Whether you’re just starting your ACT prep or you’re months in, beating your head against the wall, let’s talk about the best way to start approaching your ACT prep. While you might be studying a little bit of each section every day, or studying sections in chunks, you probably already know that it’s a good idea to study for one ACT test (section) at a time, except when you’re taking full-length ACT practice tests. But did you know that there are also techniques you can use to master each ACT section? It’s true!
While you’ll find that there are a lot of problems and not that much time to answer them in on the ACT English section, don’t panic! The questions are short, so don’t worry about speeding through them. In fact, spending an extra second or two correctly identifying the type or problem you’re looking at will earn you an extra few points in this section. Off to a great start!
You’re under no obligation to do the ACT Math problems in the order they’re given. If this section is your Achilles Heel, the best thing to do is to take an extra minute at the beginning of the section and go through it, marking the “low-hanging fruit,” or problems that will be easier for you. That way, if you run out of time, you’ll know that you didn’t miss out on a ton of easy points while you were trying to solve that one hard problem! (Tip: If you have a thorough ACT study guide, you may not need to skip any questions on test day!)
What’s true for ACT Math is also true for ACT Reading—except in this case, it’s a good idea to start with whatever kind of passage you find most interesting. The passages on the test aren’t going to get more interesting anytime soon, but you can get yourself off to a strong start simply by starting with what interests you more. When we get bored, we get more sluggish—why set yourself up for that?
A common mistake students make on ACT Science is trying to solve problems using actual science. (I know that sounds counterintuitive!) Actually, the ACT Science section is all about scientific reasoning. So if you’re stuck trying to remember a fact from chemistry, don’t panic. Go back to the passage and see if the information’s there. This section is all about seeing if you know how to use information that’s presented to you to make inferences, so don’t overthink the science!
The biggest mistake students make on ACT Writing actually happens well before test day—and it’s not practicing. When it comes to the ACT Essay, just thinking about what your thesis would be or what examples you’d use isn’t enough. It’s a good start, but it’s not enough. On test day, you’ll need endurance as much as anything—and the best time to start building it is during those weekly practice tests. I know it’s hard to give up the extra time now…but like all your ACT practice, it’ll pay off in the end!
Rachel Kapelke-Dale is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London.