12 ACT Hacks You Need to Know

Posted: July 1, 2018

Standardized testing is one of the rites of passage for high school juniors these days. Many high schools are offering free ACT and WorkKeys (ACT's career prep test) exams as their official standardized testing for 11th graders. This is great, because familiarity with the test is one way to increase your score. But once you've taken it a couple of times, familiarity won't budge that composite more than a point or two.

What's the most important thing to do to raise your ACT score? Practice, practice, practice! But not just any practice will do; you must engage in deliberate practice. This means not only running through a lot of timed tests, but also scoring those tests and analyzing your errors so you don't make the same mistakes twice. While it's easiest to analyze errors with a trained test prep instructor, many of the ACT practice books also walk you through the problems to explain how they should be approached.
Other tips:
  • Always time your practice test sections. Except for the math, you have about 36 seconds to answer each question. Sounds like hardly any time, but try holding your breath that long!
  • Always use the bubble-in score sheet when you practice. Finding the answer you want is crucial!
  • If you're not familiar with diagramming sentences, learn it. It makes a huge difference in the English section if you can accurately find the subject of a complex sentence.
  • Don't use your calculator on circle problems. The test answers will be expressed in terms of pi; using the decimal equivalent will mess you up.
  • The reading section is less about study-reading and more about skimming and scanning.
  • Science is essentially another reading section. Practice finding passage information quickly.
  • Two words for the writing: context and transitions. You will be scored on your use of both.
  • Study several times a week, leaving a day or two between study sessions. Neurological studies show you need sleep and repetition to move info into your long-term memory, so start early.
  • Unless you're usually a breakfast-eater, do not eat breakfast the morning of the test. That Egg McMuffin will sit in your stomach like a rock, and interfere with your focus.
  • Do bring a snack and a water bottle.
  • If you're test anxious, studies show that writing all your fears on your test booklet or scratch paper before you begin actually frees your mind. Trying to ignore the worries only makes them worse.
And finally,
  • There is no penalty for guessing so NEVER LEAVE AN ANSWER BLANK ON THE ACT!
Good Luck!

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