ACT Preparations: What can you do to improve your score?

With the ACT right around the corner for juniors and some sophomores, testing preparations have been a hot topic in many core classes. For some students, this is the first attempt at the official ACT. For others, this is their second, third, fourth, or possibly fifth attempt. Wherever you stand, here are four tips and tricks to prevent testing anxiety and hopefully improve your score.

1.) Know the testing material.

This is for those who have previously taken the test. The best way to improve is to study your past score reports and know where your weaknesses are. To access this report, as well as tips from ACT, go to and log into your account. Click on view scores where you should find all your scores from previous exams. Let’s say that English is your lowest score, and you wish to improve in that category. Find your English score and click on further improve. There, students can find activities related to their previous scores that will help them improve on future tests. These tips include:

English – “Check drafts to ensure subject-verb agreement when the subject-verb order is inverted.”

Mathematics – “Apply a variety of strategies that use relationships between perimeter, area, and volume to calculate desired measures.”

Reading – “Develop and use strategies for deciphering the meanings of words or phrases embedded in richly figurative, academic, or technical contexts.”

Science – “Engage in class discussions to debate the data used in student research, its presentation, and the interpretation of the results.”

2.) Write in your book!

This is sometimes unknown to new test-takers, but you are permitted to write in your book.  Some believe that writing in their book slows them down or is a waste of time. However, this can be a benefit if used wisely. Here are three things that you can do with this beneficial privilege:

Use notes to engage with reading passages – The reading portion of the test can lull out for most students. Sometimes it is hard to stay focused after reading four passages. Sometimes, the passages merge while the students are stressed. This can lead to unnecessary confusion and irrational thinking. Before reading, skim over the questions so you know what you should look for within the text. From there, underline topic sentences and thesis sentences, take notes in the margins alongside each paragraph, and circle key vocabulary terms.

Mark-up answer choices – The process of elimination is one of the most important tools for success. Especially in reading and science, the only way an analysis answer can be true is if the entire statement is true. Read through the answers carefully, and if there are any inconsistencies, mark it. It will help narrow down your choices.

Work out mathematical problems – You cannot do every single math problem with your head and calculator alone. Variables and word-problems appear on the ACT frequently. To avoid confusion, write out all your variables and what they refer to in the problem. If it’s a complex problem, work it out on your booklet to avoid simple mistakes. You have a calculator, so use it! Under stressful time constraints, simple addition or division can lead to simple and maddening mistakes. Use the resources that are provided.

3.) Watch out for vocabulary and composition.

The vocabulary used in the English and Reading portions of the test can be tricky. If an answer choice includes “impossible,” “never,” or “always,” then it most likely isn’t the answer. Students commonly complain about having English/reading questions having answers that could all be considered correct. Remember, there’s always one correct answer. If two answers are similar or almost identical, then you can most likely cross those off. It wouldn’t be one or the other. Another scenario is when there are three broad answers and one specific answer. More often than not, the odd-man-out will be correct. This also works the other way around with three specific answers and one broad one.

4.) Start with your strengths.

This tip works for all sections. It’s quite simple. Start with the questions you find easiest and circle the harder ones. This way, you avoid stress early on. You won’t waste time dwelling on problems when there are easier ones to accomplish. Be sure to circle the problems you’ve skipped so you find them later on.

These tips will not guarantee a 36 on your first try. However, they will certainly help improve you in some way, shape, or form. Remember to simply breathe and stay calm.