Ready, set, study!
Do you need to raise your ACT score, ASAP? Do you want to make a huge score improvement, from good to amazing, from 25 to 32?
It’s not easy, but you can take huge strides in just 10 days. We will show you how to pinpoint your weaknesses, create a study plan, and raise your score.
Who Should Use This Plan?
This is only a 10-day plan, but you have to commit to between 2 and 5 hours each day to see major improvement. Unfortunately there is no substitute for putting in the time, whether that’s an hour a day over 5 weeks, or a more concentrated plan like this one.
If you do have more time, we highly recommend taking at least 5 weeks to study for the ACT. It’s easier to guarantee a score boost of 25 to 32 if you give yourself more time to practice.
But if you want to improve your score very quickly, or have already taken the test and you need to improve your score fast before college apps are due, keep reading.
This plan integrates a key component of all good study plans: focusing on your weaknesses. When time is of the essence, you need to make every hour count. Whether you can do this well will dictate how much you improve.
First: Take a Practice Test
Your first step is to take a full-length practice test. Even if you’ve taken the ACT before, you need to find out exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are before you begin studying.
You can find free online ACT practice tests here. Remember to simulate actual test-taking conditions, including using a bubble sheet, and to follow the timing exactly.
After you’ve taken the test, score yourself. Find your score for each section so you can calculate your composite, but also find your subscores. (For more info on scoring see our guide.)
Note where you lost the most points. As an example, maybe your Plane Geometry/Trigonometry subscore was super low but your other math subscores were good. Or maybe you lost points all over the place, which means you have to dig a little deeper to figure out which concepts you are missing.
The goal is to pinpoint your weaknesses so you can study the most efficiently.
Your 10-day plan could look very different based on how you do on the practice test. See these hypothetical students as examples...
Practice Test Scores
Student A has to do work across the board to get their composite up to a 32. Although we would recommend this student definitely devote some serious time to studying ACT grammar rules to help with the English section, their lowest score, every single section score needs to see significant improvement to get to a 32.
Practice Test Scores
Student B should spend the majority of the 10 days practicing math, reading, and science. They can improve their English score by 2 points up to a 32 by just getting 2 or 3 more raw points on the section – which shouldn’t require hours of extra studying. However, they will need much bigger raw point gains for the other sections.
Practice Test Scores
Student C needs to make serious gains in Math and Science, but is already strong in English and Reading. They should focus this 10-day program on finding out their content weaknesses in math and science, addressing them, and then drilling practice sections.
They can also spend some time working to improve their English and Reading Scores, to lessen the burden on their Math and Science increases. Any additional composite point they can gain on English and Reading is one they don’t have to earn for Math and Science. For example, they could aim for a 34 on both English and Reading and a 30 on Math and Science and still get a 32.
Set Scoring Goals
For this guide, we are assuming a goal of a 32 composite. How many raw points do you need to aim for on each section to get that score? Aim for the scores below:
English: 70 out of 75
Math: 54 out of 60
Reading: 38 out of 40
Science: 38 out of 40
We added an extra raw point from ACT’s scoring charts, since the scaling can change slightly from test to test. If you can achieve all these raw scores, you will most likely get a 32 composite.
This is for an average 32 in all sections. Remember that the ACT composite is averaged, so you could get two 30s and two 34s and average out to a 32. You can use our scoring guide to set your own raw score goals if you have different section goals or a different composite score goal.
Note that at this level, you should be answering every question. Don’t just do 70 English problems and leave the rest blank. Answer every question with the goal of getting them all correct, so that if you do have some wrong answers you can still get a total of 70 raw points.
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Gather Your Materials
If you want more guidance during this 10-day plan, we highly recommend our PrepScholar program. We will go through the process of identifying your weaknesses for you, giving you more time to focus on filling content gaps and improving your score.
