The most important lesson you can learn as you study for the ACT is this: you can always improve your ACT score. You don’t need to be genius to raise your score, nor do you need infinite amounts of study time. Today, we’ll look at 9 easy ways to improve your ACT score.
1. Prioritize the Most Valuable Math Skills
ACT Math can seem overwhelming sometimes, especially if you don’t think of yourself as a “math person.” To make ACT Math manageable and to maximize your chances of a top ACT Math score, focus on the math skills that are most often tested on the exam. The majority of ACT Math problems deal with just three kinds of math: pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry. To get a closer look at these “big three” key ACT math skills, check out this breakdown of these key ACT math topics, and how to study for them.
2. Understand Both the Power and the Danger of the Calculator in ACT Math
You can use a calculator in ACT Math, and on especially hard problems, this can be a lifeline. But the funny thing about a calculator is that it’s really easy to hit the wrong key and get an answer that’s way off. Conversely, there are no “wrong keys” inside your mind. The more ACT Math calculations you are able to successfully do in your head, the fewer mistakes you’ll make on the exam. Be sensitive to this and avoid calculator use when you can. Speaking of which….
3. Practice Mental Math as Much as You Can
Build up those mental computation skills! Do this in your study sessions, but also do this in your daily life. Mentally calculate the totals (including sales tax!) when you buy things. Mentally figure your average times to get to school, or the number of tiles on your bathroom floor. Just keep those mental calculations running as much as possible. Practice makes perfect!
4. Read, Read, Read
In theory, you can prepare for ACT Reading just by going through ACT Reading practice passages. In reality, the best way to improve your ACT Reading score is to read all sorts of things. Don’t just read your ACT Prep books. Read movie reviews, news articles, magazines, newspapers, short stories, novels.… Develop a taste for reading and build reading skills by reading things you are genuinely interested in. To excel in ACT Reading, you need to love reading, and get very comfortable doing it.
5. Read Like a Critic
As you read various things, ask yourself just what the author is trying to accomplish. Also think critically about how the author attempts to accomplish his or her goals, and whether or not the author is doing a good job. This will give you a deeper understanding of anything you read. That benefit of “reading like a critic” is valuable in and of itself, and it can also help you improve your score in ACT Reading.
6. Study Literacy Devices
What is character? What is setting? How do authors imply things? What words do authors use to convey their unique voice or their emotional tone? All authors use certain literary devices to get their point across. Learn these literary devices, and you’ll know how to answer the toughest ACT Reading questions, the ones about the most subtle aspects of a given passage.
7. Study the Rules of Punctuation
The Internet is full of great punctuation guides, and you probably also have access to punctuation rules in some of your high school textbooks. There are even punctuation guides specifically designed to help you with ACT English (like this guide to commas on the ACT). Learn these rules and you’ll be ready to tackle some of the trickiest distinctions in the ACT Writing section.
8. Write, Write, Write
This goes hand-in-hand with “read, read, read.” Writing on a regular basis will help you better understand what you read in the ACT Reading section. Writing regularly also gives you the practice you need to choose the correct revisions in the ACT English section. And most obviously, writing practice helps you excel on the ACT Essay. So do real, substantive writing on a regular basis. Practice ACT Essays, but also keep a writing journal. If you post to social media, write whole paragraphs and really take pride in the written thoughts you’re sharing with your friends.
9. Take Full ACT Practice Tests From Reputable Sources
You’ll be more prepared for the ACT than ever if you’ve actually experienced the exam in full. Don’t just work on skills, and don’t just do sets of questions. Use the free full practice test on the ACT website, and take practice tests from reliable third-party ACT prep services such as Magoosh ACT.
David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent.