One of the most important steps US high school students can take to prepare for college is to take the ACT. Most American colleges and universities require that a student demonstrate acceptable standardized test scores, such as those from the ACT, to be admitted to the institution. Usually, the more competitive the college, the higher a score a student will need to achieve on the ACT.
Because of the importance the ACT plays in college admission, high school students should understand the significance and implications of the test and prepare accordingly. There are many helpful resources available for students to aid in studying for the test. Some of these include online and in-person preparation and tutoring classes, as well as their accompanying study materials.
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You may have already taken or plan to take the SAT or another standardized test, but be aware that the nuances and requirements for all tests are different. Focusing on the specific information on the ACT will help you be successful and earn the score you want. ACT questions will differ from those of other tests, so it is important to understand the ACT prep material thoroughly.
Taking the ACT and doing well on it are vital parts of preparing for college. Be sure to research the test requirements and material thoroughly, and make the best decisions you can when planning your study approach. Also be sure to allow plenty of time for yourself to prepare for this important test.
The purpose of the ACT
The ACT is a standardized test (much like the SAT) that measures a student’s knowledge from high school and readiness for college. It features four main test areas (math, English, reading, and science), and some colleges also require the optional ACT writing test. Students can achieve a score between one and thirty-six in each part of the test for an average overall composite score.
Universities use these scores for admissions purposes and to get an overall understanding of a student’s capability. This is a good predictor of the student’s success in college. In general, the higher a student scores on the ACT, the better chance they have of getting into their preferred university or higher education institution.
ACT scores also can determine the amount of scholarship funding a student may receive. Especially if you are going to rely on financial aid or attempt to get an academic scholarship, it is very important to do as well as possible on the ACT. Make sure to have a thorough understanding of the minimum scores required for any goals you have set for specific colleges or scholarship applications.
Overall, ACT’s purpose is also aimed at helping you compensate for anything you may not be happy about with your high school record. For example, if your GPA isn’t quite as high as you would like, but you earn a high ACT score, this can greatly improve your chances of getting into the school you desire. In that same vein, if you don’t have a lot of extracurricular activities, but you earn a great score on the ACT, that can definitely give you a boost in the eyes of the universities you apply to.
How to prepare for the ACT
When beginning to devise your plan of preparing for the test, make sure you are honest with yourself about the way that you learn the best. Set aside some time to come up with a study plan that will work for you, taking into account all the demands you have on your time (such as a part-time job, volunteer work, sports, or extracurricular activities). It is important that you set yourself up for success right from the beginning of your preparation.
Subjects on the ACT
The ACT covers the four main subjects listed above (English, math, reading, and science), and there is also an optional writing portion. Some colleges require the writing test, so it is important to determine before designing a study plan whether you will take the writing test. If you are unsure about which school to attend, or if you’re applying to many different schools, you should plan on taking the writing portion.
Breaking down the ACT
Before a student starts to prepare for the ACT, it is important for him or her to know what the test encompasses. Each section uses different approaches and has different requirements, so students will need strategies to prepare for each one. Here is information about each of the four portions along with an overview of the fifth optional portion—the writing section.
The ACT English test features passages of texts and essays that a test taker will need to be sure to read and examine closely. Students will need to use the language and writing skills they’ve developed in high school to answer sometimes complex questions related to revising and editing text. Test takers will also need to demonstrate a strong grasp of grammar and spelling.
The ACT math test poses questions related to math skills students typically should gain through grade eleven. This is where beginning test preparation in your sophomore year will come in handy. If you encounter information on the math portion of the test that you are not yet familiar with, you can be sure to ask your teacher for help with this type of information.
To be successful in the math test, a test taker will need to know basic formulas and have computational skills. A student will also need to understand the wording of the questions, which can sometimes be complicated.
The reading test of the ACT measures a student’s capability for reading comprehension and using logistical and evidence-based reasoning. Test takers will be required to exhibit close-reading skills and successfully put together information from different sources. Students will find that questions center around determining main ideas, finding details, comparing different reading passages, and determining the meanings of words and phrases.
The ACT science test gauges a test taker’s proficiency in natural science skills and understanding. Passages present scientific scenarios, and a student must then answer multiple-choice questions based on the reading passage presented. Students will need to suitably demonstrate their knowledge and skills in biology, chemistry, physics, and earth/space sciences.
Finally, the optional writing test poses an essay question that will measure a student’s writing skills. A test taker will need to demonstrate an ability to write at least at a first-year college level. The optional test presents a writing prompt and asks the student to detail their own perspective.
