One Week ACT Study Guide

Test Tips
Mar 31st 2017

Looking for some last minute study tips to improve your ACT scores?  Check out this one week study plan for the upcoming ACT test.

ACT takes practice. It actually takes months of training, but if you have just found out you have a test coming up, or you've been practicing for months and want to make the most of the last week or so before your test, here's our action plan to max those scores. (You can totally adjust this plan based on your own weaknesses and strengths)

Your seven-day plan starts on the Saturday prior to the exam. Here's what you can do apart from staying calm and confident:

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Day 1: Simulation

Take a high fidelity ACT simulation test. This is to highlight strengths and weaknesses, so you need to stick to the time limits, but you don't have to do it all in one go, or in the same order. You may want to take your best subject first or you may want to take the section you're least confident about first. English is 45 minutes, Math is 60 minutes, Reading is 35 minutes and Science is 35 minutes. If you're taking the optional Essay section, you'll need another 40 minutes.

Take a break.

Analyze wrong answer choices. This is important because it's what you got wrong that you need to fix.

1. Concentrate on the things you do well to get an even higher score. (There is a limit to how many points you can add, but it's a great boost to confidence.)
2. Concentrate on the things you got wrong and work on those. (Even mastering a few extra skills on your weak areas can increase your points fast.) We recommend this approach as its easier to get a higher score.

Remember: Don't let an unexpectedly low simulation test score bring you down. Instead, see it as an opportunity for much needed correction, way ahead of time.

Day 2: The Drawing Board

Today, you want to analyze your Simulation and set test strategies for each section. There's a lot you can do, but remember to take plenty of breaks. Study in short bursts. 6 separate periods of 10 minute study are worth more than one concentrated hour, and 6 separate periods of 30 minute study spread throughout the day are better than 3 hours in one afternoon.

General Strategies


1. Concision & Precision—clearest and shortest expression of ideas
2. Sentence structure—simple to compound-complex + conjunctions
3. Adding, Deleting or Revising Information
4. Verbs—Tense + Subject-verb agreement
5. Word Choice—Specific meaning/purpose of words/phrases/sentences
6. Phrases
7. Commas—Listing, Joining, Gapping, Bracketing
8. Word Choice—Discourse markers
9. Opening, closing & transitional sentences
10. Word Choice - Meanings, synonyms and antonyms

- Skim the passage first so you get an idea of the content as well as the style/tone.

- Read the question and answer choices, then go back to the section of text. For underlined portions read the whole sentence, (and sometimes the one before and after) because a possible choice may be eliminated by something that happens elsewhere in the sentence.

- A useful strategy is to answer all of the questions within a paragraph before moving on.

- For paragraph or sentence order questions, or task achievement questions, or where to add information questions you need to keep an idea of the whole paragraph or text in mind.

- Don't be afraid to choose NO CHANGE. One in four answers will be A anyway, and not every underlined portion has an error in it.

- You need to be quick, but don't rush. (You've heard of the expression more haste, less speed, right?) If you go too fast you risk making a silly mistake.

- Make sure that your answer choice is grammatically correct and uses the least words possible while still making sense. (That's important, because some questions about concision aren't just about the shortest choice, but the shortest one that says what the author mean!)

- Be aware of ‘nil punctuation' questions. They're the ones where you don't need punctuation at all. Not every question with a period, semi-colon or comma actually needs one.

- Eliminate wrong answers that mean the same thing or take the same form. For example, if you need a continuous form of verb, but two verbs are in past simple and one is a synonym of the other, then both are wrong so you can eliminate them quickly. Similarly, if you're looking at discourse markers and one says "Despite" and another says "Although" but there's no contrast in the sentence, then you know both are wrong.

- Answer the question. That's sounds obvious, but it's surprising how many students don't answer the question. Any specific instructions will be in the stem, so if you're asked which choice "dramatically and vividly describes the scene" then make sure the description is dramatic and vivid: all the choices will be grammatically correct, but three of them will not be dramatic and/or vivid!

- Always keep the style and tone of the passage in mind. ACT texts are formal English, but not that formal. If a word doesn't fit the rest of the passage, then it's probably wrong.

- Always read the sentence with your answer choice substituting what's there. Not out loud, but out loud in your head, as it were, because that's often a good way to check if you have sentences in the right order, have used the right word choice or the best structure and so on. You can't talk in the ACT, but you can "vocalize" silently.

- If you simply can't figure out an answer and run out of time, don't forget to use your "guess" column to pencil in an answer.


More Math tips


1. Explicit Ideas
2. Implicit Ideas
3. Interpreting Meaning
4. Summing Up
5. Analyzing Purpose
6. Words in Context
7. Analyzing Function
8. Applying Information
9. Finding Evidence
10. Analyzing Method

- Some students like to read the questions first, so they know what to look out for when they skim the passage.

- Read the passage quickly but carefully, keeping in mind questions such as "what's the main idea of this paragraph?" and "what's that part for" or "what happened first" and so on. You can circle or underline text, but it's unlikely you'll have time to write notes.

- Read the question stem carefully. Think about key words and make sure you know exactly what the question is asking you about.

- Think about what your answer would be if there weren't any choices in front of you. If there's one that matches your idea, great! If there isn't, don't panic.

- Read the choices carefully, eliminating ones that can't be right.

Remember that if an answer is only partly wrong, the whole choice is wrong, so cross it out.
Also keep in mind that there is always one clearly right, justifiable answer.
Eliminate wrong answers that are just paraphrases of the same thing.
Watch out for negatives in the stems or answer choices.
Remember that often all the choices are true, but only one answers the question.

- You need to be quick, but don't rush. (More haste, less speed, again!) If you go too fast you risk making a silly mistake.

- Make sure that your answer choice is within the bounds of the passage. If the passage says the sky is yellow, don't choose the answer that says the sky is blue just because you know it is. This is a reading test, so the answer is in the passage in black and white or there are several great big clues in there pointing to the answer.

- If you simply can't figure out an answer and run out of time, don't forget to use your "guess" column to pencil in an answer.



If you have time, take sections of tests for practice. For example, you can take one passage of an English test or one section of a Math test to practice what you've reviewed. (Here are some great ACT study resources)

Day 3: English Practice

- Skim the passage quickly.
- Read the question carefully.
- Find the relevant section of text.
- Make your choice.
- Mark your bubble sheet.
- Use your "guess" column if you can't answer a question or it takes too long.

The time you take to answer each question will vary: some are easier than others so they will be quicker, but if you take more than 30 seconds for a question you'll probably run out of time. Some questions may only take 5 seconds.

Day 4: Math Practice

With a fresh mind, get an early start and go over the score summary from Day 1:


Then, Let the practice begin!


If you think endurance and time management is your problem, take another section simulation today.

Day 5: Reading Practice

- Read the passage quickly.
- Read the question carefully.
- Make your choice, checking back with the text if necessary.
- Mark your bubble sheet.
- Use your "guess" column if you can't answer a question or it takes too long.

The time you take to answer each question will vary: some are easier than others so they will be quicker, but if you take more than 30 seconds for a question you'll probably run out of time. Some questions may only take 5 seconds.

Day 6: Science Practice

Today is Science Day! Take out the test you did on Day 1:

Look out for those careless mistakes, errors made from choosing the wrong answer option due to reading the question incorrectly or missing a minor detail, errors made because you did not understand the scientific content, then make notes!

Now, practice time!

Day 7: Get Ready for Test Day

This is the day before test day. If there are one or two things you want to check up one, that's fine, but spending the night before the test cramming information in (which you won't remember tomorrow) is a waste of energy.

1. National test days (like Saturday 8th) have an 8:00am reporting time, but that's the latest time: most institutions allow a very narrow window for arrival – from 7:45-8:00. Don't arrive at 8:05 with the excuse that there was a lot of traffic and expect to be allowed in: you won't be. Make sure you allow plenty of time.

2. You will need to take:

- A printout of your ACT admission ticket. You can't get into the test without it, so print it, and put it somewhere safe.

- A photo ID – make sure it's an acceptable form. Examples include your school or city/state/federal government ID which shows your name and a current photograph appear (for example, driver's license or passport). Without this, you will not be allowed to take the test.

- Several Number 2 pencils and an effective eraser. "Effective" is important: if you don't completely wipe out a wrong answer, the machine which reads the bubble sheets may think there are two answers and will void the question: you lose a mark.

- A calculator if you want to use one. It has to be a certain kind, and if you try to take a calculator that doesn't follow the rules, they'll take it away from you. If you decide to use one, make sure it has new batteries (or take spares). Questions on the Math test are designed to be doable in your head or on paper.

- A watch to keep a check on the time as your progress through each test. Make sure is doesn't have an alarm, or that an alarm can't go of because you'll be disqualified if it does! The invigilator will tell you when there are five minutes left in each part of the test, but you may be in a room where there isn't a clock, so a watch will be useful.

- You can also pack a snack and some water or juice which you can have in the break between tests. You'll be told where to put your bag (it may be under the desk in your test room, or in a designated area outside, so make sure you don't have any valuables in there.)

Test Day!

Today is the big day, but keep things in perspective. It's an exam, not an execution. Some students won't perform as well as they could, others will do better than they expected. Sometimes it's down to the nature of the questions on that particular test. Just watch your time and do your best. Remember that you can take the ACT again if you want.

- Different test centers send candidates to their allotted exam rooms in different ways. Sometimes you'll be told to meat in a central auditorium and then sent off to the exam room from there, or you may have to check a registration list which says which room to go to based on your name or candidate number.

- In the room test staff will show you to a table. (Candidates are often seated in alphabetical order.) Make sure you tell staff if you are left handed so they can seat you in an appropriate place.

- If you need the bathroom or feel ill during the exam, tell a member of staff. You can take a bathroom break but you don't get any extra time and you may be accompanied to make sure you don't contact anyone or discuss the exam.

- If you can't finish the test for any reason (it can happen) tell a member of staff that you don't want your test to be scored, otherwise you'll get marks for the sections you complete and a very low overall score.

- Do the papers in the order of the test (1=English, 2=Math, [break] 3=Reading, 4=Science, [break] Optional Writing test.)

- If you finish a test before time is called, go back and check every bubble on your sheet is completed, there are no doubles and no badly erased marks.

- If there's a particular question you aren't sure of, go back and check, but be very, very careful about changing an answer. Nine times out of ten your first answer is correct.

- You are NOT allowed to go back to a previous section and you are not allowed to take a sneaky peek at the next tests: if you're caught, you could be disqualified, so don't be tempted.

- Within each test, you can do the questions in any order you like, but it's probably best to start at the beginning and work through to the end. That way you're less likely to miss something out or put an answer in the wrong place.

After the test…

Once the test is over, don't fret about how you've done. You can't change anything, so just wait for the results. The good news for candidates taking April, June or December tests is that you can ask for the papers and check your answers. If you take the test on other dates, you won't know where you went wrong.

If you get the score you need GREAT! Go celebrate!

If you didn't, then you need to plan for another test. (Do I need an ACT retake?)

According to ACT, the benchmark scores for college entrance are 18 in English, 22 in Math and Reading and 23 in Science, with an overall composite of 21. However, different schools have different requirements so to get into a top school, you'll need a top score.

If your score is 10 points below your target, you need at least 120 hours of study. At two hours a day – just on ACT, and only 5 days a week, that's 3 months' worth of dedicated study. If you only need two or three more points, but the target is already high (like you need 30 to get into the school you want) then you'll still need around 30 hours of study.

So, whatever your target, you can get better, and you can take the exam again.

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Good luck!