format, become uber-familiar with the style of question and the grading requirements.
We’d recommend doing more than one ACT practice test while preparing. The good news is that they’re easy to find -- just go to the ACT website to download them for free!
Tips & tricks for the ACT exam
So you’ve done the hard work in preparation for the ACT exam, now it’s time for the big day. Knowledge is important in a pressure exam, but so too is strategy!
Here are some of the best tips, tricks, and little reminders for navigating and passing your ACT exam.
1. Do the easiest questions first
Get the easy stuff out of the way early. This is a good tip for any exam, as we risk running out of time if we exert so much focus on the more challenging tasks.
The ACT exam contains plenty of easy questions where points can be picked up almost for free.
So, as soon as you start your exam, read through the whole paper and make a note of the difficulty of each question.
Where you find easier ones, take care of them first. Then, you can spend the rest of your time focusing specifically on the big ones!
2. Write on your booklet
Your test booklet is yours to do whatever you want with. So use it to makes notes and annotations where you need!
Having a notepad of sorts is a great means of sorting your thoughts out, setting yourself little reminders, and doing calculations on the side.
You're under no pressure to keep your booklet looking tidy, so scribble, note, jot, sketch as you see fit!
3. Focus on the wrong answers
What do we mean by this? Well, the ACT is a multiple choice exam.
So, if you think you know the answer (or even if you’re not sure), you should be able to rule out one or two answer choices that you’re sure are wrong. This leaves fewer choices, making the right answer easier to find!
Another tip for answering multiple choice exams is to see if you can figure out the answer before looking at the options (if possible).
You see, some students get confused or distracted by all those choices and begin to doubt themselves.
So, if you think you know the answer before looking at the choices, and then see that answer as a choice, it’s likely that it’s correct!
4. Answer every question
This may sound a little simple, but so many people leave a question unanswered if they don’t know it! This is a big mistake! There are no negative points for getting an answer wrong in the ACT, so even if you don’t know… GUESS!
It won’t do you any harm at all. As mentioned above, it’s a multiple choice exam, so just choose one and go for it!
5. Take care of your answer sheet
The ACT is graded by a machine which simply scans the answer sheet to see where you’ve shaded in your choices. Make sure in that case, that your sheet is clean apart from where you’ve filled in your answers!
Oh and on that note... double-check (or even triple-check) that answer sheet to make sure that your answers are the same ones you chose while working through the test paper!
You’d be surprised by how many people lose points by filling in their answer sheets inaccurately!
6. Leave time to review!
This ties in with checking your answer sheets, but it’s worth repeating.
Try to get through the ACT exam papers with enough time to spare to go back and check your work. You’d be surprised by how many simple little mistakes we can make while working under pressure in the moment.
If you can find 10 or 15 minutes at the end of the test, don’t just close your eyes and go for a quick nap - take the time to proofread your work. You never know, you might just find the extra points to take your score from good to great!
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