There’s a big sea of ACT test prep out there. When you decide to start studying for the exam, it can be tricky to know where to start. But ACT prep doesn’t have to be overwhelming! With these five ACT tips and the best free ACT resources, you’ll be well on your way to making the exam work for you in the college admissions process.
1. Know Where You Stand. If you don’t know where you’re starting from, how will you get to where you want to go? The first thing every student should do in the ACT prep process is to take a “diagnostic” exam. This will help you identify exactly what you need to work on to succeed on test day (in other words, “diagnosing” you). ACT practice tests will be your best friend throughout this process, so start getting used to them now! The best way to learn the test is by taking it, and then studying what you’ve done—and how you did it.
2. Know Your Strategies. Are you more drawn to fiction or history? To experiments or theories? To coordinate geometry or algebra? It’s not vital that you take the entire ACT in the order that it’s given—instead, skim each section as you approach it so that you can focus on your strengths. This will make sure that, on this time-pressured exam, you make the most out of the time that you do have. Furthermore, it’ll give you confidence as you move forward into areas with which you might be less comfortable.
3. Know Your Goals. Before you go into the exam, it’s a good idea to have some idea of which colleges you want to apply to. Even if you don’t have your definitive list down, getting some idea of the ACT score range at your dream schools will help you know what you’re aiming for.
4. Take Small Steps to Big Goals. Once you set your goals, though, realize that you won’t get there overnight. If you’re consistently scoring in the low 20s overall, it can be really discouraging to expect a miracle to occur between practice tests. Instead, focus on question categories (main ideas, triangles, scientific graphs, prepositions) and work on improving in those areas. That way, there’ll always be progress to celebrate—and you’ll be better able to see exactly where you’ve made strides.
5. Zero in on the Best Resources. Practice makes perfect, right? Not if you’re practicing with bad materials! Work with the best ACT prep materials to make sure that you’re preparing yourself with the most accurate questions out there. The ACT organization’s online prep is an outstanding place to get materials straight from the test-maker. Magoosh has a number of free resources as well, including flashcard and prep apps, a free ACT study guide eBook, and, of course, a free full-length ACT practice test, to start your studying off right!
David Recine 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. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life.