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How to Prepare for ACT? 10 Handy Tips to Ace the Exam

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

American College Testing (ACT) was first introduced in 1959. Like the SAT, it is a standardized test conducted to assess a student’s academic readiness to join colleges and universities. Most high school students take the ACT to gain admission into top colleges. The ACT exam is conducted by a non-profit organization of the same name. If you are learning about it for the first time, let’s quickly acquaint you with the basics of ACT before proceeding to the main part - How to prepare for ACT?


Student taking an exam
Like the SAT, the ACT exam is a standardized test used by colleges to asses a student's academic readiness


What subjects are on the ACT?

ACT sections include English, Math, Reading and Science plus an optional Writing section. You can go on to attempt the Writing section if the college you are seeking admission to insists on submitting writing scores.


How long is the ACT?

The ACT exam lasts for 2 hours and 55 minutes. You will be given an additional 40 minutes if you have opted for the optional writing section. Here is the breakdown of time allotment for each section:


English - 45 minutes

Math - 60 minutes

Reading - 35 minutes

Science - 35 minutes

Writing (optional) - 40 minutes


What is a good ACT score?

The higher your ACT score, the better are your chances of getting admission in top colleges. The highest score for ACT is 36 points. Any score higher than 24 can be considered a good score whereas scores above 32 would qualify as excellent scores.


How many times can you take the ACT exam?

You can take the ACT exam up to 12 times. Most students retake the test to improve their scores. But it is recommended that you prepare well and improve the scores with just 2-3 attempts.



How to prepare for the ACT?


After understanding the basics of the ACT exam, there might be many questions floating in your head about how to get started with the preparations. To answer your questions, we have listed 10 effective ACT preparation tips that will help you earn higher scores. Students may find ACT challenging owing to a variety of factors including time constraints, tough math concepts and the need to have good command over language. But that doesn’t mean earning good scores is an unattainable goal. Let’s delve deeper into the 10 crucial steps to ace the ACT exam.


1. Become familiar with ACT structure and format


Once you have made up your mind to appear for the ACT, you have to understand the exam structure and format. The exam is based on multiple choice questions (MCQs) and you should practice accordingly. The English section will have 75 questions, the Math section will have 60 questions and the Reading and Science sections will have 40 questions each. The Writing section will have only one question which needs to be answered in an essay format.


For all the compulsory sections, you will have 4 answer choices except for math which will have 5 answer choices. You can prepare and score well only if you are familiar with the test format. Concepts learned and knowledge amassed will be of little use if you have prepared without taking the test format into account. Each section will be scored out of 36 points and the average of all 4 compulsory sections would make for the composite score.


2. Get thorough with the content and question styles


Once you know the sections and the test format, it is time to delve deeper into the nature of questions. What type of questions should you expect in each section? The ACT exam tests different skills in each section and knowing exactly what skills will be tested is integral to achieve the perfect score.


The Math section will have questions on algebra, geometry and trigonometry. This section will test your ability to solve problems with 100% accuracy within the time frame. The English section on the other hand deals with grammar rules, punctuation, sentence structure and rhetorical skills. The Reading section will have passages based on social studies, natural sciences, fiction and humanities and the Science section will have passages containing graphs, charts, experiment summaries or conflicting viewpoints from scientists. A student’s scientific reasoning skills are put to test in the Science section.


To sum it up, you can align your preparation techniques with your goals only if you understand the ACT test content and format.


3. Spot your weaknesses


It is not possible for a student to be equally good at all ACT sections. Depending on your skills and strengths, some sections may seem easier than others. But if you are aiming for high scores, you will have to perform well in all sections. Take a practice test to identify the areas that need most attention. If most of the errors are concentrated in the Science section, it is a clear indication that science is your weakest area.


There are subscores for subsections within each section (the Science section doesn’t have subscores). A look at the subscores will give a clearer idea of which areas need improvement. Low score in the Math section doesn’t necessarily mean you are bad at Math. Examine the nature of errors and you may realize that only geometry is a problematic area and not the entire Math section. Take a full-length timed test as you want to assess your performance and spot your weaknesses under test-like conditions to get a clear picture of where you stand.



A student solving a ACT math practice question
Knowing your weakness helps you to build an efficient study plan for the ACT

4. Set a target score


You are more likely to score well if you have a target score in your mind. Have a look at the acceptable ACT scores in the college you wish to enroll. You will need higher scores if you are aiming for admission in top reputed colleges. If you wish to improve your points dramatically, you will have to put extra effort and invest more hours.


Aim for 1-2, 2-4, 4-6 or 6-8 point improvement depending on how much time you have in hand until the final test day. Don’t set unrealistic goals as it will stress you out and bog you down unnecessarily. Working towards achieving a particular score gives a clear direction and helps have steady progress. If you simply keep working harder without a specific goal in mind, the results won’t be satisfactory.


