If you want to achieve your target scores for the ACT, this article will be your guide on how to prepare for the ACT to make it happen!
The ACT is a very important test. ACT scores are used by college admissions committees to assess the abilities of applicants like you to determine whether they’ll offer you admission. But before you stress out, we’ve got you covered.
This article will tell you what you should know for the test, ACT prep tips, and a comprehensive explanation of each section to help you get started.
Preparing for the ACT may be a long process, but don’t worry! We’ve listed all the important steps you need to take during your preparation, along with our best ACT prep tips to help you along your way.
You can register for the ACT on the official ACT website. The registration process will take 30 minutes and requires a stable internet connection to complete. You also need the following for your ACT registration:
Before you begin the registration process, you also need to select a test date and an open test center.
One of the most crucial ACT tips is to know what you’re dealing with before test day. The ACT consists of four sections: English, Math, Science, and Reading, with one optional essay. Here’s a breakdown of how long each section takes, in order:
All questions in the four mandatory tests are multiple-choice. Each question will have four or five answer choices to choose from. There is no penalty for guessing since the final score is calculated based on the number of correct answers.
The optional writing test requires you to write one essay based on the prompt given to you. Along with the test format, you should also consider what you need for the ACT in terms of materials.
Our first ACT tip is always to determine an ideal and realistic target score before you start preparing for the ACT. Setting your target scores will help you decide how much time to spend on ACT preparation.
Your ideal target score is how high you want your score to be, whereas your realistic target score is how well you think you will do. Of course, you can always change it based on the outcomes of your test preparation, but it’s best to have at least a firm idea before preparation begins.
Most students choose their ideal and realistic target scores based on their goal universities. Although your ACT score cannot guarantee a spot anywhere, it’s still a key component of your application.
Look at the average ACT or 50th percentile scores of admitted freshmen students. (Scoring in the 50th percentile means the test-taker scored equal to or higher than 50% of other test-takers who took the same test.)
This way, you’ll know which ACT scores will give you a competitive edge for your goal schools. Of course, the higher the ACT score, the better, but this method still gives you an idea of what is enough for your goal universities.
When it comes to ACT tips, our holy grail is creating a study schedule. Now that you have your target scores set, you must construct a realistic study schedule for the ACT. How much time every day and how many days per week do you need to study to reach your target scores?
Maintaining a balance between ACT preparation and other parts of your life is important, especially for other components of your university applications. Keeping a well-balanced schedule will ensure everything is handled, and you won’t feel overwhelmed.
Practice tests are an excellent way to prepare yourself for the ACT, as learning is most effective when you can apply it in practice. Through practice tests, you can see which subjects and concepts you need to study for, which test-taking strategies work, how well your current performance is, and how far you are from your goals.
ACT practice tests also allow you to familiarize yourself with ACT questions, giving you a good idea of what to expect greatly reducing anxiety.
The official ACT website offers many free ACT practice tests in full length and individual tests, including the optional writing test. You can order additional practice tests and material at the official ACT website if that isn't enough.
When learning how to prepare for the ACT, you’ll notice certain topics you struggle with more than others. You can pinpoint your areas of weakness better if you take practice tests. While you are preparing, keep notice of the type of questions that are most difficult for you.
The best way to prepare for the ACT is to know how and when to cover your bases. Take note of the questions you tend to get wrong and ensure you fully grasp those concepts before moving on to the rest of your review. While paying extra attention to your weak spots is important, you shouldn’t forget to cover your strong points as well.
The amount of time ACT test preparation depends on your schedule, how much time you spend each week studying, and your target scores. In many cases, grade 11 or 12 students spend about 3 to 6 months preparing for the ACT.
The most important factor when determining how long you will take to prepare for the ACT is what is on the test. Unsurprisingly, sufficient practice will allow you to cover and prepare for everything the ACT asks you to do.
The next sections of this article will break down tasks and important concepts that you need to prepare for each subject test.
As written on the official ACT website: “The mathematics section is designed to assess the mathematical skills students have typically acquired in courses taken up to the beginning of grade 12.” This means that whatever will be on the ACT Math Test, you’ve probably learned it in high school already.
The questions of the ACT Math Test cover seven categories; these will give you an idea of how to prepare for the ACT:
For a more detailed breakdown of each of these categories, take a look at our complete guide on how to prepare for the ACT Math test. Make sure to give each subject an equal amount of study time. If math isn’t your strongest subject, consider getting an experienced ACT Math tutor to help you get prepared.
The ACT Science Test covers biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, meteorology, and physics. Usually, high school science courses (from grade nine to grade 12) will provide enough information for you to answer the questions correctly.
The Science Test assesses your knowledge of interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the science above subjects. These questions will put you into scientific scenarios and require your knowledge and skills to determine answers.
In the ACT Science section, you’ll answer questions in the following categories:
You must recognize and understand concepts relevant to the provided information; critically examine the relationship between the given information and the conclusions or hypotheses; and use known information to deduce new information, conclusions, or predictions.
For a more in depth review of science-related ACT test preparation, take a look at our guide on how to prepare for the ACT science section.
