Getting a stellar ACT score isn't easy. You'll have to put in sufficient study time, and you'll have to employ effective study strategies. So what should you be doing to reach the top ACT score of your dreams?
In this article, I'll explain exactly how to ace the ACT from the methods you need to use in your test prep to the best test-taking tips to maximize your score.
What Is Acing the ACT?
For the purposes of this article, acing the ACT refers to getting a score over a 30. Getting this score will make you competitive for admission to most colleges, and based on past results, if you get a score higher than 30, you’ll likely score better than 95% of students who take the ACT.
To get this score, you’ll only be able to miss a handful of questions on each section. You should be aware that for the most selective colleges, you may need a score of 34 or higher for your ACT score to help your chances of getting in. Depending on your college goals, calculate your target score and what a good score would be for you.
Regardless of whether you’re aiming for a 30 or a 36, if you follow the advice in this article, you’ll be preparing yourself to reach your goals. If you’re striving for a 20-27, you may want to focus on our posts about improving your Math, Reading, English, and Science scores.
How Long Do You Have to Study?
Mostly, how long you need to study depends on your starting point and your target score. How much you need to improve will determine the study time you need to achieve your goal.
If you haven’t taken the ACT, take an official practice test simulating real testing conditions to determine where you’re at and how much you need to improve.
Here’s a rough estimate of how long you’ll have to study based on how many points you need to reach your goal:
- 0-1 point improvement: 10 hours
- 1-2 point improvement: 20 hours
- 2-4 point improvement: 40 hours
- 4-6 point improvement: 80 hours
- 6-9 point improvement: 150 hours +
Keep in mind that this is just an estimate based on our data. However, it should give you a general idea of the amount of time you’ll have to put in to ace the ACT.
How to Ace the ACT: Best Study StrategiesYou don’t just need to put in the requisite study hours to ace the ACT; you need to study efficiently. Regardless of whether you’re using test prep books, you have a tutor, or you take an ACT prep class, you should be incorporating these practices into your ACT studying.
Use Real or Realistic Practice Questions
The best questions to study from are those that will most closely resemble the questions that appear on the ACT. The ACT is unlike tests you've taken in school and its format is unique. If you want to ace the ACT, the best way to do so is by knowing you can condfidently answer all of the different types of questions that are likely to appear on the test.
A huge flaw of many test prep books is that their practice questions are either much harder or much easier than those you’ll find on the ACT. Also, some books present questions in a different format than that of the ACT.
Also, the ACT website has practice questions and offers an online ACT prep program. Furthermore, PrepScholar has thousands of realistic ACT questions written by ACT experts.
Focus on Your Weaknesses and Analyze Your Mistakes
You’ll make the best use of your study time by focusing on why you’re missing questions and trying to improve your weaknesses. If you just do a ton of practice questions, but you don’t stop to figure out why you’re getting questions wrong, your score won’t improve much.
If you want to ace the ACT, you’ll have very little room for error. You must comprehend how to correctly answer every type of question and be able to finish each section in the allotted time. For each practice test or question set you do, mark every question that you’re even 20% unsure about.
Then, when you’re reviewing, thoroughly examine each question you got incorrect or guessed on. Make sure you understand how to correctly answer the question and what you didn’t grasp or did wrong.
Keep track of all of these questions with specific notes about what you need to improve. Ask yourself why you got questions wrong, and be as specific as possible.
Take notes about why you're getting questions wrong.
These are the major areas you might need to improve.
Again, to ace the ACT, you’re going to want to know all of the content well. The ACT tests you on a number of concepts related to reading, writing, science, and math. By identifying the specific types of questions you get wrong, you can identify the topics you need to learn better.
Once you diagnose your content weaknesses, study the content. We have articles on this blog related to every type of question. When you’ve become more familiar with the content, do a ton of related practice questions and understand how to correctly answer each practice question.
Even if you understand ACT content and how to do each question, you may struggle finishing sections on time. If you're finishing sections with more than 5 minutes remaining and you're making careless mistakes, then you're rushing. If you're consistently struggling to complete sections in the allotted time, then you need to focus on improving your time management.
If you’re rushing, all you may have to do is slow down and read the questions more carefully. If you’re having trouble finishing questions on time, monitor your time spent per question during your practice. Also, you may increase your speed as you improve your content knowledge.
Additionally, you may be able to better your time management by adopting quality test-taking strategies. For Reading and Writing, you need to figure out the most efficient way for you to read the passages to maximize your score. Drill your approach in your test prep so that you’re comfortable with it. For Math, memorize all formulas you may need to know.
Some students are comfortable with the content and don’t have issues with time management, but they’re still missing questions. Usually, this occurs because of a lack of understanding of ACT strategy.
If you’re missing questions because you’re falling prey to common ACT tricks, then you may need to improve your knowledge of ACT strategy. For example, if you know the grammar rules that are tested on ACT English but you’re missing questions because you’re not reading the whole sentence, you need to work on your ACT strategy.
Strategy errors occur when you understand the content that’s being tested, but you need to improve your approach or understanding of the questions.
Follow these tips for ACT success!
Top Test-Taking Tips to Ace the ACT
Following these tips will help you avoid strategy errors and enable you to correctly answer questions more quickly and efficiently. Make sure to use these tips when taking practice tests so they become habit for you.
Answer Every Question
On the ACT, there's no penalty for incorrect answers, so it's in your best interest to answer every single question. Even if you're clueless on a specific question, you should guess because you have a 25% chance of randomly picking the correct answer on the multiple choice questions.
This is also why it's important to have good time management; you want to make sure that you're able to answer all of the questions. If you're running out of time and know you won't get to the end of the section, you should still fill in random bubbles to give yourself a chance at getting more right answers.
Underline Key Words in the Questions
Regardless of the section, underlining key words can help you make sure you understand what the question is asking and avoid careless mistakes. For instance, In Math, you can know for certain whether you should be solving for x or y. In Writing, you can ensure if a question is asking you whether a sentence should be added or deleted.
Eliminate Wrong Answers
Even though this strategy may sound obvious, it’s important to use, especially if you’re not immediately 100% confident in your answer.
In Reading and Writing, there may be answer choices that seem possible, but if anything about the answer choice isn’t correct, it must be eliminated.
Similarly, in Math, if you have a rough estimate of the correct answer, you can eliminate any answer that isn’t close to your estimate. Or if you know the answer is positive, you can eliminate any answer that’s a negative number.
Eliminating wrong answers will increase your chances of getting questions right and help you arrive at the correct answer.
Get rid of wrong answers!
Finish with Extra Time to Recheck Your Work
You should try to finish each section with approximately 5 minutes remaining. During the remaining time, check any questions you were unsure of. I recommend marking any questions you’re uncertain about while you’re taking the test.
Double check how you got your answer. Once you feel comfortable with your answer, go to the next question. If you’re still unsure, stick with your initial guess. After looking over questions you had doubts about, ensure that you did all your bubbling correctly.
Final Advice: How to Ace the ACT
It’s not easy to ace the ACT, but it’s possible with hard work and a good study plan. If you need help with organization, motivation, or test-taking strategies, you may benefit with the help of a tutor, in-person class, or online program like PrepScholar.
If you don't have much time to prepare for the ACT, read our guide to cramming for the test.
Also, to ace the ACT, you'll want to review our comprehensive ACT prep information.
Finally, to help with your test preparation, learn about the best ACT prep books.
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Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.