If you’re going it alone, or just want more tools, we also recommend the following:
1. Prep Books. See our guide for the best ACT prep books on the market for guidance. Definitely get at least The Real ACT Prep Guide and the Black Book, plus subject-specific books if you need them based on your practice test. For example, we’d recommend that Student C get books specifically for Math and Science.
These prep books contain practice problems, tests, and content info you will need to fix your weaknesses and get to a 32.
2. Ear plugs, calculator, watch, pencils, erasers – think of these as tools you need to do well on the ACT. It might seem like a small thing, but getting used to using a watch to time yourself can help you save time on the test. Using ear plugs will help you stay focused. And using pencils and erasers instead of a pen will help you get in the test-taking mindset. If you want tips on the best calculator, check out our guide.
3. Our free eBook on improving your ACT score. This book gives you a more in-depth guide to the study principles we recommend to identify and fix your weaknesses.
4. A blank journal or notebook. Use this to log your mistakes, whether content-based (you forgot a formula) or test-based (you ran out of time). It seems humble, but this is actually your most important study tool!
Use Online Resources
1. ACT Vocabulary
Improving your vocabulary of common ACT words is crucial to get to a 32, especially if you need to improve your score in the Reading and Science sections. See our guide to the words you must know for the ACT and use a proven study method to learn them.
2. Tips from our 36 Full-Scorer
Even if you’re not going for a 36, you need to use these principles to improve your score, especially in such a short timeframe. Definitely read this piece to get you in the right mindset for a 32 or higher.
3. English Section Tips
The key to ACT English is learning the grammar rules that the ACT tests you on. If you know these rules, you’ll have the tools to tackle any question on the English section.
4. Math Section Tips
Learn the principles you need for success on the math section with strategies from our full-scorer.
Overall Advice As You Begin Studying
1. Always guess.
There is no guessing penalty on the ACT, so even if you’re at the end of a section and have two questions left you can’t answer, fill in random answers. You have a 25% chance of being right – take the shot!
2. Use process of elimination.
Eliminating wrong answers is a good way to approach tough questions, and will also increase your odds if you encounter a question you are not sure of and end up guessing on. Even though the right answer isn’t always obvious, it’s easy to spot at least one or two wrong answers, raising your odds to getting a question right to 33% or 50%.
3. Don’t get stuck on hard questions.
Mark them and come back. Timing is key on the ACT, since you have less than a minute for each question. If you waste 5 minutes on a hard question, you are losing the opportunity to work on 5 more questions, which can seriously tank your score. See our guide for more on pacing.
4. Mark Questions You're Unsure About
When practicing, don’t just correct your multiple choice and tally your score. As you take practice sections, star any questions you were not sure about. That way, when you correct your answers, you can make sure to study that type of question and see why you were unsure about it. If you only focus on your wrong answers, you could actually leave some content gaps unfilled. The goal isn't to study until you can get most of the answers right. The goal is to study until you're confident you won't get the questions wrong.
5. Identify and Correct Weaknesses
When correcting, don't go over the answer explanations too quickly. You need to figure out why you got the answer wrong and how you can prevent that mistake the next time. Just drilling practice questions without finding your true weaknesses won’t help you improve.
We suggest taking notes on your mistakes in a notebook. This will help you keep track of your content weaknesses and guide your studying.
6. Don't Sweat The Essay
The essay does not affect your composite score. If getting to a 32 is your main goal, don’t spend tons of time practicing for the essay. You only have 10 days, so use them wisely! While we recommend preparing for the essay to an extent (I highly recommend reading our guide to writing an ACT essay), don't waste hours practicing when you still have point improvements to make on the other sections.
The 10 Day Plan
Now that we've gotten the basics out of the way, here is a 10-day plan you can use to go from a 25 to 32. Again, be aware this a very time-intensive plan. Clear out your schedule as much as you can to give yourself adequate time to study.
Time: 3-4 Hours Per Day
Goal: Fill content gaps that you found when you took the practice test.
