Hoping to improve your ACT score? Read on for top tips from the Pros. If you hope to learn more about the structure and timing of the ACT, and browse upcoming test dates, visit the Noodle Pros ACT page.
During The ACT
1. Answer every question. There is no guessing penalty. With one minute to go in each section, if you still have unanswered questions, stop everything you are doing and bubble in an answer to all remaining questions in that section.
2. Double-check your work. Don’t assume that you can go back at the end and check your work. You can’t. Check your work as you go.
3. Use one question to help you answer another. Especially on the Reading and Science, more than one question might be asking pretty much the same thing.
4. Read the directions carefully before taking the test, and memorize them so you don’t have to read them during the test. Reading directions wastes time, so you shouldn’t need to have to do it.
5. Read the questions carefully. Misreading questions is the single biggest avoidable reason students make errors on the ACT.
6. Slow down a little. Although the ACT is timed, it’s not a race. This is especially true if you have time left over on a section but don’t get all the questions right. You don’t get points for the number of questions you answer, you get points for the number of questions you answer correctly.
7. Don’t guess blindly. Unless you are shooting for a perfect score, you do not need every single question to hit your target score. Of course, before time runs out, bubble in any questions you didn’t get to. There is no guessing penalty on the ACT.
8. Re-read the questions before choosing answers. Be very sure that you are answering the question being asked. It’s very easy to answer the wrong question without even knowing it.
9. Write in the test booklet. ACT doesn’t give you much during the test, but they do give you a pencil and space to work. Use both with abandon. If your hand is not moving and writing things down as you try to solve a math problem on paper, you are answering questions in your head. That leads to mental stress, inefficient work, and careless mistakes.
10. Eliminate incorrect choices. Doing so helps clarify your thinking.
11. Don’t change answers out of mere fear or anxiety. Use practice tests to develop confidence in your judgment.
12. It’s all in the attitude. ACT’s test writers are masters at intimidation, but there is nothing on this test that you do not know and there are no surprises. You know how to answer these questions. Don’t let them scare you into thinking a question is harder than it actually is.
13. Use the answer choices to help you. Some answer choices are deliberately misleading and can be eliminated. Other answer choices can help you know what the problem is getting at and help clarify your thinking.
14. Fill in the answer sheet bubbles neatly, but don’t obsess. The precious seconds you spend shading incredibly neatly within the bubbles can be spent on the next math or verbal question.
15. Don’t change an answer unless you’re sure you made an error. Change answers for a reason, but not for a feeling.
16. Don’t flip back and forth haphazardly. Do the questions in the order that works for you, but don’t be all over the place.
17. Don’t get inside your own head during the test. Focus on the task at hand and do your best. Don’t try to score the test in your head as you are taking it.
18. Don’t panic. The test is hard for everyone. If it seems hard, you’re not blowing it, you’re just taking the ACT.
19. If you’re a slow reader, read strategic excerpts of the passages. You will only be tested on a small portion of the information in the passage, and you are going to go back to the passage to find evidence for every question anyway. Don’t get hung up on the details in your first read.
20. Summarize passages as you read them. Be an active reader. Don’t let the words go in one eye and out the other. Paraphrase as you go to ensure that you understand what you are reading.
21. Notice the tone of the piece when you read it. Knowing the author’s attitude will save a lot of time and make your answers more accurate.
22. After you finish reading each passage, ask yourself “what is the main idea of this passage?” You should be able to state it in ten words or fewer.
23. Read passage introductions carefully. They are your friend, and occasionally even sum up the main idea for you.
24. “Find the evidence” questions are your friends. You don’t need a comprehensive understanding of the passage to answer them, but answering them first will help build comprehensive understanding of the passage, which will help on other questions.
25. Underline the key part of each question. Refer to it whenever you start to lose any focus.
26. Restate the question in your own words if necessary. This is especially helpful when a question is not actually a question but rather a truncated statement.
27. Read the italicized prompt before the passage. Sometimes it tells you everything you need to know to get started on the questions.
