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ACT Tactics

For many students, scoring within the top percentile on the ACT feels like an insurmountable challenge. The test is long and filled with challenging questions, and countless students and teachers throughout the years have talked about the difficulty of this test.

However, just like many of the challenges we face in life, the ACT- while certainly difficult- is not impossible to master when you’re prepared.

When you’re armed with the right tactics, you can reach your target score without stressing out or needing to take the test multiple times. Trust me, I’ve scored within the 99th percentile on the ACT myself.

Here are a few tips that I recommend to help you successfully approach and tackle the ACT:

Determine your target score

You won’t know whether or not your score on the ACT is “good enough” if you don’t have a target score. 

While a 33 on the ACT might be excellent if you plan on attending a state college or university, this score will not help you stay competitive if you’re applying to Ivy League schools. Likewise, you might feel like scoring a 30 is not great, when in reality it falls into the 99th percentile for your dream school.

Figuring out your target score will let you know when to take the test, how many times you should take it, and how much time you will need to dedicate to studying for the test.

To determine your target score, consider the following:

  • 75th+ percentile scores for the colleges on your list
  • Minimum scores required for scholarships and academic programs you want to earn

When you know the score you need to aim for on the ACT, it will give you direction and clarity as you study for your test.

Choose the perfect test date

The first step to doing well on the ACT is to actually sign up for the test. While this might seem simple enough, there are factors you should weigh when you decide which administration to sign up for this year.

Consider your target score

Take a practice test to determine your baseline and see how far away your current score is from your target score. 

If you need to improve your score by more than 9 points, you will need to put in roughly 150 hours of study time to reach your goal. 

If you want to boost your score by 4-8points, you will need to study for at least 90 hours.

If you want to increase your score by 1-4 points, you will need to have to study for around 40 hours.

Choose your test administration date based on how much study time you will need to reach your target score. If you need to improve your score by more than 9 points, you will want a test date that is several months away.

Consider your schedule

Are you in the spring musical? Are you playing on the basketball team this fall? Avoid scheduling a test during times when you will be too busy to focus on studying.

For those who are serious about scoring within the 99th percentile, preparing for the ACT can be a part-time job.

Make sure you look at your schedule when you sign up for a test administration.

Consider application deadlines

Don’t wait so long to take the ACT that you don’t have time to retake the test if necessary before your college or scholarship application deadlines.

Many people are not able to reach their target score on their very first attempt at the ACT. Make sure you plan so that you have enough time to retake the test if you don’t meet your target score the first time you take the test day.

Learn the ins and outs of the test

While you won’t know the actual questions that will appear on the test, you shouldn’t be surprised by the content that will you encounter.

It’s important for you to know the different sections of the ACT, how much time you will have to answer each question, and the best approach to take to conquer each section.

  • English- 75 multiple–choice questions; 45 minutes
  • Math- 60 multiple–choice questions; 60 minutes
  • Reading- 40 multiple–choice questions; 35 minutes
  • Science- 40 multiple–choice questions; 35 minutes
  • Optional Essay- 1 essay; 40 minutes

Learning the format and the types of content you will see on each section will help you know how to prepare.

Learn key test-taking strategies

Once you are familiar with the test, you can begin to study key test-taking strategies that will help you do well on each section of the ACT.

Here are a few tactics that will help you do well on the test:

Answer questions out of order

Contrary to popular belief, the questions on the ACT do not appear in order of difficulty. This means that while you are struggling to answer one of the first questions for a particular section, you could be wasting time that you could be spending answering easy questions near the end of the section. 

Calculate how much time you have per question (36 seconds for English, 1 minute for math, 52 seconds for science, and 52 seconds for reading), and if you start to approach this time limit, feel free to skip the question and jump to an easier one.

Choose your favorite letter

Regardless of how hard you study for the test, you may end up needing to guess with a few questions. If you do need to guess on questions, and you aren’t able to eliminate any answers, it is far more advantageous to pick a single letter to guess rather than doing random guesses.

Pick a letter and use this letter for each of your guesses.

Pick a bubble-in strategy

When you take the ACT, every second counts. You can maximize your time by bubbling all of your answers for a section near the end of your time limit rather than after each and every question. 

Take a few practice quizzes and try different strategies for bubbling in your answers to see which strategy makes you feel most comfortable while also helping you make the most of your limited time.

Get help from experts

You can learn even more strategies to master the ACT when you sign up for an ACT prep course or work with a private ACT tutor.

Led by instructors who scored in the 99th percentile on their own ACT, prep courses provide helpful strategies, content, and tools that you can use to reach your target score and do better than expected on the ACT.

If you work with a private tutor, you can receive individualized help and guided instruction that will guarantee improvement on the ACT.

Learn more about the benefits of ACT prep and private tutoring when you visit Prep Expert.

Prep Expert

Written by Prep Expert

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