The optional ACT writing test will feature an essay that will need to be structured in a certain way and will not offer multiple choice questions like much of the rest of the test. Thus, it is important to be thoroughly prepared for the writing portion so you will know what to expect. Because you may end up applying to a school you had not originally planned on applying to, it is usually a good idea to go ahead and take the optional writing test even if your number one school choice doesn’t require it.
Preparing to take the ACT
There is a wide variety of preparation strategies available to you to help you take the ACT. These include online classes, in-person tutoring options, and ACT practice tests. In general, it is advisable to begin studying your sophomore year of high school to be fully ready to take this test the following year—and to do well on it.
The ACT can be challenging, and your score on this test is one of the main factors that determines your eligibility for furthering your education at your preferred college or university. Thus, it is very important to devise a thorough plan to ensure that you have prepared enough before taking this significant test. Here are the main steps to consider when preparing:
- Step one: Decide when you wish to take the ACT (or when the ACT is offered next). As always, the more time you have to prepare, the better off you will be. There are hard deadlines to take the test, so be sure you are aware of these dates well in advance. For example, for 2021, the test will be on February 6, and the deadline to register is set for January 15.
- Step two: Officially sign up to take the test. You can find information on where and when the test is offered on the official ACT website. On the official site, you can also register and find specific information about the test to get answers to any specific questions you may have.
- Step three: Be sure to take a practice test to establish your baseline score. This will help you gain a good understanding of what your starting point is and identify any areas that need more specific focus over the course of your study and ACT preparation.
- Step four: Determine the best test preparation plan for your specific needs and learning style and obtain the needed materials. After you choose the test prep plan that is best suited for you, you can then register for your preferred in-person or online test prep program.
- Step five: Dedicate time to studying and fully complete all aspects of your chosen test preparation program. After you have chosen your test prep method, take some time to make a study schedule that is realistic and that you are committed to keeping.
- Step six: Once you have had a chance to study and fully grasp all aspects of the test, take at least one more practice test to monitor your progress. Based on that score, you may need to adjust your studies or go back and revisit certain specific sections. You may also decide to take an additional practice test, but in general it will be more important to focus on your study materials and preparation strategies rather than continuing to take practice tests.
There are many study tips available to help you prepare to take the test. It is important to note that, just like studying for your regular high school classes, simply reading over your chosen study guides and cramming in test information at the last minute are not effective strategies. You need to be sure you are actively engaging in the study material to retain all the knowledge and tips you will need to know for the test.
Length of preparation you will need for the ACT
This timeline can be a bit different for each person, depending on what your strengths and weaknesses are going into the study period. It also depends on how far in advance you are able to start studying. For example, if you don’t have much time to study and you are very strong in math but have lower scores in reading, you would probably need to devote more of your valuable study time preparing for the reading section.
A rough estimate is that for every one composite point you wish to improve in your score, you should spend approximately ten hours studying. This amount of time can be quite a commitment, which is why the earlier you begin studying, the better. Studying for a few hours a week for a year would certainly be easier (and more effective) than trying to cram in dozens of study hours the few weeks leading up to the test.
Also keep in mind that you are more likely to retain the information you need for the test if you allow yourself time to completely study the information several times. The more familiar you can become with the material, the higher your chances of success on the test.
Free official ACT practice tests
The official ACT website offers a program for test takers that is called ACT Academy. Within the ACT Academy, you can create a user profile to gain free access to a number of helpful preparation resources, including ACT practice tests. Be sure that you create a profile on the ACT website early in your preparation process to be able to take advantage of all the tools they offer.
How can the free practice tests help prepare you for the ACT?
Free practice tests are such a great way to prepare for taking the ACT. Even though taking the practice test may seem daunting at first, by taking an initial practice test, you can probably save yourself some time in the long run by pinpointing the specific areas in which you need the most work.
Once you have taken the initial ACT practice exam to establish your starting point, plan to take at least one more practice test before the actual ACT. This will ensure that you have met your intended or goal score and that your course of study and preparation has been successful. Of course, if your second test reveals that you still have areas that you are not happy with, you may need to study more in these specific subjects to ensure that you are fully prepared.
Best ACT practice tests for students
There are a variety of other free online practice tests available to you. The best place to start, though, is the official ACT website since you can be sure to get the most up-to-date information there. You can also ask your guidance counselor, tutor, test prep contact, or school adviser for any free resources they recommend and let them point you in the right direction.
Studying for the ACT for free
If cost is a concern of yours when finding appropriate test prep, there are some resources that you can utilize for free. Check your school media center or local library for copies of current official ACT prep guides. Your guidance counselor office may also have information about free ACT prep resources.
Again, the ACT website has some resources for free test prep. There are also other online resources for you to obtain free preparation materials, including flash cards, ACT study guides, and test-taking strategy tips. With a little time invested online, you can find a number of free materials at your disposal.
