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How to Study for the ACT? Follow this Step-by-Step Plan to Prepare Like a Pro

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

American College Testing (ACT) is a standardized test taken by students seeking admission to undergraduate schools based in the USA and Canada. ACT exams evaluate the mathematical, written, verbal, and scientific skills of students. ACT scores have proved to be a useful tool for colleges to determine students’ competence and college readiness. Though several colleges have adopted test-optional policies of late, students submitting ACT scores do have a slight edge over those who don’t.

Students who choose to submit their scores need to ensure they have good scores that are indicative of their skills and abilities. Achieving good scores requires thorough preparation and persistent efforts. How does one prepare for the ACT? Is there a formula that guarantees good ACT scores? ACT preparation may seem stressful especially when there is a lack of professional guidance from tutors. If you are looking for a simple and practical guide to kickstart your ACT preparation, this article is for you. This article will walk you through the study plan, tips, and more for students to prepare more effectively.

ACT Study Plan - 8 steps to follow when preparing for the ACT

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail! Students looking forward to appearing for the ACT exam need to create a study plan in advance to improve their chances of obtaining higher scores at the very first attempt. If creating a study plan from scratch seems like a daunting task, this study plan will come to your rescue. Here is an 8-step study plan that you can follow to kick start your preparation right away.

1. Get your facts straight

Before you start your preparations, you need to fully understand the nature of the ACT exam. From eligibility criteria to the test format, familiarize yourself with the exam so you will have a fair idea of what ACT has in store for you and whether it is aligned with your personal goals. ACT is an MCQ-based test with English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing sections. ACT is conducted seven times a year and students outside of the US will have to take a computer-based test. 36 is the highest ACT score and the test duration is 2 hours 55 minutes without an essay and 3 hours 55 minutes with an essay.

2. Try a full-length practice test

You can take a practice test right away without any preparation. Take the official ACT practice test to assess your real strengths and weaknesses. The practice test score will help you understand where to focus your efforts. Plus, it will help you get accustomed to the instructions and exam format so you know exactly what is awaiting you on the test day. Memorizing the instructions is highly recommended.

3. Locate your weaknesses

Taking practice tests is of no use if you don’t take the time to analyze your weaknesses. There are chances that you may score low in sections that you are confident about. List your weak areas and address them by devoting more hours to those areas. Students must also determine the nature of errors. While some may be silly errors, other errors might be due to a lack of clarity about certain concepts. Addressing the root cause is crucial to obtaining higher scores.

4. Know the sections and time allotted for each

The Math section will have 60 questions to be completed in 60 minutes. The Science and Reading sections will have 40 questions to be completed in 35 minutes each. The English section will have 75 questions to be completed in 45 minutes whereas the optional writing section is assigned 40 minutes. Familiarize yourself with all the sections beforehand and be mindful of the time limit for each section.

5. Plan a realistic study schedule

While there is no harm in being ambitious, make sure you don’t set unrealistic goals that will leave you demotivated and drained in the long run. Understand your current schedule and make a study plan accordingly. If you can devote only 20-30 minutes daily, don’t allot more time than that in the study schedule. Make a schedule that is easier to follow so you will stick to it till the end. Set realistic score goals and adjust your study time depending on the score improvement you are aiming for. If you are expecting a 6-9 point improvement in future attempts, you will have to create an intensive study plan.

6. Find a study buddy

Finding someone you can study alongside, do assignments and solve problems will help accelerate the preparation process. You can also become a part of a study group where you can exchange ideas, learn new preparation techniques, enhance your strengths and overcome weaknesses. A study group or a study buddy can bring new perspectives to the table which will make ACT preparation a fun and enjoyable experience.

7. Hone your time management skills

Finishing the test on time is equally important and students need to work on their pace by taking timed practice tests. Students should learn to use their time efficiently so they can complete each section with a few minutes left to cross-check.

8. Gather good resources

Make sure you gather good resources for ACT preparation as the quality of materials will be a key factor influencing your scores. High-quality materials will ease the preparation process helping students feel more confident on test day. There are several ACT prep books with free full-length practice tests, 400 practice questions, and test-day guidance available online.

ACT Study Material
It is important to study with high-quality materials to get the best result of your ACT exam preparation

General tips for ACT preparation

Scoring well in the ACT can increase your chances of gaining admission to reputable colleges as well as make you eligible for certain scholarships. A good ACT score will help you become selective with the colleges you choose. While we have already discussed the ACT study plan, here is a quick look at a few general tips that will further help you make the most of your preparation sessions.

1. Start your preparation early

You need to prepare at least 3 months in advance to obtain a good score. Students who are aiming for a perfect score will have to start their preparation at least 6 months prior. Advance preparation will only make you more confident and better prepared.

2. Be through with frequently tested concepts

Once you understand the exam pattern and the frequently tested concepts in each section, you are already halfway there. The ACT Science section tests basic scientific concepts where students are required to make conclusions from sample experiments. The English section deals with spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, and style. The Reading section tests students’ reading comprehension abilities whereas the Math section tests Algebra, Geometry, probability, and statistics.

