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ACT Tips and Tricks to Score High


How to get a 30 or Higher on the ACT


ACT calculator


Are you taking the ACT to get into your dream college? Or do you have to take a school-administered ACT as an upperclassman? Well, no matter why you’re taking it, here are my top tips for the test and what I would do differently next time (Scroll down for detailed tips for each subject).


I took my first ACT as a sophomore - and I scored a 33 composite (not a 36, but I’m still proud). I had scores of 31 in English, 33 in Math, 36 in Reading, and 30 in Science. Additionally, I took the optional Writing test and got a score of 10 out of 12 total points. I started studying in mid-July and booked a test appointment for October 10th. That’s around 3 solid months to practice, revise, and learn content. 

General ACT Tips 

Set a goal: What number do you want?

ACT score goals

This way, each time you score your test, you’ll have a general idea of how many questions you can get wrong, but still get the score you want. 


If you’re trying to get into a certain college, you can search up the average ACT score of their students. Then, set your goal at exactly that number or a few points higher. Remember that a perfect 36 isn’t necessary to get into a great college when you compare it with the other factors that go into your application.

Practice, practice, and practice! And then revise: 

Try taking an actual ACT exam in a test center, as practice, if you don’t have to take it urgently. The ACT is cheaper than other standardized tests like the SAT, and you can retake it as many times as you want. If you take the ACT twice, you just send in your best set of scores to colleges - it's not necessary to send the most recent scores. By taking a real ACT as practice you’ll feel much more confident when you take your final test.


Click here to buy a practice book, or get free online practice tests. 


When you’re practicing at home, your goal is to slowly start getting more and more questions correct. To do this take multiple full-length practice tests, find your score, and identify what you got wrong. Write down WHY you got each answer wrong:

  • I made a careless mistake

  • I didn’t have enough time

  • It was too tough and I don’t know the content (For this, you should use different resources to learn the concept thoroughly. )


Also, write a sentence or two about why the correct answer IS correct! - This is incredibly helpful in sections you particularly struggle with. Once you start identifying your mistakes you’ll be less likely to repeat them.


Practice under real test conditions

Full-Length Tests: Build up Stamina 

If you can make time to take 1-3 full ACTs in a week consistently you’ll be ready. If possible try taking a full ACT practice at a time instead of spreading out each of the subjects. After all, the real thing is 3 hours long with only a 10-minute break in between. It takes built up “stamina” to concentrate and perform your best.

Time yourself on ACT questions!


Timing chart for the ACT

Even if you know how to answer every question on the Science test correctly but take an hour to do so, you won’t do well. Here’s a table of the timing for the full ACT:



Time (minutes)

# of questions 

English 

45 min

75 questions

Math 

60 min

60 questions

Reading

35 min

40 questions

Science 

35 min

40 questions

Writing (optional)

40 min

1 essay 


Though it may look hard now, after a few weeks/months of practice, the timing won’t feel as intimidating. The ACT is meant to be challenging, and that’s why the time constraints are so stringent.


Glance at the clock every once in a while - I suggest bringing your own watch, so you’ll actually remember to look at it. Leave around 2-5 minutes  (or more) at the end to fill in any remaining bubbles and go back to questions you’re unsure about. 


Basic tips to whiz through questions:

  • Use the process of elimination: cut out every answer choice you know is wrong - immediately. 

  • Underline any signal words like NOTs or EXCEPTs.

  • Underline important words in questions.

  • Underline key details and major plot changes in Science and Reading passages.

Unsure about an answer?

 If you’re stuck on something or unsure about it, mark the question and move on. You can come back to it when you have extra time. Also don’t double-check unless you have a lot of extra time - you want to answer correctly the first time if possible. 


Additionally, there’s no penalty for guessing, so remember to fill in a bubble for every question.

 

I also suggest getting a tutor! It can be super helpful!

ACT English Tips


ACT Grammar practice/rules

Learn your grammar rules! 

The English section is all about going back to basics and recognizing recurring patterns. Though you won’t have to define a participial phrase or an adverb, it’s good to know basic grammar so you can quickly work through all the problems. No matter how much you think you know, it’s good to at least get a quick refresher. I can’t stress this tip enough for English.


Websites to help you catch up on Basic grammar: 

Noredink (RIP to everyone who’s forced to use this for school)

Perfect English Grammar

Prep Scholar Blog


Other Basic Tips 

  • Read the sentence out loud in your head: Oftentimes, we can hear the grammar mistake by just reading it out. 

  • Come up with your own answer to the question before even glancing at the other answer options. This will prevent you from getting confused by the variety of answer choices. 


