How to Prep for the ACT Test

by Grace Riley, Demand Media

The breadth and significance of the American College Testing assessment can make the exam nerve-racking for some students. The ACT tests a student’s mastery of five academic subjects: math, science reasoning, English grammar, reading comprehension and writing. And, a student’s performance on the exam is one of the factors that determines her opportunity to attend college. Nearly every aspiring collegian who takes the ACT feels a little anxiety as they review. The good news is that students have many ways to prepare in the days, weeks and months before the exam date.

Choose Test Dates Wisely

Plan to take the ACT at least two or even three times. Choose an ACT exam date that is at least three test cycles ahead of your college application deadlines. You may not need to take the exam three times, or even twice, but the stakes will be a lot lower during your first attempt if you know you have the opportunity to repeat the test.

Acquire Test Prep Materials

You do not have to spend money on ACT prep materials to succeed on the exam. Your school counselor's office might have ACT prep packets available for free. School and public libraries generally carry ACT guide books. ACT Inc., the company that makes the exam, offers sample test questions on its website, though the official guides must be purchased. If you can invest in study aids, consider your learning style when you choose a product. If you are a visual learner, you may benefit from a colorful, dynamic online prep program or mobile app more than a book. If having contact with an instructor helps you the most, consider enrolling in an ACT prep class.

Take Practice Tests

Before you start studying, take one or two full-length practice tests, which you can find in the free packets at school or in ACT prep books. Time yourself, to recreate test-day conditions. Use your scores to determine how to target your study time. If you excel in math but struggle in the reading and writing sections, you would benefit the most from focusing your time on reading and writing. Remember, the ACT does not penalize you for incorrect answers. It is always to your benefit to guess if you don't know an answer or to quickly fill in the bubbles of unanswered questions at the last second. Make educated choices when you can, but don't leave any question unanswered.

Set a Targeted Study Schedule and Stick to It

Give yourself at least a month to study for the exam, and devise a realistic test prep schedule that won't interfere with your other responsibilities. If studying is not your thing, plan daily 15-to-30-minute power sessions, so that you don't burn out. Two effective 20-minute study sessions per day are better than a lackluster hour of studying each night. Also, consider unconventional scheduling. For example, spend one day a week eating lunch by yourself so that you can study during that time; keep prep materials with you at school so that you can study whenever you finish classwork early; ask family members to quiz you during dinner or in the car. The only “right” way to study is the way that suits your learning style and makes the most effective use of your time.

Learn the Admissions Protocol of Your Desired Colleges

Many colleges average your best individual section scores across all of the ACT exams you take, granting you a higher composite score on your application than you received for any single test. For example, if you scored 22 in reading, English and science reasoning but scored 10 in math on your first ACT, your composite score would be 19. If you took the exam a second time, and scored 20 in every section, earning a second composite score of 20, many colleges would average your first reading, English and science scores with your second math score, giving you a composite score of 21.5 on your application. Many students who falter on one section of their first ACT only complete that section during their second attempt, so that they can focus all of their study time on the area they want to improve. Learn whether this strategy is an option for you.

About the Author

Grace Riley has been a writer and photographer since 2005, with work appearing in magazines and newspapers such as the "Arkansas Democrat-Gazette." She has also worked as a school teacher and in public relations and polling analysis for political campaigns. Riley holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in American studies, political science and history, all from the University of Arkansas.

Photo Credits

  • Jetta Productions/Lifesize/Getty Images