There are also a number of websites, including ThriftBooks, that offer hard copy ACT study guides at very low prices. If you choose to order some of these books, or if you find free copies at the library, just be sure that they are recent enough to apply to the year you are taking the test and that they are not outdated.
Online resources for ACT prep
There are some excellent online resources for ACT test prep. Finding an online prep source will be beneficial for you simply due to convenience. You can fit the prep into your schedule easily, and an online class should be able to flow without interruption by anything beyond your control, such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
Assessing the top ACT prep courses
The best way to assess whether an ACT course is right for you is to first take a practice test to evaluate the areas you need to work on. Then, select a course that covers all the areas that you are concerned about.
Convenience of online ACT prep for those who are studying
A self-paced online course will be extremely beneficial for students who need to fit studying into busy schedules. An online course generally offers courses that students can take at their own pace, which is another reason that preparing well in advance is key. For a self-paced study, students should easily be able to work in a few hours of studying per week.
Best online ACT prep
The official ACT website is a comprehensive place to start. It offers free resources for you, as well as their recommended preparation materials and online courses. Other online ACT prep expert sites include Princeton Review, Kaplan, and Peterson’s.
Top ACT prep courses
There are some great ACT prep courses available, both online and in person. Make sure to take your own personal learning style into account when deciding which one is right for you. Because the majority of students prefer to take online courses at their own pace, there are many options available for you to go this route.
Components of great ACT online test prep courses
Depending on your needs, there are a variety of online ACT prep courses that will be suitable. You can find some research online that gives some pros and cons for various courses. Take into account such factors as how many practice questions they have available, what previous students have rated them, and whether they offer feedback.
You may wish to start with one, such as Magoosh ACT prep or PrepScholar that offers a free trial. With one of these options, you can try it out to see if it fits your needs. If it does, great; if not, you can move on without paying anything.
Some of the top ACT prep courses
Magoosh has a great ACT prep course that you can customize to your schedule and needs. Green Test Prep is another great option that is a bit more expensive but offers a higher score guarantee. One of ACT’s recommended courses of study is also their official self-paced study course designed by Kaplan.
Choosing the ACT prep course that is best for you
When choosing the ACT prep or tutoring service that is right for you, spend a few minutes first thinking about your particular learning style. Are you organized enough to design a study plan for yourself, or do you need a course that will help you arrange your time? Be sure to ask for input from your parents, adviser, or guidance counselor to help make your selection.
What to expect on test day
You will likely have many questions that arise concerning what you can expect on the actual test day. Make sure as you are studying that you write down and keep track of any questions you have so that you can be sure to answer them before test day. Your questions may range from what to bring with you to getting directions to the actual test location.
Make sure that you have your ticket to bring with you on test day. If you lose your ticket, make sure you have replaced it before the day of the test. You will also need to bring a photo ID and a mask, based on local COVID-19 requirements.
Like the SAT standardized test, you will need to also bring number two pencils. The test center will allow you to bring a permitted calculator, so make sure that you are aware of which ones are OK to bring. You may also wish to bring some snacks and water because there will be a short break after the first two tests.
Make sure you are aware of the reporting time for the ACT (usually 8:00 a.m.). Make plans to be sure you are there on time, and plan to be there until about 12:30 p.m. If you are taking the optional ACT writing test, you should plan for about an hour longer than that.
Most standardized test rules will apply. You may not bring outside materials such as a textbook, a dictionary, or other reading material. You also will not be allowed to bring electronic devices, including your cell phone or smart watch, so be sure to leave these items at home or in your car when you go in to take the test.
Knowing what to expect on test day is important. Be sure that you are familiar with the rules, and check them periodically throughout your prep period to make sure nothing has changed. It will help you study and prepare, and knowing what will happen and having a plan ready will keep your pretest anxiety at a minimum.
Considerations for college
Before or while you are studying for the ACT, you will probably be making other preparations for college. While choosing college majors, be sure you are researching, for example, whether your preferred institution will require the ACT optional writing test. You can also look up the ACT scores that the colleges you are interested in will require.
If you are currently uncertain as to what degree you may be interested in, you can always research the best degrees for you. Just like there are many options to study for the ACT online, there are a number of online degrees available to you. Be sure to involve your parents, guardians, or guidance counselor in your planning and questions about preparing for college.
In conclusion, there are a lot of considerations that go into preparing for the ACT. But with a solid plan in place and as much time as you can allow yourself to prepare, you can be successful. Set realistic and achievable goals, and take care of yourself and your health along the way.
Please look into what scholarships might be available to you and whether each one has a certain ACT score requirement. This will help motivate you and give you a targeted score to achieve. Good luck with all your ACT and college preparation goals!