Take a baseline mock ACT without preparing
- This will help you familiarize yourself with the structure and content
- This will give you a clear sense of what topics you need to study
- This will allow you to estimate how much time you’ll need to study
Pick your ideal and realistic goal score
- This is often based on a particular school(s) you’re interested in
- If you’re not sure where you’ll want to apply, try researching the schools in your state, and pick a score that would be competitive for a school you’d be happy attending
- Usually, you should try to achieve (or exceed) the average score at a given school
Construct a study plan
- How many days per week will you study? How many hours per day?
- Keep in mind that grades and extracurriculars are also crucial components of your application, especially at the most selective colleges and universities
- Find a balance that enables you to focus on each aspect of your application – and still leaves you some time to relax!
Take practice ACT tests in simulated testing conditions
- This means you should take the test in one sitting, timed, ideally with someone else proctoring you
- Don’t take full practice tests until you’ve learned enough to see improvements from your baseline score
- Use practice tests as an opportunity to experiment with various strategies, especially in the Science and Reading sections
How Long Should I Study For The ACT?
Everyone is different, and this will depend on your study plan. Here is a safe rule of thumb: the number of months you should spend studying will be equal to or greater than the number of points you want to improve. For example, if you want to improve your ACT score by 3 points from 26 to 29 and you’re studying twice per week for 2 hours each day, it will probably take you 3 months to improve your score.
How to Prepare for ACT English
The ACT English test is composed of several passages with a total of 75 questions. You have 45 minutes, which means you should be taking just about 35 seconds per question, on average. The questions can be placed into one of two broad categories: grammar and rhetoric.
- For most students, the fastest way to quickly improve in ACT English is to focus on learning grammar rules, including punctuation, subject-verb agreement, and clauses.
- For students who already have high scores, the best way to improve in ACT English is typically to focus on rhetoric questions, such as sentence placement, relevance & purpose, and sentence addition/deletion.
How to Prepare for ACT Math
The ACT Math test is composed of 60 questions, and you have 60 minutes to complete them. It starts with easier questions, and the questions at the end are the hardest. The ACT Math test will include topics ranging from basic arithmetic all the way up to Pre-Calculus.
- For most students, the best way to improve in ACT Math is to focus on learning concepts from Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, and Geometry.
- For higher scoring students, the best way to improve in ACT Math is to focus on Algebra II, Trigonometry, and Pre-Calculus topics.
How to Prepare for ACT Reading
The ACT Reading test has 40 questions and must be completed in 35 minutes. There are 4 passages in total, and each passage is a different style (humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and literary narrative). One of the passages will also consist of two separate but related passages.
- The questions in the ACT Reading test have a strong emphasis on details that can be found directly in the passage.
- For most students, improving in the ACT Reading section is a matter of managing time and efficiently remembering/locating details. You will need to experiment with a variety of strategies to figure out what works best for you.
- For higher scoring students, the best way to improve on the ACT Reading test is to focus on the questions that require critical thinking, such as inference questions, main idea questions, and tone/attitude questions.
How to Prepare for ACT Science
The ACT Science test has 40 questions and must be completed in 35 minutes. There are 6 passages in total. Only about 4 of the questions on the ACT Science test will require you to have actual Science knowledge. The other questions can be answered just by using the data provided.
- Five of the passages will present you with data from an experiment, and you will be asked various questions about the results of the experiment.
- One of the passages will present you with competing hypotheses for a certain scientific phenomenon, and you will be asked questions about the similarities and differences between the hypotheses.
- For all students, the best way to improve in the ACT Science test is to focus on learning specific strategies for each type of question, as well as general strategies for each type of passage. Although the ACT never uses the same passage twice, the types of questions repeat themselves across tests.
How to Prepare for ACT Writing
The ACT has an optional Writing portion, which will require you to write an essay in 40 minutes. The prompt will present you with 3 perspectives on a particular topic, and you will be tasked with formulating your own perspective on the topic.
- You may choose to use one or more of the given perspectives, but many students opt to form a completely independent opinion. There is no right or wrong – the test is only meant to evaluate your writing abilities.
- Your score on the ACT Writing portion does not affect your composite score. The composite score is what colleges and universities use for admissions purposes. The ACT Writing portion is used as a writing sample that admissions committees can compare to your application essays.
- There are only 2 colleges in the entire country that require the ACT Writing portion: The United States Military Academy (West Point) and Martin Luther College.
ACT Preparation FAQs
What is the ACT’s calculator policy?
The ACT allows test takers to use a calculator on the entire Math section. Test takers are not allowed to use a calculator on any other section. You can bring a basic four-function calculator, or you can bring a graphing calculator, such as a TI-83 or TI-84. Some advanced calculators are prohibited. Full details can be found here.
When are ACT scores released?
ACT scores will typically be released within 2 weeks of the test date. However, scores can take up to 8 weeks to release, depending on a variety of factors, including whether the student receives any special accommodations.
What is an ACT superscore?
Superscoring is when a college or university takes the best section scores from multiple test administrations and combines them. The vast majority of colleges and universities super score, but not all of them do. You will need to research each school’s policy.
Who Can Help Me Improve My ACT Score?
Some of the content on the ACT is not covered in your standard high school curriculum, especially in the English and Math sections. You can ask your teachers for more specific guidance on some of these topics. You can also seek out a tutor who is trained in preparing students for the ACT.