28. Don’t over-annotate. You will only be tested on a small portion of the available information in the passage. Don’t spend time on information you don’t need.
29. Think about what you want before you go to the answer choices. This will help you focus and keep you clear of the test writers’ trap answers.
30. Establish the author’s point of view. When was it written? To whom? To what purpose?
31. Read only what is needed to answer the given question. You can always read more of the passage if you have to, but you never want to read more than you have to. If you think you’ve found the correct answer to a specific question addressing a specific part of the passage, you’ve probably done enough.
32. Use your ear. The word or phrase that contains an error will often sound wrong.
33. Know your grammar rules cold. This means pronouns, verb tense, subject-verb agreement, modifiers, comparisons, parallelism, and more.
34. Choose succinct answers. If two answer choices are grammatically correct, the shorter one is more often the correct answer.
35. Tread carefully with “NO CHANGE” answers. Make sure you did not inadvertently miss an error!
36. Read in your mind with expression. Doing so will help you hear the errors more readily.
37. Pay attention to connotation and context. Some questions ask which choice fits best into the tone of the piece.
38. Ignore prepositional phrases between subject and verb when considering subject-verb agreement. This will help you focus on the verb and its subject.
39. Use process of elimination. We can’t say this enough. There are three times as many wrong answers as right answers. It’s easier to find the wrong ones; eliminating them will raise your score. You should always be able to eliminate at least one wrong answer, after which you have a much greater chance of guessing correctly.
40. Use the diagrams. They are there for a reason.
41. Plug in answer choices. If a problem has algebra or a description in the question and numbers in the answers, only one answer will fit the description. Try out the answers into the question until you find one that works.
42. Estimate when a problem calls for it. If it’s not in the ballpark, it can’t be the answer.
43. Write out your work. Seeing your errors allows you to fix them more quickly. Seeing your step-by-step thought process helps you get unstuck when you are stuck.
44. Answer math questions backwards. Sometimes it is easier to bring the answers to the question than to find your way from the question to the correct answer.
45. Substitute abstracts with tangibles. That is, replace variables with numbers of your choosing.
46. As soon as you find the right answer, mark it and move on. Don’t waste time deliberating after you already know.
47. Separate the question from its context. Focus on doing what the question itself asks you to do.
48. Look for patterns. The Math section is more about perception than calculation.
49. Don’t go down complex dead ends. If you find yourself spending too much time figuring the problem out, then you’ve probably overlooked a simple shortcut.
50. Use but don’t overuse your calculator. The calculator is great at calculating, but not so good at understanding. That’s up to you.
51. Focus on understanding the point of the experimental design. Why did this scientist set it up this way? What is being measured? What’s the dependent variable? The independent?
52. Ignore information you don’t need. Use only the information you need to answer the questions. If you try to do more, you will complete fewer questions.
53. Pay attention to the numbers. Notice trends in the data. Note units.
54. Ask and answer questions. Expect each experiment to teach you its answers, and don’t give in until it does.
55. Solve puzzles and riddles. Very often, the thing you don’t understand in an experiment is the key to several questions. Be persistent in resolving cognitive dissonance and you will be rewarded with more points.
56. Pay very close attention to the labels on each chart and graph. These are the key to many of the questions.
57. Organize your ideas into a standard essay format. Writing from an outline is far more efficient than stream of consciousness.
58. Use one example from literature/history/current events and one from your personal experience. Using only personal experience comes off as somewhat less well-informed.
59. Allow time to proofread your essay. A good rule of thumb is to stop 2-3 minutes before time is up to re-read your essay for spelling mistakes and other glaring errors.
60. Aim to write at least two body paragraphs to develop and support your ideas. This will make for a more substantial essay.
61. Word choice is important. Use language appropriate to the context. In general, this means neither too formal nor too colloquial.
62. Study strategically and intentionally. Don’t just wander through the material. Have a plan and work your plan.
63. Take practice tests. Practice for technique, not for results.
64. Build your vocabulary. Use vocabulary words that you frequently encounter in your high school reading curriculum or in other parts of the test. Stay away from using colloquial or informal language in your essay.