3. Practice with test-approved calculators and learn mathematical formulas

Make it a point to practice with ACT-approved calculators all the time. This will help stimulate testing conditions so you get a first-hand experience of what the test day might actually look like. You should also learn important tricks and shortcuts for math calculations so you don’t have to dwell on simple problems for longer. This will also free up time to solve complex questions.

4. Utilize the entire time allotted for each section

Even if you are a fast test-taker, you must utilize the full time allotted for each section. After finishing the exam, you should use the extra minutes to revisit the answers and cross-check you have not missed anything.

5. Increase your reading speed

The Reading section comprises passages and a significant amount of time will be spent reading the passages and finding answers. If you can increase your reading speed, you will have more time to think and work on the answers. Skimming through passages, marking important words, and mentally reviewing the concepts are useful techniques to reduce time spent on reading each passage.

6. Answer questions that you know first

Prioritize attempting the questions you know rather than wasting time on difficult questions. You can skip tough questions in between and finish all the easy ones first. Go back to the skipped questions and attempt them with a calm mind once you are done with the easier ones. You can also guess the answers in case you are unable to arrive at the correct answer as ACT doesn’t penalize test-takers for wrong answers. Guessing strategically is the key to improving your scores.

How to study for the ACT in the last months?

As the test date approaches closer, you will have to chalk out a plan that will help you finish your preparation faster. Setting smaller goals and splitting your work into smaller chunks throughout the span of three months will be a more practical approach to ACT preparation. Here is a detailed breakdown of the study plan to be followed in the last three months.

Study Planner
It is good to set small goals throughout your ACT preparation period

Week 1

Week 1 should be dedicated to assessing your baseline score. Take a full-length practice test (2 hours 55 minutes) under conditions similar to that of a real test and score it. Use the test scoring guide to calculate the scaled test scores. The average of all four section scores is called the baseline score. Once the baseline score is determined, students should set aside another 3 hours just to evaluate the score. Review each question and make notes so you can plan your study strategies accordingly.

Weeks 2 to 4

Pay attention to your weak areas and practice concepts where you scored poorly. Try to pinpoint specific areas that need to be addressed and adjust your preparation strategies. Spend 2 to 4 weeks understanding the test format and learning and adapting test preparation methods that work for each section. You can cover the essential skills and functions section from the ACT Math section, sentence structure, formation, and punctuation from the English section, Global and Inference questions from the Reading section, and Data representation from the Science section during weeks 2 to 4.

Week 5

Week 5 should be utilized to take another full-length practice test. This time you have to compare your scores from week 1 and evaluate your progress. Take one or two days to review the score and understand the weak areas. See whether you have made improvements or if any new issues have emerged.

Weeks 6-8

Weeks 6-8 should be devoted to brushing up on concepts that you still find hard to crack. You can plan your study schedule depending on what areas need improvement. Practice all the sections of the ACT and make sure there is nothing left to be covered. Speaking of the section-wise breakdown of subjects to be covered during these weeks, you can focus on the following areas from each section:

  • Number and Quantity and Algebra from the Math section

  • Organization, Unity, and Cohesion and Usage from the English section

  • Function and Writer’s View Questions from the Reading section

  • Research Summaries from the Science section

  • Templates and Scoring Guidelines for the Writing section

Week 9

Take a practice test again and determine your progress at this stage. You have to follow the same process of setting aside 3 hours to review the practice test. If you notice errors and weaknesses that are yet to be addressed, you will have to devote more time and effort to polish your skills.

Weeks 10-11

Cover the remaining topics from all sections in these last two weeks. Statistics and probability and geometry, topic development and knowledge of the language, detail, and vocab-in-context questions and paired passages, and conflicting viewpoints are the topics to be focused on during this period.

Week 12

Avoid overpreparing during the last week as you don’t want to end up feeling exhausted on the test day. Revise the concepts once again and take one last practice test. Take enough rest and don’t fret too much over the results. Sleep well, eat healthy, and keep your mind free from anxiety and worries. Make sure you carry test day essentials such as test tickets and identity proof among others.

Winding up

Acing the ACT exam is no difficult task if you establish a proper study plan. Sticking to the study plan till the end is key to achieving high scores. A good study plan is one that suits your individual needs. The steps and tips discussed in this article will serve as a useful guide for students aspiring to excel at the ACT exam.

Strategizing time and divvying up practice sessions over several weeks will make the preparation process less stressful. Students should start early and avoid cramming at the last minute. With a host of study materials available online, preparation has become far easier these days.

What Can I Find the Best Help on Preparing for the ACT?

Prestige Institute’s individualized care system is designed to deliver ACT prep courses that take students closer to their goals faster. With both online and in-person sessions, the institute offers intensive and self-paced prep programs to provide much-needed flexibility to students. Powered by an immersive cohort experience, the institute is committed to guiding students every step of the way through state-of-the-art data platforms. Get in touch with Prestige, schedule a free consultation and take your test-taking skills to the next level with customized prep sessions!

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