Top 6 ACT Tips and Tricks

Top 6 ACT Tips and Tricks

October 7, 2021

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The ACT is a college entrance exam commonly used by admissions officers to measure college readiness and to compare applicants. The test is scored out of 36, with subscores for each of the four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science.

Scoring well on the ACT can impact your chances of admission at some colleges and may even qualify you for certain scholarships. We recommend preparing at least a few months in advance by reviewing ACT subject matter, taking practice tests, and identifying your weaknesses.

Below are our biggest ACT tips and tricks, informed by test-prep experts, to help you raise your score and feel confident on test day.

1. Practice With Quality Study Materials

Perhaps the simplest ACT test tip is to take full-length practice tests and review study guides. The resources you use to study for the ACT should be reliable and accurate with respect to what the test will actually be like.

"Start by acquiring materials, such as 'The Official ACT Prep Guide,' that help you review concepts and include official tests for practicing," said Judi Robinovitz, certified education planner and founder of Score At The Top Learning Centers and Schools. Students can access a variety of free resources on the ACT website as well, including practice questions and tests.

Robinovitz reminds test-takers to turn to people for help: "Teachers, ACT tutors, and even your peers can be of great assistance when you need to brush up on a concept or learn something new." Another option is to take an online ACT prep class.

2. Hone Your Time-Management Skills

Students should practice taking the ACT timed as it will be on test day. Time pressure can contribute to a lower score. The more comfortable you are with the ACT's time restrictions, the better chance you'll have at scoring well on it.

The best way to manage your time on the ACT is to get a sense of approximately how long you can spend on each question. Certain sections give you more time per question than others. For example, you'll have only around 36 seconds per question on the English section, but a whole minute per question on Math.

ACT Timing
Section Time Limit Number of Questions Time per Question
English 45 minutes 75 36 seconds
Math 60 minutes 60 60 seconds
Reading 35 minutes 40 53 seconds
Science 35 minutes 40 53 seconds

"The most common difference between the ACT and most other tests is time. There is not really enough time to thoroughly review and complete most questions for ACT testers," said Amy Seeley, owner of Seeley Test Pros. "You must practice time management and prioritization strategies to game the ACT to your best time advantage."

3. Use the Same Answer Choice When Guessing

The ACT doesn't penalize you for wrong answers, so students should do their best not to leave any answers blank. That said, there will likely be questions you'll have to guess on. In these cases, it's best to use the process of elimination. But if you've run out of time, experts advise committing to the same answer for your guessing.

"If you have no idea how to answer a question or you do not have time, always pick the same spot on your answer sheet," said Seeley. "We suggest the first column, which is answer A or F — it generates the most correct guesses!"

4. Prioritize Answering the Questions You Know

Try to answer the questions you know first, even if it means jumping around. If you can prioritize answering questions you're confident on, you'll have more time to work out questions you don't know.

Seeley also suggests focusing on your strengths to improve your score. "Prioritize passages or questions that are better for you. Time spent on areas of strength can generate more points than on areas of weakness," she said.

Make sure to save time to go back to any questions you skipped. Even if you don't know the answer, guessing is better than leaving it blank.

5. Memorize Common Math Formulas

The ACT Math section includes concepts in algebra and geometry. For many of the problems, you'll need to know specific formulas to solve them. When studying for the ACT, research the formulas you may need to know and do you best to memorize them.

"Students should memorize all of their geometry and trigonometry formulas — about 40% of math questions will rely on them and your math teacher probably never made you memorize them," said Seeley.

6. Increase Your Reading Speed

If you can decrease the time it takes you to read questions and understand passages, you can spend more time contemplating the answers.

Robinovitz suggests practicing techniques that increase your reading speed. "If you find yourself struggling to read through long passages or running short on time, you may want to research how speed reading can help, or work with a tutor," she explained.

Other techniques, according to Robinovitz, include "skimming, taking advantage of your peripheral vision, and focusing on important words." She also advises that students "underline, circle, or draw arrows around (or mentally review) important concepts, main ideas, or supporting details."

How Is the ACT Different From the SAT?

Though the ACT and SAT are both college entrance exams, there are a few notable differences that will impact your study plan.

"The [ACT] is a 'faster' test, meaning you get less time to read and answer each question," said Robinovitz.

One of the most significant differences is that the ACT has a Science section. You'll want to review basic science concepts when studying for the ACT, but it will mostly focus on testing your reasoning and problem-solving skills with passage-based questions and chart interpretation.

The ACT's Math section also covers a broader array of concepts than the SAT, like geometry. Experts recommend brushing up on and memorizing common math formulas, as they won't be provided to you on the test.


With Advice From:

Judi Robinovitz, certified educational planner, has more than 40 years of experience in education. She is the founding owner of Score At The Top Learning Centers and Schools, the largest family-owned chain of learning centers in South Florida. Prior to founding Score At The Top, Robinovitz worked for Educational Testing Service for over 20 years as technical liaison to the College Board. She spearheaded the College Board's SAT prep software, making major contributions to their test-prep books. Robinovitz scored a perfect 1600 on multiple SATs. While still helping a select few students prepare for the SAT/ACT, Robinovitz focuses most of her time on educational counseling.

The author of numerous books, articles, and software on test prep and college planning, Robinovitz has been a featured speaker at national educational conferences and schools. Robinovitz studied at Harvard, Rutgers, and the University of Connecticut, and holds degrees in mathematics and computer science, both with highest honors.

Amy Seeley began her journey in test prep in 1994 working for The Princeton Review. After gaining valuable knowledge and experience, she turned that passion into a career with Townsend Learning Center, where she administered all aspects of the company's test-prep programs. In 2006, Seeley began what would become Seeley Test Pros. As demand grew, she added tutors trained in the successful methods and strategies of her experience. Her techniques for navigating through the ACT and SAT guarantee that students who apply themselves and are committed to her methodology will earn higher scores.

Seeley co-hosts the "Tests and the Rest: College Admissions Industry'' podcast and is an ACT Certified Educator (ACE) as well as an ACE trainer for ACT, Inc. Co-founder and board member of the National Test Prep Association, Seeley has presented at test-prep conferences and is a contributor to the Test Prep Tribe, a collaboration of test-prep professionals.


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