1. The essay has changed
Many students recall the ACT essay as a cakewalk, with prompts debating the merits of school uniforms being about as intellectual rigors as you’d get. Well, those days are now over and the essay is much more difficult and nuanced than that. As an educator I’d argue it is definitely a step in the right direction. As students you might not necessarily agree.
One thing you can do is learn the ins and outs of the new essay. First off, the prompt consists of three perspectives on an issue. Your job is to take a position on the issue. Your position doesn’t have to be the same as those offered in the three perspectives, but you do have to say how your perspective relates to the three offered. It sort of like juggling three balls—while doing jumping jacks. So make sure you take a look at several practice prompts and, most importantly, the sample essays. That way you’ll see what the graders are looking for.
2. There are no vocabulary-based questions
When people think of standardized tests, they often think of long vocabulary words. This was the case with the old SAT and, to a degree, with the new SAT. However, the ACT has always shied away from sophisticated vocabulary. Sure, a reading passage might have a word or two that are challenging. But whether you can answer a question correctly will never be based on whether you understand a word. Also, there are no questions that directly test vocabulary. So don’t feel like you have to dust off your Webster’s dictionary, just to do well on the ACT.
3. You can use a calculator on all of the math section
It’s easy to get stuff from the ACT and new SAT mixed up. After all, the new SAT is a lot more like the ACT than it was the old SAT. But there are still some major differences between the new SAT and the ACT. For one, you are free to use your calculator for all of the ACT math section. So if mental math is the bane of your existence, you can breathe a sigh of relief.
4. There is a new ACT guide out
For many years, the only “real” ACT tests available to the public were from before 2010 and were found in the “Official ACT prep guide.” This was problematic because the test had changed greatly, becoming much more difficult. Unaware, students would take the ACT practice tests in the guide and then be in for a rude awakening during the test. But as of this year, we finally have a new guide that might be as current as to have an ACT practice test 2015, or at least a smattering of these questions. That said, the book still has some old questions smattered in there. Still, there is no book that contains official questions and a practice test. So if you want to see how you’ll likely do come test day, make sure to buy this guide. And just to see how your practice test scores stack up against the rest of the nation, here is a helpful breakdown of the average ACT score by state.
For the last ten years, Chris Lele has been helping students excel on the SAT, ACT and GRE. In this time, he’s coached 5 students to a perfect SAT score. Some of his GRE students have raised their scores by nearly 400 points. He has taken many GMAT students from the doldrums of the 600s to the coveted land of the 700+. Rumor has it he does a secret happy dance when his students get a perfect score. You can read Chris’s awesome blog posts on the Magoosh High School Blog, and study with his lessons using Magoosh SAT Prep.
• The ACT Essay: A Breakdown
• Banish Outdated ACT Prep Resources
• 5 Ways to Increase Your Admission Test Score