ACT Preparation Advice

It’s ‘that test.’ The one each student dreads. The one that determines if you can go to ‘that’ school. The American College of Testing, otherwise known as the ACT.

           For most people, even those in middle school and years away from, the ACT is all the talk. Yet, it was my sophomore year where the pressure was on. Either from my parents or that little voice the back of my mind.

All colleges require students to acquire a specific score in order to allow them admission, however, it’s not as easy as most people assume it to be. And for those who don’t prepare, it’s in a sense, “impossible.”

           During March of a student’s junior year, they are required to take the mandatory ACT test. This is one that is free, unlike all the others.

Though, for most, this test is not the only one students seem to take. For many, they test one additional Saturday mornings, at 8 a.m. until they get the score they need. This could be two tests to even eight, all costing money. My advice to juniors is to start as early as you can. I did.

           The summer going into my sophomore year, it was all about ‘that test.’ Starting in early October, I enrolled in a week of TorchPrep. From Monday to Thursday, I spent 8 hours in a room where we did nothing but test and review. This wasn’t really for me. The class was too big and I was unable to ask all my questions. So I then decided to sign up for Huntington ACT Prep. They promised me this, “Our proven, one-on-one test prep methods will help build a deep knowledge of the subject matter at hand while learning crucial test-taking and problem-solving skills—lowering anxiety levels and significantly raising test scores along the way.”

And they did just that. Prepping for the ACT depends on what you feel will help you more, as it differs for everyone.

For three hours, three sessions a week, I was taught by my individual tutor what formulas, strategies, and time limits I needed to obtain in order to get my “target score.”

A few weeks into my prep I decided to take my first Saturday test. Though I didn’t get what I wanted, I wasn’t discouraged. I just did more prep. For Huntington, I was assigned homework each night, which was just me going through their “Red Book,” and working on practice tests. I soon figured out my problem was timing.

In the four sections (or five if you take the optional writing portion), questions greatly outweigh the time provided. In other words, there were a lot of question and not enough time for all of them. This was difficult for me to overcome, but then I stumbled upon a solution. A watch.

A watch, specifically designed for the ACT. It had all parts of the test and markers on it to show you how to pace yourself. The numbers on the watch would correspond to the number of the question you should be on in order to finish on time. It additionally had a countdown, so you were able to see how much time you had left in that portion of the test. This enabled test takers to not be surprised when the proctor calls time.

For senior, Cara McDougal she feels that, “the most helpful thing was practice test. By doing a bunch of those I was really able to get my timing down, which is super important.” McDougal, one of the many students who enrolled in TorchPrep insisted their system worked, “really well” for her.

Still, as my Huntington days went by, and months passed, I continued to take ‘that test.’ And then, December came. I went in for one more session and my tutor reminded me of what I needed to do. As I walked out the door, the wished me luck for what became my final Saturday test.

According to another testee and senior, Olivia Hopper decided to take a different route. Before she prepped, she wanted to take the test blind and just see how it went for her. After that, she decided to sign up for ACT TorchPrep. But before any more Saturday test, she took at least four more practice test and then the real one. This continuous practice allowed her score to go up by a few more points.

I, along with many other test takers, believe that if there were no preparation months prior to ‘that test,’, then we would all still be sitting at a desk and bubbling in questions.

If you put in the time and effort to this, you can get the score you want. You just need to be willing to, because to me, it’s not about how smart you are, it’s instead all about strategy.

ACT Hacks

  • Have an initial target score and work up to it.
  • Forget the right answer and find the wrong ones.
    • The ACT hides the correct answer behind the wrong ones, but when you cross off just one or two wrong answers, the correct answer can become more obvious.
  • Skip the questions you don’t know and fill in the ones you do know. Then go back to the ones blank and give them 30 seconds. If you still don’t know, pick a letter and move on.
  • Make sure to fill in every bubble, because you never know, you may guess right. It won’t count against you.
  • In terms of the English portion, be clear and concise.
    • “The essence of good writing is saying what you mean in the most accurate way without any extra unnecessary words. When you’re trying to decide between a few different phrasings for a sentence in the English section, usually the least wordy choice is correct. There are exceptions to this rule, but it’s enough of a common trend that if you’re totally stumped by a question, picking the shortest answer is a fairly safe bet.”
  • In terms of the Math portion…Know the formulas!
  • In Science, diagrams are your friends, they give you the answer if you just know how to read them.
  • For the Reading portion of the test, don’t waste your time reading the whole passage. Read the first and last sentence of each paragraph and skim over the middle part. The first and last sentence should provide you with the main ideas.
  • Get and ACT watch! It really does help with pacing nerves. It keeps you “in the know.”