Tips for Effectively Using Your ACT Preparation Time

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Although not as widely taken as the SAT, the ACT is a requirement for admission into many undergraduate programs around the world. With the amount of competition being high, taking steps to focus your preparation is key to standing out from the pack and perhaps even going above and beyond the score requirement of your preferred schools. The ACT is most likely the first standardized test of a student’s career and can be a chance to develop invaluable skills that will be beneficial for future academic endeavors. Organizing and planning the preparation period is a critical step to creating an efficient and effective curriculum, which will be the cornerstone of attaining your target score and allowing you to bolster your applications. Reading through the tips below will be the first step toward creating an individualized preparation plan that will certainly give you a competitive edge when it comes to taking and scoring highly on the ACT.

  1. Instincts are often right!
    With there being so many questions on the ACT that are of the multiple-choice format, you will most likely encounter some about which you are unsure. Even implementing the process of elimination may leave you with multiple options that you believe could be the correct answer. Since there is no penalty for a wrong answer and leaving an answer blank has no benefit, making an educated guess gives you a chance at receiving those points, which could be a critical bump to your score. If you made use of your preparation time in a efficient and effective manner by implementing regular practice questions and putting in time to feel confident with the content, then the connections made by your brain to the material is something that will be called on automatically. Therefore, trusting your gut is actually not just guessing when you cannot determine the correct answer, but is an extensive process relating to the rigorous preparation plan you put in place to study for the ACT and will greatly increase your chance of choosing the right solution in these situations. Putting in an educational guess through simple intuition is a critical skill to develop in order to see success on the ACT. The subconscious aspect of the mind shouldn’t be underestimated and is thoroughly trained during the ACT study sessions, so occasionally depending on your gut in the right situations will be an advantageous skill when under stress on test day and remember not to leave any questions unanswered when it comes to taking your ACT!

  2. Supplement your prep with off-topic reading
    Being able to properly analyze and scan the reading comprehension and science topics are certainly a required topic to cover during your preparation period, but practicing your vocabulary skills and overall reading comprehension is of almost equal importance as it gives some balance to the content being consumed. Having a short reading list comprised of non-fiction books is a great way to give you an advantage not only for the ACT, but also in your future academic career. As you can imagine, constantly studying the content on the ACT could become quite stale and monotonous, which could potentially lead to retaining less and less with each passing session. Adding in some exercises that are simply different than the normal ACT grind will spice things up by connecting things with areas of personal interest, which in turn can increase motivation along with improving critical skills such as comprehension and analysis of texts. Developing knowledge of diverse topics through such a reading list is a by-product of the preparation strategy and leads to a well-rounded skill set to utilize in both academic and personal situations. Do yourself a favor and enhance your preparation period through activities that benefit both your ACT studying as well as a plethora of other areas that will give you a competitive edge over the rest of the pack. Find a good reading list for non-fiction texts to insert into your preparation strategy.

  3. Stick to your individualized schedule for self-study.
    While there is certainly no one size fits all answer to how much time is needed for ACT preparation, knowing your personal preferences when it comes to learning will help you optimize the time you spend studying. A number of factors go into determining the amount of time needed to prepare including attention span, knowledge of topics, learning style, availability and so on. Naturally the more time you have the better, but it is recommended to set aside around 40 total hours for your ACT preparation to feel confident enough to effectively tackle your first attempt. If you decide for 40 hours, then it should be split up into 3-10 hour weeks so that you can aim for maximum retention. Be sure to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses as accurately assessing this will allow you to design your curriculum perfectly toward your needs. Not all of us are avid readers or math whizzes, so you may require more time allocation to the area where you feel least confident in order to maximize improvement when it comes to your score. One way to approach the preparation time is to see it as a project where you need to realistically plan and follow the guidelines set for yourself in order to reach your goal. You are in control of the time and effort you allocate toward your preparation, which is critical to conquering the ACT and helping your application stand out from the rest.

  4. Take practice tests regularly
    There is certainly an aspect of anxiety and stress that goes with taking potentially your first standardized exam in the ACT. This is completely normal. Mentally and physically preparing yourself for an exam of this length will help you build the stamina necessary to keep your brain fresh throughout the sitting. Implementing regular practice tests will not only help you build this necessary stamina but will also be key in tracking your progress and gaining further insight into your strengths and weaknesses. While taking your practice tests, be sure to stick to the time constraints in order to train your brain properly for test day. It is of equal importance to take your practice tests in an environment that somewhat simulates the actual testing area so that you can limit the number of surprises that can occur come test day. Taking an initial diagnostic should be the first step of the process and then implementing more and more of them as your exam day approaches will have you thoroughly prepared for your ACT.

  5. Figure out your weak areas
    The topics that are boring or that you may even dislike are often the ones with which students have the most difficulty. It could be that math and equations come easier to you, but reading is simply a pain or vice versa. Taking the time to gradually improve on those areas of struggle will result in a well-balanced preparation period that will help reduce stress and anxiety as your preparation time is being allocated properly. Things may seem challenging at first as you are focusing on topics that show slow improvement or mental blocks, but you will see that as improvement becomes noticeable, the study sessions will seem less as a chore and more as a productive use of time. It is worth noting that you should forget to allocate some time to those topics that gravitate toward your strengths in order to stay on top of your game. By spending ample time on both your strengths and weaknesses, you will give yourself a much higher chance of effectively dealing with the stress and anxiety that come with taking the ACT and preparing yourself to deliver an optimal performance come exam day.

  6. Keep tabs on your progress
    It is well known that statistical proof of progress is a great motivating factor for not only academic projects, but almost all ventures in life. Even potential employers in the future check on your impact during projects or how your productivity increased over time. Taking the time to map out milestones for your ACT prep period will help you track your progress and keep you on the right path when it comes to executing your personalized ACT curriculum. Knowing whether you are on, ahead or behind schedule with your preparation will help keep motivation at an optimal level while hopefully building confidence along the way. If you see that you are falling behind a deadline you set, you can try to adjust your session times or content in order to give yourself a chance to speed things up. We recommend setting weekly progress reports to allow for consistency in measuring how effective the study sessions have been. If you are preparing more intensively, it is possible to set daily milestones. Giving yourself the chance to get into a routine of both studying and tracking progress will lead to more efficient use of time resulting in better habits and retention of the content you will encounter on the ACT.

Mastering the ACT through a well-designed and executed preparation plan will be advantageous both for your future academic and professional careers as vital skills are built. Habits are also developed which will serve you well in future projects and tests as dedication is a major component of success when it comes to these topics. Seeing that the ACT is highly competitive as many students have the target of attending university after their high school years, a high score is needed to be competitive. An elite score can also serve as a way to make up for a less than perfect GPA or lack of extracurriculars and push your application up to the top of the stack. If you are serious about performing well on the ACT and want to develop key test taking strategies and skills that will transcend the ACT, then following and implementing the tips in the text above will be a great step toward getting there. Take the time to figure out your personal strengths and weaknesses and develop a well thought out preparation plan so that you can effectively and efficiently study for the ACT and maximize your chances of earning a top score!

Figuring Out the Perfect Date for your ACT


Finding the right time to take the ACT is critical to the preparation process as it is only offered a handful of times each year. Take a look at this article to get some advice on the right time to take the ACT.

Tips for Effectively Using Your ACT Preparation Time


The ACT is the first standardized test for many students. Take a look at our suggestions for the best methods for the preparation period.