5. Start with a healthy competitive mindset


A laid-back attitude is a strict no-no for students appearing for the ACT exam. You must first acknowledge that acing the ACT exam requires determination and hard work. Be mentally prepared to fight all obstacles and put your best foot forward. If you take it lightly, low scores are an inevitable outcome. At the same time, remember that a good ACT score is not beyond your reach. Don’t get discouraged by low scores. Keep assessing yourself and work towards honing your skills. A healthy mindset is an important prerequisite to score well in exams such as the ACT. Celebrate your small achievements, make the best use of your strengths, and most importantly, believe in yourself!


6. Create a schedule


A study schedule is a must even when preparing for the easiest of exams. So there is no question about whether one needs to follow a schedule when preparing for the ACT. As mentioned above, there are 4 sections that one needs to master. A schedule with time allotted for perfecting each section will immensely help you achieve the scores you need. You don’t need to invest too much time on sections that are already your strong points. Without a schedule, you are bound to feel aimless. Invest time daily rather than sitting for long hours at the end of the week to compensate. It is recommended that you start preparing 3 months in advance. Create a realistic schedule that will genuinely take you closer to your goals and follow it religiously.



A student writing a schedule
Try to create a study plan 3 months before you take the ACT exam


7. Do timed practice to check your pacing


The ACT exam sure tests your knowledge, but it also tests your time management skills. You don’t have the luxury to spend more than the allotted time for each section. Be thorough with all the concepts as you can’t do much thinking during the test day. As soon as you get the questions in front of you, you must be able to solve it. This is why you need to take timed practice tests at home. If you know the answers but fail to solve it within the time frame, you will still lose your points. Keep a check on your pace and examine which sections are taking longer than expected. Work on those sections and always practice with a timer. Practice in such a way that you will still have a few minutes left before the time is up.


8. Memorize the ACT exam instructions


Trying to make sense of the ACT instructions is the last thing you want to do on a test day. There is a set of directions and instructions that one needs to follow when attempting ACT exams. Buy study materials, seek guidance from professionals and look up information on the rules online. You can’t afford to spend time reading and understanding instructions on the test day. It will waste your valuable time and chances are that it will add to your stress and anxiety. If you are aware of the rules beforehand, you simply have to focus on writing answers rather than trying to memorize rules.


9. Find an ACT study partner


You are not the only one preparing for the ACT exam. There are thousands of students out there just like you. Joining a study group or having at least one study partner really helps. You will understand this once you start preparations in full swing. Knowledge is better retained when you have someone to share it with. Having an ACT study partner means you can motivate each other, discuss and compete with each other. You can learn new things from a study partner and you will actually look forward to study sessions with interest. We at Prestige Institute employ a flipped learning approach that emphasizes studying with peers. Keep reading to know more about flipped learning and how it benefits students.


10. Practice, practice and practice


Practice makes a man perfect and ACT is something that you can easily master if you are willing to give your best shot. The more you practice, the more confident you will be on the test day. Never think that you know everything and you can manage top scores with minimal effort. No matter how brilliant you are, you need to approach this exam with seriousness. Practice every section and practice till you are convinced that you will be able to perform well for the actual exam. Poor preparation will reflect in your scores and the maximum 12 attempts rule should not serve as a motivation to put bare minimum effort for the first attempt. As they say - “Aim for the moon. If you miss, you will at least hit the stars!”



Final Thoughts


The ACT exam scores may not be compulsory in some colleges now as the pandemic brought some major changes in the admission criteria. Nevertheless, it reflects the academic readiness of a student and is still useful to gauge the student’s capabilities. Plus, ACT scores can open doors for merit-based scholarships too. If you are preparing for the ACT exam, the above listed tips will definitely help you sail through the test preparation journey effortlessly.


However, it is quite natural for students to get overwhelmed with the vast sea of information available online regarding the ACT exams. There are hundreds and thousands of study materials available, and students may have a hard time deciding where to begin with in the first place. Plus, they may lose motivation over time with no one to supervise them. This is where professional guidance can help. Taking advantage of an online test preparation platform can elevate the learning experience for students in many ways. It is an added bonus if the institution offers flipped learning techniques.


A Prestige Institute campus
Prestige Institute is the premier ACT&SAT Prep with in-person and online courses known for its highly individualized curriculum

Prestige Institute is one of the premier coaching institutes for ACT exams. With a flipped learning approach that guarantees an interactive learning session for students, our aim is to make learning fun and enjoyable for students. We have a strict limited access policy for study materials as opposed to the popular unlimited lifetime access to encourage students to finish the course within a time frame where concepts are grasped faster, and knowledge retained. With professional tutors and study groups with enthusiastic peers, ACT exam preparation is no longer a stressful affair. Contact our team now!


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