Don’t know how to study for the ACT? You’re in luck. The best practices for studying for the ACT include good study strategy, starting your test prep early, and knowing what to expect on the day of your test. Acing your ACT is important, since a good score can improve your chances of getting into college, from the to ! In this blog, we’ll walk you through every step of how to study for the ACT, from your pre-study test prep to how to study for each section of the test.
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How to study for the ACT begins with good pre-planning. Just like , to prepare yourself to study efficiently and effectively for the ACT, you need to start early and get organized. This will save you some time and stress when you get into the actual studying for the test, since you’ll have any pressing questions answered and have clear, set goals before you start studying.
#1 Start As Early As Possible
Starting your ACT test prep as early as you can is very important. Not just because you want to give yourself enough time to actually study for the exam, but you need time for your pre-studying prep steps, too. It can take some time to gather all your study materials, create a study timeline and even search for an .
Most high school students won’t take the ACT until their junior or senior year, but your prep can start even earlier than that as you start to think about which colleges you want to apply to. Some , but some prefer the ACT to the SAT, which may influence your decision of whether to take the . It’s good to know well ahead of time whether you need to take just the ACT, or both tests and have yourself organized so you can dive right into studying.
#2 Choose Your Study Materials
Taking the time to find good study resources and choose which ones you’ll use is important. There are hundreds of ACT study tools out there, from prep books, videos, study apps, tutoring services, even your high school course notes. It’s worth figuring out which resources work best for your study habits and best learning, rather than trying to include every single resource and getting overwhelmed or spending precious study time researching better study methods.
The study strategies and resources you use should be something you decide on first, so you can gather all the resources you need ahead of time. This will help minimize distractions during your study time and make the most of the prep time you have.
#3 Take an ACT Practice Test
One of the first steps you should take is to write an ACT practice test. This serves as a sort of “diagnostic” of where you are, which sections or aspects of the test were difficult for you and where your knowledge gaps are. This is critical information, since you’ll use this baseline practice test to inform your studying. Which content areas are your weakest, how your time management is, how many points you need to improve your score by, and so on.
Take note of the questions or subjects you found trickiest, any sections where you performed well, and what your score was. If you have a target ACT score, determine how far away you are from your ideal score and how much study time you estimate you’ll need to reach it.
#4 Set Your ACT Test Date
It’s important to set your ACT test date ahead of time, since there are only a few offered each year, and you should give yourself a buffer in case you need to reschedule. This way, you can also decide whether you want 1 month, 2 months, 3 months or more to study for the test. It’s important to also pick a test date that gives you time to release your final scores to your chosen colleges, before the application deadlines are closed.
#5 Create Your ACT Study Schedule
With your test date set, your study materials ready and a practice test under your belt, you can create a realistic and effective ACT study schedule. You’ll be able to structure your study schedule to suit your college application timeline and your personal schedule. You’ll also know whether to schedule more studying hours for certain subjects or sections of the test. Having an organized and ready study schedule is far more efficient than jumping right into studying and trying to figure it out as you go along, so it’s worth spending a little time to write everything down in your calendar ahead of time.
#6 Consider ACT Study Help
This is an optional step, but finding some expert ACT study help, whether through a tutor or , can be a huge help. If you decide you’d like the extra help, it’s better to start the search early on so you have time to find the right fit and set up your study sessions.
Once you’ve completed all these pre-study prep steps, you’ll be ready to dive into ACT studying whenever you’re ready!
The ACT’s content and structure is similar to that of the SAT, with some notable differences. For example, the ACT includes a science test, and fewer mathematics questions, whereas the SAT has a great deal more math concepts and no science section. The ACT also has a stricter time limit, with most sections giving you less than a minute per question.
Some students prefer the ACT over the SAT, or they may decide to take both. The choice depends on what your target colleges accept or prefer, and your own preferences based on the test content. If you’re wondering if instead, try taking a practice SAT test and a practice ACT test as a dry run and see which one you like better.
Here’s an overview of the ACT’s different sections, number of questions and time limits.
The challenge of the ACT for most students is the short time constraints for most of the sections, or the content. For instance, if you’re a strong science student but struggle with English and Reading. Fortunately, there are excellent study strategies for each section of the ACT, and strategies that can help you improve your time management. We’ll cover our test subject guide to ace the ACT next.
