Best ACT Prep Strategies to Score High
More than 1.78 million US high school graduates took the ACT test in 2019. Many of these students spend a lot of time and money to get the best ACT prep tutoring help out there. You know why? Because this competitive exam is that nail-biting ‘rites of passage’ a high-schooler needs to go through, in order to make it to his or her dream college. In this article, we will tell you about the key elements of ACT and about the best ACT prep strategies to score high.
The test has a total of 215 multiple-choice questions spread over four mandatory sections that you’re expected to finish in 2 hours 55 mins. Then there’s an optional ACT Writing section which is another 40 mins. This is what the break down looks like:
The 5 ACT Sections
ACT English (75 questions, 45 mins): Tests grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and rhetorical skills
ACT Math (60 questions, 60 mins): Algebra I and II, geometry, and some trigonometry
The ACT Reading (40 questions, 35 mins): Four passages (prose fiction, social studies, humanities, and natural sciences) with 10 questions per passage
ACT Science (40 questions, 35 mins): Questions on science-based passages presented with graphs, charts, tables and research summaries
The ACT Writing (1 question, 40 mins): A passage which students have to read, analyze and respond to with their own perspectives in an essay format.
Now that’s a LOT. It’s only natural if you’re nervous. What you should know is that ACT prep doesn’t look easy but is actually quite doable if you’re ready to put in the hours. But hard work isn’t everything in competitive academics. You need to be smart about your ACT prep strategies. We at ViTutors have you covered on some of the best ACT prep strategies to score high. Pay close attention to these during your ACT prep and you’ll be well on your path to success.
ACT English practice strategies
Getting a perfect 36 in ACT English is very important for many students because it’s a reliable way to compensate for a weakness in subjects like ACT math. Your prime focus areas for ACT English practice are grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. ACT English doesn’t exactly test your knowledge of grammar. For example, you won’t find a question like, “Which of these options is a split infinitive?”. The ACT English section tests your ability to spot mistakes in a sentence by applying the principles of grammar. You’ll find “which of these options is grammatically correct” type of questions with very close and confusing answer options. To put it another way, the ACT English section is a bunch of trick questions. A good tutor for ACT English practice will train your eye to spot the trick.
Know the types of questions asked in ACT English
ACT English has some common types of grammar questions like subject-verb agreement, redundancies, run-on sentences, comma splice and dangling participle to name a few. It is very important to recognize all the common types of questions and know how to fix the errors. Solve practice questions sets focusing on each type until you’re absolutely comfortable with them. If any of these concepts sound vague, don’t hesitate to get an ACT English tutor to explain them to you. There are plenty of ACT online prep resources to checkout for ACT English practice sets that address each type separately.
ACT Prep Strategies: Speed vs. Skill
Students taking ACT English practice tests may demonstrate either a speed problem or a skill level problem. A student with a speed problem will be able to score a perfect 36 if given enough time to finish the test i.e. without the time cap. A skill problem refers to a student’s poor command over English grammar leading to wrong answers in the test, with or without a time cap. Now, how do you find out which side you’re on? Take the full ACT English practice test with a time cap of 45 mins. Mark the question you’re at when the time cap is reached, but don’t stop till you’ve completed answering all the questions.
- If you finished within 45 mins and got a great score, you’re ACT ready. Just keep practicing full-length tests during the remaining ACT prep season.
- If you exceeded time but got a great score then speed is a concern for you. Analyze where you’re getting stuck and keep practicing.
- If you finished within 45 mins but ended up with a low score, you need to work on your grammar skills
- If you exceeded time with a poor score, you need to adopt a very structured approach to improving your ACT English skills.
In the last two scenarios it may be a good idea to hire a tutor for your ACT English practice who will help you brush up your grammar basics.
Get into the habit of reading questions end-to-end
This is your key tip to avoid silly mistakes in the ACT English section. There’s a tendency amongst students to just read the underlined part and rush to the options. That may end up badly, because the error is rarely in the underlined part. The error is often with reference to some other part of the sentence or passage that can be corrected by changing the underlined part. Likewise, read the entire answer sentences as well. If you’re worried about time at least read the one you intend to choose end-to-end, and make sure it fits.
ACT math practice strategies
ACT Math is often the bane of students’ lives. It’s common to find students frustratingly stuck in the 26-32 score range. Without a minimum score of 34, top US schools are going to be out of your reach. It’s no surprise that ACT math tutors are in great demand and normally very expensive to hire, forming the chunk of your overall ACT tutoring cost. Now if you’re amongst the students who has opted for an ACT math tutor then we want you to get the best out of it. Here are some of the best ACT math practice strategies to score high in math.
Play to your strengths
You need to approach ACT Math practice a bit like how Harry approached the dragon egg contest in the Triwizard tournament. Play to your strengths. We don’t mean to say you study only Algebra because you like it and entirely drop Geometry practice from your ACT study plan. If you want a 36 score you don’t have that option unfortunately. What we mean is, you get so good in your strong suit topics that you tackle all the questions with lightning speed, leaving you with sufficient time to go through the harder topics. Your ACT math tutor will help you sharpen your strong suits such that you ace any question in that skill area. Simultaneously, you’ll learn to ‘manage’ your weak spots and develop specific competencies to get by in the ACT test.
