Are you considering giving the ACT or just starting your ACT prep, and wondering how to best prepare for it? Or have you been studying for the ACT but not getting your desired results?
The ACT is your gateway to a dream college or course and getting a good ACT score can help you get into your top college choices, as well as qualify you for college scholarships!
In this article, we’ll explain to you all your study options and help you figure out the best way to study for the ACT. We’ll also share some essential study tips to help you achieve your target score.
Why should you take the ACT test?
The ACT test is your gateway to colleges – simply put. The ACT website mentions the importance and relevance of the test in the following words:
“In addition to being a college admissions exam, the ACT includes a profile and education/career planning section to help you plan for life after high school. You will receive personalized career information and develop a comprehensive profile that tells colleges about your work in high school and future plans.”
Also Read: SAT vs ACT: Which is the Right Test for You?
What is the structure of the ACT test?
If you’re here wanting to read up on ACT prep, you either probably already know about the ACT exam or you want to explore the exam for future opportunities.
For those who are new to ACT, let’s first talk about what this test looks like:
- The ACT is a standardized test scaled on a score from 1-36 and used for college admissions in the United States
- The ACT syllabus chiefly focuses on the senior secondary level knowledge-based questions in English, Math, Scientific Reading, and Reasoning. The additional writing section is optional
- The duration of the exam is typically 2 hrs and 55 minutes (additional 40 minutes if the exam is taken in writing)
- Cost for US-based students: without writing: $50.50 USD, with writing: $67.00 USD (note: the test-taking costs may change from one year to another)
- There are only 215 MCQs or multiple choice questions overall excluding the writing section
Image from: Onto College
Did you know? The ACT math section roughly places the easier questions first and the harder ones follow!
What score is considered a good score on the ACT test?
ACT test scores follow a normal curve distribution. It means that most scores are centered around the middle of the 1-36 scale. The number of both the high and low-end scorers is fairly lesser than the average scorers.
The average ACT score is roughly 20.6. If you score 21, then you would have scored higher than the 50% of test-takers. For example, at a score of 21, your percentile would be 55 and at a score of 24, your percentile will shoot to 74 i.e. better than ¾ of test-takers!
Having said that, the sky’s the limit and there shouldn’t be a blocking belief that 36 is unachievable.
Did you know? : The ACT allows the test takers to use a calculator! Read more here.
What is the best way to study for the ACT test?
There is no one plan that fits all, but there are best practices that can benefit all. Here are our top 5 tips to get your ACT prep right, from the very beginning:
1. Develop functional self-study habits
ACT prep requires consistency above everything else. Work out a study schedule that’s not too much of a stretch and that you can enjoy. Remember regularity over sudden spikes always works better in ACT prep. So, 30 mins every day will get you a better score than 5 hours on just Sundays.
Apportion your time to devote equal attention to all four subjects and register early, at least two to three months before the exam to give you enough time to study.
2. Use free ACT prep resources and mock tests – thoroughly
The internet is full of ACT prep resources that are for FREE! Yes, you can get a headstart in your ACT prep by simply using all possible (and reliable) free resources. Here are some you can get started with, right away:
- Materials on the official ACT website – the first resource you should be using
- The ACT question of the day by Magoosh
- Kaplan’s free ACT test and mini-quizzes for revision of key concepts
Remember to choose your study materials carefully. Try to stick to the most recent and relevant resources. Though dated material may be great for concept building, they will not help you simulate the real ACT test effectively for yourself. To get a hang of the latest ACT questions, you must use the latest editions of books and web resources. For example, always buy the latest edition of the official ACT prep guide, like this one.
3. Devise a test-taking strategy that works for you and test it out
A key part of ACT prep is to devise a final day strategy that works best for you. There is no rule book for this and you will arrive at the optimum strategy only by hit & trial. The right way to test it out? Take lots of mock tests and experiment with different strategies to see which fetches you the highest score with minimum stress. The strategy should include time management, accounting for educated guesses, answering orders, etc.
4. Break free from limiting beliefs
Steer clear of all limiting beliefs to maximize your score. A lot of chatter around ACT prep may indirectly affect your subconscious belief system about the exam. Whenever you hear any of the following statements, remind yourself that these are nothing but popular myths about the ACT test:
- You need to be a student who is good at science to excel in the scientific reasoning section
- The tests are easier or harder based on when you take them
- The ACT is an IQ test, so you can’t really study for it
- You can’t study for ACT in two months, it takes lots of practice over months
5. Re-pivot your ACT prep around your weaker areas
Whenever you evaluate your performance in a mock test, go deeper into the analysis. What was the weakest area of performance? What caused you to lose those 2 points in a silly mistake? How often do you encounter problems in a particular area that you find intimidating? Is it grammar, your reading speed, or math basics?