If you want to know who to study for the ACT effectively, you need to master the two “elements” of the test. The content, or subject tests, and the time crunch. We’ll go over our best tips for each section of the ACT, plus some tips that apply to all parts of the test.
#1 Take Regular Practice Tests
Taking regular practice tests during your studying is a must. Try using the official ACT practice tests throughout your study time. It’s the best way to become familiar with the real test, both its content, timing and structure. It will also help you develop your “test stamina”. The ACT is a long test, and it can be tough to sit for 3+ hours and maintain mental focus. Incorporating practice tests will help you build up your mental focus and overcome fatigue during the real thing.
Taking practice tests and reviewing your results also helps you see where you’re making mistakes and identifying what you still need to work on. Review the answers you got wrong so you can understand why you chose the wrong answer and what the right answer is so you can avoid making the same mistake twice.
With regular practice tests, you’ll also be able to see what progress you’re making towards your goal and it can be a nice motivation for you.
#2 Practice Good Time Management
Practice tests are also the best way to work on your time management. Take both untimed and timed practice tests, so you can track which sections are slowing you down the most or where you’re struggling to choose the right answer.
Practice multiple-choice answer strategy
For some students, they debate the correct answer and use up valuable time. If this is a weak point for you, practice using the “cross-out” method where you choose two of the wrong answers on a multiple-choice question. Then choose the most correct of the remaining answers. If you’re unsure, take a guess. The ACT doesn’t penalize you for wrong answers, so you have a 50/50 chance of answering correctly in most cases if you eliminate obviously wrong answers first.
Improve your reading comprehension
If reading comprehension is what’s taking up the most time, or you’re a slow reader, set weekly reading assignments for yourself. Reading comprehension will improve with regular practice, so read widely and read often. You can also practice highlighting the key points in a text, or summarizing texts to identify the most important information and phrases. This will train your eyes to pick out the most critical information in a text more quickly, so you don’t get too bogged down in the details.
#3 Read Widely and Read Often
Read, read and read!
Reading widely and often is the best way to prepare for the English and Reading tests on the ACT. These sections are all about reading comprehension, critical thinking and analysis. Read different texts on a variety of subjects to start training your brain on analyzing an author’s point of view, their use of language and how they build their argument. It also doesn’t hurt to review the rules of grammar, sentence structure and punctuation, and practice looking for errors or instances where the text could be clearer.
Review the English and Reading Test key concepts
Here are some of the concepts you’ll need to understand for the English and Reading tests on the ACT:
English Grammar and Sentence Structure:
- Subject-verb agreement
- Adjective and adverbs
- Proper Sentence structure
- Coordination and subordination
- Understanding the author's purpose and point of view
- Understanding the main idea of a passage
- Analyzing a writer's style, tone, and voice
- Understanding the relationship between ideas in a passage
- Effective and ineffective language use
- Clarity of ideas
- Creating and using effective transitions in a text
- Creating text coherence and clarity
- Maintaining a consistent tone and style throughout a passage
#4 Review Math Concepts
Review ACT math concepts and practice solving problems
The ACT has fewer match concepts than the SAT, but it’s important to review the foundational concepts you can expect to see on the exam, including algebra I and II, trigonometry and geometry. Practice questions will be the best way to study here, since the more you practice these higher-level math concepts the more they will sink in and help you understand how to arrive at the correct answer.
Learn how to use your calculator!
It’s also important to understand how to use your calculator effectively. Practice typing in different functions and solving for different problems with some practice ACT math questions. The better you understand how to use your calculator and the more comfortable you are using it, the more time you’ll save in the real test environment. This way, you won’t use up precious time trying to remember how to input an equation or what calculator function to use!
#5 Brush Up on Science Subjects
Review science course notes
Just like for a high school science subject test, reviewing the concepts you studied in biology, chemistry and physics is important. Your course notes can come in handy here for a refresher. However, on the ACT you’ll be reading scientific texts, research summaries and analyzing scientific data in graphs, charts and other visual aids.
