Cheat Sheet for ACT

On March 12th, all juniors will participate in the ACT, a nationwide test that measures readiness for taxing college classes and future academic success by testing what the student already knows. Preparation for the test begins all the way back in middle school, and even though few students understood the meaning and significance of the ominous ACT, it was a day usually appreciated by the students, as it typically means a laid back day. However, easy participation points on review worksheets not taken up for a grade don’t exactly give the students a feel as to what the actual ACT is like.

The test, given at various locations throughout Northern Kentucky, takes 2 hours and 55 minutes. If you opt to take it with writing, meaning that you are given a passage and a prompt to respond too, the test takes 3 hours and 35 minutes. Breaks are given after every section, and the test takers can go to the bathroom, grab a drink of water or snack on something.

Next week will be my second time taking the ACT. The first time I took it, I slept through the first alarm I set, and ended up running through the doors of the Highschool still wearing my pajama shirt and trying not to drop or impale myself on the half dozen pencils I was carrying. Not the best way to show up, but at least I made it on time and with everything I needed.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received is that the earlier you begin preparing for the test and the the more times you take it, the better your score will be. Taking it earlier will help you find your areas of strength and the areas you need to work on. For the areas where you think you’ll struggle, there are many options to help you boost your score. I elected not to sign up for TorchPrep, instead choosing to utilize the practice section on Khan Academy, where there are hundreds of practice questions and multiple full length tests that can be taken. All questions are arranged by section and if the wrong answer is selected, an explanation is provided as to how to get the correct answer. I have also registered for online classes that are geared towards teaching a specific type of problem, such as prose fiction in the reading section.

Tuesday will mark Junior Maria Broering’s third time taking the ACT and she revealed the best advice she’s been given.

“If you’re going to take any prep classes or anything I would recommend on waiting until after you take it at least once, just so then you know kind of like what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are so you know what to focus on for the future.”

Broering stated that she has been using the official ACT prep book. It comes with a free app, which Broering said was extremely helpful.

The most important thing to remember when taking the ACT is that you are being timed. The test is organized into 4 sections- English, Math, Reading, and Science, all of which you will receive no more than an hour to complete.

The English section has 75 questions and you have 45 minutes to answer them, meaning that there are roughly 36 seconds to answer each question. Punctuation is something that shows up on every test, so be sure to review comma usage and the correct way to formulate a sentence. If time is running out and you still have a passage or two left to read, just skim over each paragraph. This will provide you with enough context and information to answer the majority of the questions correctly.

The Math section has 60 questions and 60 minutes to complete them, which gives you a minute for each question. The six main content areas that are on the test are pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, plane geometry, and trigonometry, and questions can come in the form of figures, graphs or charts. The first 20 questions will be the easiest, and they will increase in difficulty the more you answer. Whether a question is “easy” or “hard” is based off your confidence in the skill being asked in the question, though typically the more time-consuming questions are located towards the end. In this section, a calculator is permitted, but be sure to check guidelines to ensure that you have one allowed in the testing room. Additionally, make sure your calculator is in working order and has enough power to make it through the test- if it dies or stops working, you will not be provided with another. Knowing formulas can help answer questions faster, but if you get to a problem and you have no idea how to answer it, fill in a random answer and move on to a problem you are more comfortable doing.

The Reading section has 40 questions and 35 minutes to answer them, giving you 52.5 seconds to answer each question. You will be asked reading comprehension questions regarding general ideas, themes, tones, vocabulary choices and more. The passages will be in the forms of prose fiction/literary narratives, social science, humanities, and natural science. Prose fiction and literary narratives can also include passages from memoirs. Social science pieces are typically regarding topics such as psychology, science or technology. Humanities pieces are more centered towards nonfiction pieces. Natural science passages can be about chemistry, medicine, physics or biology. There can also be questions that require you to make an inference about something. These questions can be like free points- just look in the passage! Chose the answer that can be supported with direct evidence from the text.

The Science section has 40 questions and there will be 35 minutes to finish them, meaning that there are roughly 52.5 seconds to answer each question. This test will ask questions about interpreting evidence such as charts, graphs, diagrams, and tables more than any scientific knowledge that you knew beforehand.

While the ACT is all about measuring academic success, it is vital to remember that getting a low score does not necessarily mean that you can’t be successful in college. Test scores are released anywhere from 2-8 weeks after the test is taken.