Ask yourself all these questions, note down your observations and devise a combat plan and then re-pivot your ACT prep around them. Target your weaker areas first during your ACT prep – always!
How to decide the best ACT prep method?
There are no best ACT prep methods. There are only ‘right’ ACT prep methods and each test taker will have their own. To devise an ACT prep method that works best for you, start small and work your way up. Experiment with different study styles and test-taking approaches to arrive at your ‘right’ ACT prep method.
You can choose either one or a combination of ACT prep methods. Some of the common methods are:
1. Pure self-study
This form of ACT prep is often self-paced and self-designed. It has no systematic or planned interaction with peers or a tutor. Remember that self-study will require you to stay self-disciplined, organized, and self-motivated. Aid your ACT prep with lots of practice and ACT practice tests and adhere to a realistic study schedule. Set yourself reminders, use a whiteboard to keep key concepts visually handy in your room, use tonnes of sticky notes and self-designed flashcards.
We recommend using Quizlet to make your own free, customized study flashcards.
2. Online ACT prep classes
Online ACT classes are a great trade-off between personal freedom and some structure to ACT prep. You can choose from a variety of courses available and take them at your own pace. The need for remaining self-motivated throughout though can be challenging for some.
You might also miss the engagement with the study material that a personalized tutor can bring in. The costs vary quite a lot and you can choose a plan that includes mock tests, quizzes, a fixed number of doubt clearing sessions, etc.
3. In-person ACT prep classes
Though not customized for each student’s individual learning needs, in-person classes are still a great way to do your ACT prep. You will study in a classroom-like setup with an instructor and other students of varying proficiency in each subject. The downside is that the costs are generally higher than the online courses (many may cost $1000 or even more). The positive side is that such classes bring in the benefit of setting up a study routine.
4. One on one private tutoring for the ACT
This is probably the best study method that can work for students looking for customized, disciplined, and cost-effective ACT prep. It might sound expensive but if you look around, you’ll find tutors offering their services in all price brackets. Individual attention and personal counseling go a long way in refining your D-day performance.
A tutor will bring in not only subject matter expertise but also push you to do your best. A possible challenge could be identifying the effectiveness of a tutor since their skills, experience with ACT prep, and qualifications can vary greatly.
5. Study groups
You’re probably already doing this if you are doing study dates with your friend(s). These groups are autonomous, have no instructor, and rely on a group of classmates/ friends/ acquaintances sharing their knowledge with others.
These groups can bring in the element of fun while prepping. Many times such discussions go a long way in clearing core concepts while eliminating the pressures. A downside is that routine and discipline are quite unsustainable in such groups and long-term focussed ACT prep may not be possible.
As you must have noted, each method has its own benefits and limitations. You must make your choice objectively based on the following:
- Your own assessment of your attention span and self-motivation levels
- The time that you can allocate each week
- The amount and extent of help you’d need. For example, if you’re re-taking the ACT, you may not need a full classroom course and a private tutor might be able to help you better with weaker areas
- Your learning style preferences. Do you learn better in a classroom or with an individual tutor/ friend?
- The number of practice materials you will need (many online courses require you to choose from plans that have different numbers of practice questions included)
- Budget and minimum qualification criteria for the instructor(s) involved
- Other factors like, would you be able to commute in case you want to join an in-person class?
Above all, never fall for promises like ‘a guaranteed 5 point improvement in one month in ACT score’! Choose a sustainable learning style that helps you crack the core concepts rather than inundate you with a thousand quick fix hacks.
How can a private ACT prep tutor help?
A private tutor for ACT prep can help you in many different ways.
The most intuitive reason to hire a private tutor is often the one-on-one attention and discipline they bring in. However, there’s much more than a private tutor can do for you. A private ACT tutor can:
- Help you devise the right test-taking strategy by literally being your ideation partner in the journey
- Assess the nature and frequency of your mistakes with such attention to detail that no other in-person classroom instructor or online course helpdesk can
- Give you sufficient time to work on your weaker areas
- Give you the comfort and safety of asking all questions that go a long way in strengthening core concepts that you might shy away from asking in the classroom
- Work for your specific goal score and help you remain focussed
Where can one look for the right private ACT tutor?
Confused about where to start? Kickstart your ACT prep right now with a private tutor and literally take on the ACT battlefield with good prep and great strategy. Find your perfect tutor match at Talentnook in just a few clicks. Not only can you browse through hundreds of ACT private tutor profiles and select the one that matches your budget and qualification criteria, but you can also request free demo lessons!
Time is of the essence, get a headstart in your ACT prep by clearly defining your goals and getting the right learning support. All the best!