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How to Ace the ACT

Applying to college can seem stressful if you’re not a good test taker. You may have lots of involvement in extracurriculars, a great leadership position, and a good GPA, but if you don’t have a high ACT score it can decrease your chances of getting into your dream college. Coming from someone who has taken the ACT four times, it is actually not a difficult test, and with the right skills and strategies you can easily learn how to increase your ACT score and boost your college applications. Here is how to ace the ACT . . .

1. Take lots of practice tests.

Contrary to popular belief, the ACT is truly a very easy test once you familiarize yourself with it. Take as many practice tests as you can get your hands on, because the more tests you take the better you will get at predicting which answers are usually correct and which ones are usually wrong. Figure out which subjects are your strongest and which ones need more preparation. If you already excel at a certain subject, don’t spend as much time on it!

2. The writers of the ACT are trying to trick you. Don’t fall for it!

The ACT is intended to be tricky, and its writers often throw in answer choices that are too tempting not to choose. Sometimes multiple answer choices may appear to be correct, and this is not coincidental. The trick is to find the best answer choice as it relates to the question, not the most accurate one.

3. Use process of elimination.

This may be the most important skill to take with you to the test. By eliminating wrong answer choices, you can easily narrow down the correct choice. Remember that if an answer choice isn’t 100% correct, it’s wrong. Cross out incorrect choices as you go, and whichever answer choice is left in the end must be the correct option simply because all other choices are wrong.

4. Timing is everything.

One major problem that challenges many students on the ACT is the race against time. Often, students could easily answer all questions accurately if they were given ample time to do so. Don’t let the limited time ruin your chance at a good score. Keep in mind that each section of the test has a different amount of allotted time and pace yourself accordingly. The English section is 45 minutes total, so each passage should take you about 9 minutes. The Mathematics section is 60 minutes total, which leaves you with about 1 minute per question. However, the level of difficulty tends to increase as you move through this test, so try to get the easy problems at the beginning done as quickly as possible so you have more time to tackle the hard problems at the end. After a 10-15 minute break, you will take the Reading section, which is 35 minutes. This means that you have about 8 minutes and 30 seconds per passage, plus an extra minute at the end. The last test, Science, is also 35 minutes, so you have about 5 minutes per passage. Going overtime on one passage or question will only take time away from a passage or question later on, so try to stick to these timing guidelines pretty carefully!

5. Wait to fill in the bubbles.

Generally, as students take the ACT they answer a question and fill in the corresponding question on their answer sheet before moving onto the next question. This is actually a very bad habit, because it allows your mind to lose focus as you switch between answering questions and bubbling in answer choices. Instead, go straight through answering all of the questions on each page and when you get to the end of the page quickly transfer your answer choices to the answer sheet. This can save a lot of time and increase your concentration. Make sure that once the five minute mark is called you start bubbling answers as you go. You don’t want to have all of the questions completed but run out of time to transfer them!

6. If you don’t know an answer, guess!

The ACT does not penalize you for wrong answers, so it is to your advantage to have an answer filled in for every single question. Instead of making random guesses, keep your “guess letter” consistent throughout the whole test. I like to use B/G as my go-to answer, so that every time I am unsure of the answer and need to move on, I just bubble in B/G. It is better to use the same “guess letter” every time, because it increases the probability of getting at least a few of the guesses right.

7. Physical wellbeing is just as important as mental preparation.

Sometimes when you get caught up in studying for the ACT, you forget to take care of your physical self. However, this is just as important as mental preparation! Make sure to get a good night’s sleep on both the Thursday and Friday nights before the test on Saturday. Without a full 8 hours of sleep beforehand, your brain cannot function as well. It is important that you’re well rested and ready to conquer the ACT on the day of! You should also make sure you eat a healthy breakfast on the morning of the test. Eat an apple, yogurt, or peanut butter toast, because these are great foods to give you the energy you need to test well.

8. Don’t be late.

The ACT test will start promptly at 8 am, so be at your testing center by 7:45. There is usually a long line to check in, and you want to make sure you have time to get to where you’re supposed to be and settle in. It is a good idea to wake up 45 minutes before you have to leave your house, so make sure to set an alarm! Don’t forget to bring your printed admission ticket, a school or state issued ID, 4-5 No. 2 pencils with good erasers, and a calculator. You can also bring a stopwatch if you would like to, but it must be worn around your wrist and cannot make any sound. Set these items out the night before the test right next to your keys or phone so that you don’t forget them!

9. Relax.

Easier said than done, right? Just remember that you are more than a test score. Your ACT score does not define you, and there are many other aspects of your application that hold just as much weight in the eyes of colleges. Stressing yourself out before the test will not do any good, so trust that you’ve studied and prepared as much as possible and leave it be. You can do this!

Gabbi Caito
Mercy Class of 2018
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