Wondering what you can do to boost your performance on the ACT with only a couple days to prepare?
Here are some last minute ACT tips that will help raise your scores and keep you at your best during the test.
General Last Minute Studying Tips
Ideally, you'll want to start studying for the ACT long before your exam date in order to be fully prepared for the test. However, last minute studying can also be helpful for learning some final pieces of information and being fully prepared for exam day. If you're studying right before the ACT, you should spend your remaining time wisely. Follow these tips to ensure that the extra effort pays off!
Tip 1: Focus on Correcting Your Mistakes
It’s easy to take a bunch of practice tests and not bother with analyzing your incorrect answers, but you won't improve much that way. Now is the time to focus in on topic areas that are particularly problematic for you.
You might choose to target just one section of the test and drill down into the reasons you have difficulty with certain types of questions. For each question, make sure you understand why your answer was incorrect and the route you should have taken to arrive at the correct choice.
Tip 2: Check Your Timing
You don’t need to go through a whole practice test, but you should have a general sense of how you've been pacing yourself so the real test doesn’t take you by surprise. How long do 30 seconds and a minute feel to you? This will help you be a better judge of when you need to move on in the real test environment. Since there's so much time pressure on the ACT, this can make a big difference in your scores.
Day of the Test
Follow these tips the morning of your ACT to ensure you start the test prepared and on the right foot.
Tip 3: Sleep Well, Wake Up Early
Go to bed early the night before the test to control for any trouble you might have falling asleep because of nerves. Plan to get seven to nine hours of sleep, and wake up at least an hour before you have to leave for the test. This way your brain will be firing on all cylinders by the time you get there!
Tip 4: Eat Breakfast
Eat something protein-filled that will give you sustained energy but not make you sluggish. If you normally don’t like eating breakfast, try a granola bar or a handful of nuts.
Drink coffee if you usually drink it to stay awake - now probably isn’t the time to kick a caffeine addiction. Don’t drink coffee if you’re not used to it because it could actually make you anxious and less focused on the test.
Tip 5: Dress for Success
This means the opposite of what it usually means because you should dress as comfortably as possible. Bring layers so you don’t get distracted by being too hot or too cold.
Also, pack up everything you need for the test the night before so you don’t forget anything (especially if you're not a morning person!).
There are no crayons allowed on the ACT. You may now weep for your childhood.
During the Test
This is the real deal. Keep these tips in mind while you're taking the ACT to help you out during the exam.
Tip 6: Keep Calm and Test On
Take it one question at a time, and don’t get discouraged when you can’t figure out an answer. Just skip the question and move forward. Getting worked up will only take away from your focus and hurt your scores.
Tip 7: Skip Difficult Questions
If you find yourself floundering on a question, skip it and come back to it at the end of the section.
There's a lot of time pressure on the ACT. If you find you’ve spent more than a minute on a question in the Math, Reading, or Science section, move on and come back to it later. In the English section, don’t spend more than 30 seconds trying to figure out any one question before you move on.
Don't risk running out of time before you get to every question - you could miss easier points down the road.
Tip 8: Check Your Answers
If you have time at the end of a section, don’t waste it. Go back and check over your answers to make sure you’re not missing any easily fixable goofs that could happen if you rush through questions.
Also make sure all the bubbles on your answer sheet are filled in. Remember, there's no penalty for incorrect answers on the ACT, so you have nothing to lose by guessing.
Tip 9: Take Breaks
You get two breaks on the ACT assuming you’re taking it with the writing section. The first is between Math and Reading, and the second is between Science and the essay.
Take advantage of the breaks to clear your mind, use the bathroom, or eat a snack. You’ll feel better prepared for the rest of the test.
Tip 10: If You Take the ACT With Writing, Make Your Essay Clear and Concise
Your essay should be pretty formulaic: introduction, three paragraphs, conclusion. Give concrete examples for each of the points in your argument, and make sure your thesis is clearly spelled out in the introduction.
Try and make your essay around two pages long (or at least more than a page) because there’s a positive correlation between essay length and score.
Tip 11: Go Guerrilla Warfare on This Test
Think of it this way: The ACT is a well organized, regimented army and you’re a ragtag band of misfits using whatever tactics you can to outsmart it.
Here’s some relevant info about each section that will help you:
When in doubt, go for the more concise answer. Follow grammar rules, and don’t overthink things.
Use your calculator as a resource, and make use of the diagrams. If you are trying to figure out an angle or the area of a shape and you’re stumped, choose the answer that seems most logical based on the image.
If you find yourself doing complex math, check yourself before continuing. The concepts being tested are fairly simple and should not require elaborate calculations. Look through these formulas, and make sure you know how to use them before the test!
This is an example of what you won't be doing on ACT Math.
Skim first, then read the questions. You can read more in depth later when the questions point to specific parts of the passage. Try not to overanalyze things: if the evidence for the answer isn't right there in the passage, it’s not the correct answer. Don’t be fooled by answers that are “almost” correct.
ACT Science is essentially about logical reasoning, not knowledge of scientific facts (though some basic science knowledge is helpful). Don’t get overwhelmed by a bunch of numbers and terms you don’t understand. This is designed to distract you from getting down to the relatively simple concepts at the core of the sample experiments.
Remember, it’s much easier than it looks at first!
After the Test
Even after you've finished the exam there are still some tips to keep in mind to ensure you send your best ACT scores to schools.
Tip 12: Be Aware: You Can Cancel Your Scores
If you're really worried about your scores because you know something went horribly wrong on the test, you are allowed to cancel them. For advice on whether you should cancel your scores and how to go about doing so, read this article.
Tip 13: Taking the Test Again? Consider the Test Information Release
If you know you're going to take the ACT again, you should think about ordering Test Information Release, a service the ACT offers for you to review your scores in more detail. This can be a very useful studying tool because it will show you your weak spots in a real test environment. For more information on TIR, read this article.
Tip 14: Chill Out
It's important to give yourself time to decompress and relax after the test! Don't stress out too much about what may have gone wrong. It’s out of your hands now, and your time and energy are much better spent doing other things that you enjoy for the rest of the weekend.
If you want to get a head start on studying, check out these study plans for sophomores and juniors, rising seniors, and our complete plan for all students. You should also figure out your target score so you know how far to plan ahead.
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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.