As you start your studying, your first priority is to pinpoint topics you don’t know and learn them. You can’t expect to get to a 32 with major content-area weaknesses. Whether you struggle with interpreting scientific studies, solving plane geometry questions, or remembering grammar rules, your first step is to find out what you don’t know and then learn it.
Use your results from the practice test to decide what to focus on during these first four days. Use your prep program or books to focus on subject areas you are struggling in.
On each day, focus on a single ACT section: English, Reading, Math, or Science. Take practice sections, but don’t worry about taking full practice exams yet.
As an example, Student A above would devote one day each to all of the sections, while Student C should probably spend two days on Math and two days on Science.
Suggested Time Breakdown
1-2 hours: Find weaknesses in the section. Use your prep books and the online resources to fill in your content gaps. After you think you’ve learned the new content, quiz yourself on each individual subject weakness.
For example, if you realized you always miss subject/verb agreement questions on the English section, first read up on Subject/Verb agreement and then do practice problems that quiz that topic specifically.
35 minutes - 1 hour: Take a full section from a practice test, strictly timed. If pacing is an issue for you, you can experiment with doing untimed sections, followed by time-and-a-half sections, and then strict timing as you study.
1 hour: Review mistakes from the practice test and make sure you understand them. Remember to take notes on your mistakes in your journal! Research additional content weaknesses if needed.
Time: 4-5 Hours Per Day
Take full practice tests each day. (Not including the essay section at the end.) Even if you have strong sections, like Student C above, do the practice anyway so you can identify any silly mistakes you tend to make and ensure you will do just as well on test day as you do when you practice. Consistency is key.
As you test, star questions that you are not sure of to make sure you revisit them while correcting, even if you end up getting them right.
Spend time afterwards identifying your mistakes and why you made them. Don’t just brush off an answer saying, “Oh, I forgot the Pythagorean theorem so I guessed,” figure out why you couldn’t remember the formula and make a plan to get similar questions right in the future.
Also visit questions you marked as “not sure” even if you did guess them correctly. Make sure to address any stubborn content gaps.
Suggested Time Breakdown
3 Hours: Take the full practice exam.
1-2 Hours: Correct your test and carefully note all of your mistakes in your notebook. Figure out where your remaining weaknesses are and research any content gaps you still have.
Time: 3-5 Hours Per Day
Based on your performance on the practice tests, do more fine-tuned work on areas you still have weaknesses. For example:
1. You could continue to drill areas where you are still making mistakes or have content weaknesses. Maybe you’re still struggling with the trigonometry questions on the math section. Head back to the prep book to review the content before doing more practice questions in that area.
2. Keep doing practice sections if you are still running out of time or struggling with pacing. Remember to wear a watch and keep an eye on how much time you spend on each question.
3. If you are consistently hitting your target score, continue to take full practice tests and grade them. Your goal is consistency, so keep practicing, even if you think you are set to go.
4. You could also spend some time working on the essay – again, the essay will not affect your composite score, but you don’t want it to be extremely low compared to your composite. Check out our guide to writing an ACT essay to help you get started.
Time: 1-2 Hours
You don’t want to study too intensively the day before the test. You’ll burn yourself out and do more harm then good.
Do some practice problems in your weak spots, or one or two practice sections if you were working on pacing, to keep your mind warmed up. But remember to focus on relaxing and getting rest before the test.
If you’re not sure you can handle this on your own, check out PrepScholar’s ACT study program. We go through the process of identifying your weak points for you. We also give you rigorous practice questions designed by 99th percentile scorers.
One important part of studying is keeping your motivation in place. Check out our list of automatic scholarships for ACT scores. The higher your score, the more money you can earn!
You can also use your dream colleges to adjust your target ACT score. See our guide to what a good ACT score is to find out the score you need to aim for. We also have a guide specifically for the Ivy League.
Want to improve your ACT score by 4+ points? Download our free guide to the top 5 strategies you need in your prep to improve your ACT score dramatically.
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Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.