65. Understand and memorize formulas. Knowing all the facts is a great place to start.
66. Don’t cram and don’t stress. You can’t learn it all at the last minute, and getting nervous does not improve your score.
67. Set score goals and start early. If you want to do better, aim high and give yourself plenty of time.
68. Familiarize yourself with the test. You want to feel as comfortable as you can on test day, with as few surprises as possible.
69. Study as near to every day as you can. One hour each day is better than six hours on Saturday.
70. Quiz yourself. You can know for yourself how you are doing all the time.
71. Create flashcards. They are a great way to learn information. Try some of the online flashcard generators.
72. Know your subject/verb agreement. This is a very simple and important mistake to avoid making on the test.
73. Know your special triangles. 45-45-90 and 30-60-90. They come up a lot.
74. Do high-quality practice. Avoid low-quality materials. If the tests and questions you practice on are not like the real thing, you’re not getting better at the real thing.
75. Quality first, quantity second. If you do mediocre practice, then you are practicing mediocrity. More of that will make you better at being mediocre.
76. Find patterns in your weaknesses, and drill them to perfection. Be relentless about finding and addressing the flaws in your work.
77. Figure out which mistakes you make most often. These are your keys to improvement, if you can change your thought patterns to avoid those mistakes.
78. Practice finding information quickly. This skill is everything in the Reading and Science sections.
79. Concentrate hard, but take frequent breaks. Work for 45 minutes, then take a 15 minute break.
The Night Before
80. Get some rest. Give yourself a full eight hours of restful, quiet sleep the night before.
81. Exercise. Spend some time exercising in the lead up to the test to improve your energy and calm your mind for test day.
82. Shut down your electronics at least a half hour before bed. Use a reliable alarm clock and have a backup.
Day Of the Test
83. Bring snacks. You will get hungry during breaks, and hunger will affect your performance during the test. Snack on something healthy like fruit or a granola bar.
84. Get there early. Plan on arriving well before the test is supposed to start so that you have one less thing that could possibly go wrong, and so you have time to familiarize yourself with the surroundings of the test center before you start.
85. Eat a healthy breakfast. This will give you the energy you need for the long test.
86. Use a reliable alarm clock and have a backup. You don’t want to oversleep your ACT–that’s an L you will remember for a long time.
87. Bring a watch to the test center. Don’t assume there will be a clock on the wall, or that it will be fully operational.
88. Take care of yourself. Don’t stress about the test until you get sick or become very anxious about the whole process. Eat a balanced diet, drink water, get lots of sleep, and maintain positive, supportive relationships in your life as you go through this process.
89. Make it a point to read more nonfiction outside the classroom. This will increase your vocabulary and make you a better reader and writer.
90. Learn all your grammar rules. These will come in handy for all those process of elimination questions!
91. Set aside a designated time to study. The discipline will help you manage your time and work steadily towards test day.
92. Ask for help. Don’t hesitate to ask a parent, teacher, tutor, or friend to explain something you don’t understand on your practice materials. And if you need a break from prep, find someone to spend time with and recharge.
93. Practice test-taking conditions. The more you do this, the less nervous you will be on test day, which will feel like just another practice test. The calmer you are, the fewer careless mistakes you will make.
94. Get a tutor. Experienced tutors have seen many students take the same test, and can very quickly diagnose the specific areas in which you need help and improve your scores in a targeted way. If you’re going to invest in a tutor, go for experience above anything else.
95. Eat healthy carbs. They will give you the energy to concentrate for the full test.
96. Plan a test timetable. Knowing when you will take which test will help you plan your study.
97. Establish a baseline. Knowing where you are starting from and what you need to work on turns a notion into a plan and will motivate you.
98. Improve your handwriting. Your handwriting needs to be easily legible to you when you are writing out your work under timed conditions.
99. Read newspapers and magazines. It’s an enjoyable way to learn more background knowledge and become a better reader.
100. Eliminate all distractions. A quiet room, free of internet and social media, makes your study time so much more productive.