Remember, every ACT math question is solvable in a minute. That’s how they’re designed. So if you’re getting stuck somewhere you’re approaching it wrong. The key thing about pacing in ACT Math is to get a sense that you’re exceeding your time budget on a question. The loud alarm needs to go off inside your head to get moving if at 40 secs you’re still unable to crack the question. One of the things your ACT math tutor will teach you about pacing is linked to the previous point about strengths. Let’s suppose you are good at arithmetic, your strong suit, and take under 40 secs per question. When you’re at trigonometry, your weak area, you’ll have over 1 min 10 secs per question, taking the pressure off a bit.
Tips, tricks and hacks – learn them all
Get your ACT math tutor to equip you with every kind of hack to solve questions, and solve them fast. The technique of elimination is about striking off options that are obviously wrong, and then then back solving with the remaining options. Plugging numbers is another ACT math strategy. It works if you have to choose one algebraic expression from a set of choices. Plug in numbers that are easy to work with to arrive at which expression works. Experienced ACT math tutors will have several such hacks for each topic within ACT math practice that’ll save the day for you.
This is particularly relevant for ACT Math (as opposed to other competitive tests like SAT) where you’ll be tested for application of formulas. Make a list of important formulas and pin it up. Go through them every day as part of your ACT prep strategies.
Get to the bottom of every wrong answer
Your ACT Math practice will go up two notches in effectiveness if you follow this strategy with discipline. After every practice test, circle the questions you dropped or got wrong. Then go over each of these questions with your ACT Math tutor and analyze what made you uncomfortable about that question, the formulas associated with it, the approach you’re expected to use and the quick hack to do it under 60 secs. If you follow this diligently for about 2 to 3 weeks, take it in writing, you’ll see a dramatic improvement in your ACT math scores. Act math
Intuition is not an answer
It’s one thing to be clueless about a question and making a random guess. It’s another thing altogether spending time on a question and finally solving it through intuition. We warn you not to get into the habit of choosing an answer based on intuition. Your ACT math tutor will train you up on making an “educated guess” as a last option, but pure intuition isn’t an option.
ACT Reading practice strategies
There are unfortunately fewer shortcuts to getting a high score in ACT Reading. This section is all about reading speed and comprehension and you’ll have a natural advantage if you’ve been an avid reader. There are four ACT reading passages of about 800 words each – always in this order, prose fiction, social science, humanities and natural science – at the end of which you’ll have 10 questions that test you on the stated and implied meaning of the text.
Read a variety of topics
Your ACT reading tutor will expose you to a variety of topics so that you’re comfortable with a range of writing styles and understand the meaning of words in different contexts. Keep your reading practice spread across fiction, social science, humanities and natural science. Naturally, the more you read the better you’ll be at this section.
Read for 30 minutes every single day, without fail
While your tutor for ACT reading practice takes care of the mechanical skills needed in the section, the one thing you can do to improve your scoring ability is read 30 minutes every day. The important thing is to be 100% engaged with the content. Make the 30 minutes count. Note down unfamiliar words, usages and expressions and discuss them later with your ACT reading tutor.
ACT Science practice strategies
The ACT Science test doesn’t exactly test your scientific knowledge but rather your skill of analysis, data interpretation and logical reasoning with respect to science topics. You get 7 passages and 5 to 7 questions at the end of each passage. You’ve around 52 seconds per question.
Get thoroughly acquainted with the typical question formats
The ACT Science section has three types of passages – data representation passages, research summaries passages and conflicting viewpoints passages. The third type, i.e. conflicting viewpoints passage doesn’t come with supporting graphs or visuals and students often take up more time with this one. It is recommended to solve this passage at the end. Get well acquainted with all formats in your ACT science practice questions.
Make full use of visuals provided
Students often feel bogged by unfamiliar and seemingly complex scientific terminology. The main coping technique in the ACT Science section is to make full use of visuals provided to quickly build comfort around the topic. Your ACT Science practice tutor will train you on data interpretation techniques when dealing with graphs, tables, and scientific experiments.
ACT Writing prep strategies
The ACT Writing section is an optional section and the last one you’ll take (if you signed up to take it).
Pre-plan your content
Make sure to have a session with your ACT writing tutor on techniques to make your writing interesting and engaging. Your ACT writing tutor will teach you the art of writing punchy introductions and conclusions and give you strategies to pre-plan the content you could potentially use in an essay.
Keep it simple yet rich
Don’t try to cram too many new words, idioms and expressions that you don’t properly know the meaning of into your writing. It’s better to keep it simple, clear and succinct. That said, you need to practice writing long essays. You don’t get 40 minutes to produce 10 bullet points about a topic. You’re graded precisely on your ability to write plenty of good quality content about a subject.
Finally, practice your handwriting under stress conditions. It needn’t be dainty but it should be 100% legible and free of spelling mistakes.
The most important strategy of all – tracking progress
Analysis of practice tests is perhaps the most important prep strategy to adopt. It’s like the “One Ring to Rule Them All”. No other prep strategy you’ve read above is any good unless you constantly track your progress through regular full length tests. Every practice test you take should be followed by a thorough analysis of what went well and what could have gone better.
There are several ACT online prep platforms that offer mock full-length test series and practice test sets. Be sure to explore the online ACT tutoring options and sites, such as ViTutors.com, where you can easily find highly experienced ACT prep tutors for all skills and subject areas. If ACT tutoring cost is a concern, then you’ve come to the right place because ViTutors caters to all budgets! Now that you’re armed with the best ACT prep strategies to score high, what are you waiting for? Get cracking with your ACT prep! Good luck.
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