ACT Math Tips

Identify and learn Concepts you don’t know

Find what you don’t know (also check this list of topics covered in Math) through the first few practice tests you take. Remember that the Math portion mostly includes content up to Algebra 2 and Geometry but also covers some Pre-Calculus - including matrices, complex polynomials, and vectors. 


If you have gaps in your knowledge of the content you will not do your best! To fill in these gaps, the only website you have to use is Khan Academy, and learn and drill subjects you have trouble with! I had to drill all the Pre-calculus topics in addition to tough trigonometry concepts, like sine graphs.


Memorize formulas, methods, and vocabulary

Sometimes questions will bless you with the formulas  (i.e. the Law of sines or the Law of cosines) but other times you’ll need to know the formula by heart (like the quadratic formula).


You can create flashcards for math vocab (i.e. the difference between a period and amplitude) and formulas to remember them. 



ACT Math and Calculator tips for a high score in the 30s for sophomores

Get a Graphing Calculator

Yes, graphing calculators like the TI-84 are allowed! Here’s a list of acceptable calculators. Being able to quickly see the graph of a function has saved me!  

ACT Reading Tips

ACT Reading tips for a 36

Order Passages

Work on your strongest passage first, and leave your weakest passage for last (for me, that meant the Literary Narrative passage last). However, make sure to fill out your bubble sheet in the correct order.

Look for Proof 

Note that any answer to a question always has proof directly in the passage. If you can’t prove an answer with the text, it’s probably wrong

Use a strategy that works for you

Everyone is a different reader - whether you’re slower or faster, more detail-oriented, or more of a big-picture kind of person. So to ace the Reading you’ll have to choose a strategy that works for your reading style. 

Skim or Speed Read?

I never skim the passages, while for others skimming is more effective. 


Skimming doesn’t work for me - I have to speed read the entire passage while trying to absorb as much as possible. If I need to look back at the passage to answer a question, speed reading the whole passage means I know where a specific detail is in it, and I can go directly to that paragraph/line. 


When I tried skimming it would take me forever to find the right piece of evidence because I had missed so many vital details. This is why you might need to experiment with your first few practice tests to figure out whether you want to skim or speed read. 

Questions first or passage first?

I prefer to read the passage first while others want to read the questions first so they know what they’re looking for when reading. I just didn’t prefer it because there are 10 complex questions for each section - too much to remember while already trying to absorb the hefty passage. 

ACT Science Tips

ACT Science Tips from a student: analyze, and go QUICK

No prior knowledge Necessary

You don’t really need to know much content, Science is much more about analyzing, identifying trends, and having good reasoning and problem-solving skills. This was great for me because when I took it I had literally only completed one science class - Biology. Despite this, Science was still the toughest subject for me. 


There’s only a couple of questions that will ask you about outside knowledge. For example, one question I’ve seen asks “Where is an Acid on the pH scale?”. Otherwise, most questions will have info written in the text. 

Order Passages 

Quickly order the passages from easiest to hardest. So if I am already the most familiar with a specific topic, say DNA, I would do that passage first. It’s better to do what you know, instead of spending time getting stumped on hard passages and rushing on questions you could have answered easily. 


Skip to the Questions 

Always read the introduction passage (if there is one) and then skip right to the questions. You can reference the other body paragraphs, graphs, or charts later if you need to. Unlike in Reading, this is a non-negotiable because of how pressed for time you are, with only 35 minutes for 6-7 whole passages!


What I Would Do Differently on my next ACT

How to Score High on the ACT: Study and practice consistently,  study what's hard, and learn your grammar rules!

Study what’s hard, not just what’s easy 

I didn’t study the Science passages as much, because they were so hard for me. 

Actually Learn Grammar Basics 🙄

Nothing more to say here. I did not do this, and I seriously regret it.

Grade practice tests the same day you take them

Grading practice tests was extremely unmotivating, especially in the beginning when my scores were super low. Also, I was too mentally drained to go and understand why I got certain questions wrong. 


But when you grade tests the same day you take them, you’ll understand why you chose a certain answer, which ultimately leads to you being less likely to repeat a mistake. I suggest waiting 30 minutes or an hour before you go back and grade your test, so you don’t feel so flustered from doing ACT work, for so long. 

Consistent short study sessions > Long inconsistent sessions

I practiced kind of consistently for the first two months and then the month before the ACT exam I only did half a practice test. Honestly, if I had done more short and consistent study sessions, I probably could have gotten my score up a point or two. 


Consistency was my weakness  - and it might be yours too. All we can do is try to be disciplined and look for the light at the end of the tunnel. 


Hopefully, you can learn from my tips as well as my mistakes! Have any other ACT tips that you think are important? Comment them down below, I would LOVE to hear from you!



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How To Stay Positive Throughout the School Year 



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Top Tips to Score High 30 on the ACT



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