The ACT Reading Test is composed of multiple parts, each including one long passage or multiple small passages. The reading section requires you to read and comprehend all text and answer questions by searching in the text and using your reasoning and interpretation skills. In this section, you’ll have to answer questions in the following categories:
When taking the Reading Test, it’s best to read all the content once before answering questions. You can skim through the entire reading section of the part you’re working on and get a rough frame of the content to understand better where to search for answers to the questions.
Take a look at our complete guide to the ACT Reading Test for a more in depth look at this section. We cover detailed ACT reading tips and what to know before taking the test.
The ACT English Test consists of multiple passages, each followed by multiple-choice questions. These questions could refer to a section of a passage, the passage as a whole, or underlined or highlighted parts of a passage. In this section the questions you answer will fall into the following categories:
To do well in this section, consider yourself the writer or an editor. Beware that many questions have a choice option labeled “no change,” which adds to the trickiness of the English section, as you will need to decide whether or not a change is needed. For more tips and a full, detailed breakdown, check out our guide to the ACT English Test
The ACT writing test is an optional section you can complete at the end of your test. You have 40 minutes to complete an essay demonstrating your writing ability in this section. The prompt you’ll be given is typically on a multi-layered issue, accompanied by three unique perspectives on the subject.
You are asked to read the prompt and write an essay in which you develop your perspective on the issue.
The difficulty of the writing section matches that of the average high school English classes and entry-level college composition courses. Your essay is scored based on the following four factors:
This section is optional, which means it can be an excellent opportunity to boost your ACT score if you prepare properly.
There are many ways to prepare for the ACT beyond the above mentioned steps. If you’re looking for more ways to prepare for test day, read on for our top tips.
What are friends for? Well, a lot of things - but one of those things can be helping each other study. Consider asking a friend to study with you and help you review your practice tests. A peer review of your work is an excellent idea because they may catch mistakes you missed.
You and your study buddy can also create flashcards to help each other memorize concepts. It may be a good idea to choose a friend who excels in different subjects than you do. For example, if one of you is a math wiz and the other is a top-tier English student, you have a match made in heaven.
Like studying with a friend, a study group can be a powerful tool in helping every member succeed. Your group could be composed of friends or simply of peers who are studying for the same test. You can then assign each member a section of the test to create practice questions for everyone to answer.
As mentioned above, choosing members who excel in different academic subjects is the best way. Having multiple people review your work is also a good idea; the more, the merrier!
There are a few different strategies you can use when you take the ACT. These strategies are especially beneficial for the four mandatory tests with multiple choice questions. In general, some of these strategies include:
Every student has their own way of answering questions. Try out each of these methods to find what’s best for you. Once you know which method works best, stick to it when it comes time for the real test.
Sometimes, an expert opinion is the best way to go. Hiring an experienced ACT tutor can be extremely helpful. ACT tutors can help you create study schedules, stay on track, correct your work, and explain complex material in a comprehensive way. Much like having a 1-on-1 session with your teacher, a tutor can make a huge positive impact on your ACT score.
Think you're ready for the ACT? Take our free interactive ACT Readiness Quiz to find out if you're prepared for the test.
Looking for more information on how to prepare for the ACT? Here are some of our answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about ACT preparation, tips, and strategies.
It is up to the test-taker to bring a fully-functioning permitted calculator with enough power for the entire math section. Test-takers can only bring calculators that do mathematical operations. Advanced calculators with computer algebra system functionality are prohibited.
Built-in calculators or calculation programs on cell phones, computers, and other devices are also banned. Further details can be found here.
Yes. Some universities do require you to take the ACT test with the writing section. It is up to you to research beforehand and register for the ACT with the writing section.
Other than tutors specifically trained for ACT preparation, because the ACT content is usually covered in the curriculum of corresponding high school courses, your teachers are an excellent option to ask for help. They can help you get better at many of the concepts and skills covered in the ACT and provide ideas to make ACT prep fun.
Additionally, your guidance counselor that handles university preparation and application may also be a suitable helper.
For most test-takers, three to six months is the recommended timeline to allow enough time to properly study for the ACT. This timeline typically gives students enough time to review all the material, take practice tests, and identify the areas that need a bit more attention than others.
The difficulty of the ACT ultimately depends on your strengths and weaknesses, and how much time you have spent studying. The test is designed to be challenging, but not impossible. Most students who adequately prepare for the test do not have trouble passing.
Achieving an excellent score may take a lot of hard work and dedication, but with persistence, anything is possible!
You can prepare for the ACT by following these steps:
Remember, practice makes perfect!
In total, there are 215 questions on the ACT. These questions are broken up between the English section (75 questions), the math section (60 questions), the science section (40 questions), and the reading section (40 questions). There is also one optional essay question on the ACT.
That is everything you need to know when preparing for the ACT. It might seem like a lot, but as long as you plan everything, and put in the time, effort, and follow our expert ACT tips, you should be able to achieve your target score!
Remember: almost everything in the test covers concepts, knowledge, and skills learned in your high school classes, so make sure you use that to your advantage. Have fun preparing, and best regards for your college admissions!