Learn how to read scientific texts and data
So, while content review is important for this section, it’s also a good idea to understand how to read graphs and visual data representations quickly and effectively. Read a variety of scientific texts on different subjects. Study any accompanying graphs to see how the data represented relates to and enhances the text. Identify the most important data in the graph or chart and what it’s saying. Summarize the text or results in your own words or try to teach the results to someone else.
Just like the English and Reading section, this part of the test is reading-heavy and relies on your ability to quickly pick out the most important information and draw conclusions.
#6 Write Practice Essays
If you plan to write the optional essay portion of the ACT, all of the reading you’ll be doing will certainly help. The other way to “study” for this section of the test is to practice your writing, of course!
During your practice tests, include the essay. Choose a topic, subject or use a relevant writing prompt and write a “practice essay”. This will help you develop your writing skills, but it will also prepare you for the extra time it will take to write your essay during the real test, since it adds 40 minutes to your total test time.
When you’re writing practice essays, take the time to brainstorm, too. Write down your ideas, create a brief outline or summary, and then get down to writing. This exercise can be done during the real ACT, too, to help your organize your thoughts and prevent writer’s block. It will give you a clear structure to work with when writing your essay and allow you to identify any ideas that don’t work or details that aren’t needed. In the end, you’ll have a more concise, polished and effective essay to show for it!
Studying for the ACT efficiently includes following the best study practices! Every student might study a bit differently, but the core of studying is accountability, commitment and organization. Here are a few extra tips on how to study for the ACT the best.
Preparing for ACT test day is just as important. You may have already reviewed what to bring to the ACT and what to expect on test day on the ACT website . If you haven’t, do so well before your test!
It’s a good idea to pack everything you need to bring to the test ahead of time so you’re not rushing the morning of. As always, get a good night’s sleep, dress comfortably and eat a good breakfast before your test. Remember to make plans to arrive at your testing center early and make a checklist of the important items you need, like your photo ID and admission ticket.
This way, there will be no surprises for you to throw off your game on test day, and you’ll be much more relaxed for this important exam.
Lastly, take a few deep breaths, and good luck!
1. What is the best way to study for the ACT?
One of the best ways to study for the ACT is to use regular practice tests. Practice tests are the closest simulation to the real thing, especially if you take the . Take timed and untimed practice tests to get familiar with the test content, identify where you are making errors, improve your test timing and track your progress.
2. How long should you study for the ACT?
We recommend around 3 months to study for the ACT, although some students can ace it with 1 or 2 months of studying, and other students might want 4 months to prepare. More than 6 months is not advisable, since you might experience study fatigue and forget what you’ve learned. Less than 1 month and you risk not giving your studying time to sink in. Depending on your target score and your initial practice test score, you can set your study timeline to suit the number of hours you can devote to studying and how much you need to improve.
3. Is the ACT easier than the SAT?
Generally, it depends on the student. Some students find the SAT harder because it has more math content, while others might find the timing of the ACT harder to master. Both tests are quite similar, but the small differences between them may make one of them more “difficult” for you than the other. You can try a practice test for both the SAT and ACT to determine which one is better for you to take.
4. Can I study for the ACT by myself?
Yes, it’s more than possible to self-study for the ACT and ace it. Some students might prefer the help of a tutor, but it is not a requirement. Plenty of students score well on the ACT with disciplined self-study and effective test-taking strategies.
5. Should I take the ACT or the SAT?
The decision whether to take the ACT or the SAT (or both) comes down to your personal preferences and the requirements of your target colleges. Some colleges accept both, or have a preference for one or the other. On the other hand, you may prefer to take the ACT because it features less math content than the SAT. Review the content of both tests, or even take a practice test or two to determine which one is stronger for you.
6. What is a good ACT score?
A good ACT score is considered above the 75th percentile, or a score of 24 and above.
7. What math subjects are on the ACT?
The ACT features algebra, geometry and some trigonometry. In general, it has fewer math concepts than the SAT, and slightly less advanced mathematical formulas. The use of a calculator is permitted throughout the ACT.
8. What is the easiest ACT subject?
The easiest ACT subject may be different for each student, but in general the English section is considered the easiest to study for because it covers basic grammar rules and rhetorical skills.