Getting into Your Dream College: How to Prepare for the ACT

Tyler York
act prep program

So the time has come for you to take the ACT, but you’re not sure where to start with your preparation. There are a lot of factors to consider like your schedule, familiarization with ACT’s structure, and of course, your resources for studying.

In this post, we’ll be giving study tips, insights on different study materials, and techniques that can help you pass (or better yet, ace) the ACT!

prepare for the ACT
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Prepare for the ACT

We understand that it can be overwhelming at first, which is why we’ll be sharing with you some effective ways on how you can gear up for the exam.

1. Understand what’s on the ACT

First thing’s first, you would need a foolproof study plan to be able to prepare for the ACT effectively.

The ACT contains mostly multiple-choice questions focused on 4 areas: English, mathematics, reading and science. These different sections each measure different study areas, so ideally, your study plan should be able to cover all bases. A part of it is familiarizing yourself with the ACT’s content and question styles, as your study strategy for each area may vary.

In general, here’s what to expect from each of the 4 areas as you prepare for the ACT:

  • English section — 45-minute exam with 75 questions; contains 5 essay-type questions, succeeded by multiple-choice ones; tests two core areas, Usage and Mechanics (grammar, punctuation, sentence structure) and Rhetorical Skills (styles and organization)
  • Mathematics section — 60-minute exam with 60 questions; tests reasoning abilities, problem solving, and strategy, given the breadth of the testing material and the considerably limited time allotted for answering; covers the following topics:
    • Pre-Algebra (20-25%)
    • Elementary Algebra (15-20%)
    • Intermediate Algebra (15-20%)
    • Plane Geometry (20-25%)
    • Coordinate Geometry (15-20%)
    • Trigonometry (5-10%)
  • Reading section — 35-minute exam with 40 questions; contains 3 single passages and 1 set of paired passages (context clues test typically found in the Literary Narrative and Humanities topics); passage subject areas include Social Studies, Natural Sciences, Prose Fiction, and Humanities)
  • Science section — 35-minute exam with 40 questions; contains passages on subject areas such as chemistry, biology, physics, and earth/space sciences; test takers are advised to study graph creation/interpretation and data representation as these are expected to come up for the most part of the Science section 

2. Make a study plan

There are some key things to consider when creating a study plan to prepare for the ACT that will suit your learning goals. Here are some of them to serve as your guide:

  • Take a timed practice test. Whether you’ve taken the test or not, download and print the most recent official ACT Practice Test. You can use their online version, but we like to recommend the paper test for easier review. When you print the test, make sure you print it on single sided paper (this really helps saving time from unnecessary flipping on the ACT Reading and Science sections). Then, set a timer on your phone for each section and don’t exceed the time limit (no matter how tempting). If you can, take the test in the morning at 8:00 a.m. to simulate how you’ll actually feel on test day.
  • Grade your test and take note of the questions you missed. After you’ve taken your practice tests and studied the hard problems, don’t forget to go back and review anything you might have missed or might still not know. The key to effective prep is to focus on your weak areas. This way, you’re able to create a focused list of the concepts or key ideas you have to spend more time on to increase your score.
  • Start with general concepts. Similar to what we’ve mentioned above, gaining mastery of the general concepts first will give you a better understanding of the more specialized ones later. Practice exams will be useful in ensuring that you understand the core ideas.
  • Prioritize certain material. Again, effective ACT test prep requires you to focus on your mistakes. Once you feel like you have mastered the basics, it will be essential to focus on the questions you missed on your practice test. Whether they’re basic concepts needed to understand complex ones or topics that have the most bearing on your score, prioritizing certain material is key.

To complement your study plan, you would also need to create a study schedule that would work best for you. It must be consistent — plotting the specific days and times when you’re going to study will be helpful in mapping out the courses and modules that you would need to take.

An effective way of doing this is by setting a weekly schedule where you plan out everything in advance — from your morning routine, commute to and from school, or work. Once you’ve got this part figured out, you may now plot your study times and days more easily.

For example, you may study for 2 hours every day except Saturdays and Sundays, when you’ll only study for only an hour and a half. Another option would be to study for 3 hours on Mondays through Wednesdays, allot 2 hours for Thursdays and Fridays, and an hour each for Saturdays and Sundays. This way, you remain consistent with your study times and avoid burnout.

Whatever schedule you come up with, give it a test run to see what will work or not. Testing your schedule will help you check which days or times would be best for studying — whether you study more efficiently at night, or if it will be best to avoid studying altogether when there’s a new episode of your favorite TV show coming out.

Pro tip: inform a family member or close friend of your study schedule so they can help you stay on track!

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3. Choose your ACT prep material selectively

By this time, you might be asking, “what could be the best tools to help me get a high score in the ACT?” Traditionally speaking, ACT prep books are resources more commonly used in test preps

However, while books are helpful, they are no longer the best way to prepare for the ACT.

They are a good start, but there are other alternatives out there that prove to be more effective in improving retention. These include live online classes, tutoring, and self-study online courses — more interactive study methods that are better in improving retention and focus.

Aside from the ones we’ve mentioned above, one more useful thing you may incorporate into your study strategy is Achievable’s ACT prep course. The app provides students with a 21st century way of learning — a more personalized path towards their goals. Combining full-length practice exams, review quizzes, personalized study guide, and an easy-to-read online textbook, Achievable ensures that every tool and module is tailored to students’ learning needs and capabilities.

Moreover, with Achievable’s built-in study planner, learners like you won’t have to worry about losing focus while going through the courses. Our advanced personalization algorithm automatically targets areas that you need to focus on to improve your score. Pair this with the study plan you’ve created, and watch your performance improve!

4. Take practice exams

Studying concepts would be useless if you won’t be able to put your knowledge to the test. Taking practice exams is a good way of boosting information recall and assessing your readiness as you prepare for the ACT.

Apart from our built-in study planner and personalized study path, Achievable’s ACT prep course contains multiple practice exams that are mapped to the ACT syllabus to ensure you’re completely prepared. These memory-tracked quizzes are built into the courses for optimal retention, up until you get to test day. The results you’ll get from these will be helpful in determining your strongest and weakest areas, thus giving you ample time to either retain or improve them.

Another pro tip: again, take practice exams as if they are the real thing. Set a timer and take them where there are no distractions. Simulating the actual exam day will somehow help you manage your anxiety and improve how you make use of the limited time given.

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5. Relax and get ready for test day

We understand that having to prepare for the ACT may be an anxiety-inducing event for you. While it’s a bit easier said than done, we recommend doing mind-clearing techniques to help you relax. Try your best not to think about anything not related to your ACT prep, be those issues with your other class, or stuff that have been bothering you in general. Meditation before studying helps a lot with re-centering your focus, and so does listening to classical or jazz music.

More importantly, you must know when to stop. Feeling burnt out is a telltale sign that you aren’t studying as effectively as you thought. If this happens, you might want to revisit your time management strategy, or simply take a break and try studying again whenever you’re ready.

Finally, when your test date arrives, be sure to not only be prepared mentally, but physically as well. Be sure to have a good night’s rest and don’t overload your brain with information the night prior. Also, you’ll need enough brain fuel to get you through the exams — a healthy, balanced meal will help you stay well and focused. Bring snacks and water for hydration if you can.

Ace that ACT!

The tips and techniques we’ve listed above are just some of the ways on how you can make your ACT test prep an effective one. At the end of the day, it will still be a matter of patience and discipline to achieve your goal and get high scores — of course, with the help of an efficient, modernized ACT prep course to help you prepare for the ACT. With good study habits and the right learning tools in your arsenal, getting into your dream college is as easy as A-C-T!

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