Looking for some quick fixes to improve your ACT scores? Look no further. In this article, we give you several tips and tricks for the ACT so that you can get your best possible scores on every section.
First, I'll go through specific tips for each of the five sections (English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing). Then, I'll provide you with overall tips you can use throughout the test. Note that these are all last-minute test-taking advice tidbits rather than in-depth study hacks. Therefore, it's best to view them as light icing on top of a delicious cake representing the ACT expertise you've developed over a longer period of time.
ACT English Tips
The first section you'll take on the ACT is the English section, which focuses on your knowledge of grammar as well as your editing skills.
#1: Choose the Most Concise Answer
ACT English questions look for answers that result in the most straightforward, logical sentence structure, so try to find the choice that provides all of the necessary information for the sentence to make grammatical sense—and nothing extra. The best writing says what it needs to say clearly and concisely!
#2: Read the Paragraph First
A good plan of attack for ACT English is to read the whole paragraph that has the sentence you must revise before you look at the answer choices. This will give you context for your choices and a better grasp on the structure of the sentence and how you might need to change it. With this strategy, you can reduce the number of errors you make caused by careless misreadings.
#3: Be Careful With "No Change" Answers
On ACT English questions that ask you to choose the answer that makes a sentence grammatically correct, you'll have the option to pick "No Change." This is a dangerous choice because if you aren’t aware of more obscure grammar rules, you might be tempted to choose it on some questions for which the sentence actually can be improved. Thus, it’s really important to double-check all other answers before settling on "No Change" as the correct choice.
That said, keep in mind that "No Change" really is the correct answer around 25-30% of the time it's an option, so don't second-guess yourself if you're relatively certain there isn't an error. Read the sentence through with each of the possible suggested changes before you bubble in “No Change” to ensure that you’re ultimately making the right call.
ACT Math Tips
Up next is the ACT Math section. Here, we give you two key tips you'll need to know in order to get a high Math score on test day.
#4: Pay Attention to Diagrams
The ACT Math section will often provide you with diagrams of figures that describe the problem you’re trying to answer. It’s important to pay attention to these figures, as they will give you clues about which answer choices are the most logical.
If a problem asks you to figure out an angle, for example, and some of the choices are acute while others are obtuse, you’ll be able to eliminate at least a couple of these answers just by looking at the diagram. If it doesn’t seem like an answer is possible based on the visual aid alone, it’s usually safe to cross it out.
#5: Plug In Answers and Numbers
Here's how to plug in answers: if a question asks you to solve for x, simply plug each answer choice back into the original equation and see which one works. This will tell you which answer choice is the correct one. You don’t even need to really solve the problem!
Plugging in numbers is a little different. With this strategy, you'll choose random numbers to plug into algebraic variables. This strategy lets you analyze the problem using real numbers instead of unknowns, and works best for questions with multiple variables.
While helpful, these strategies can sometimes be more time consuming than just solving the equation directly, so only use them as a last resort if you're stumped.
All you gotta do is find the right answer cord.
ACT Reading Tips
With ACT Reading—the third section on the test—you'll need to know how to read and interpret passages both quickly and accurately.
#6: Start With Your Strengths
The ACT Reading section is always structured the same way with four topic areas in the same order. Each topic corresponds to a passage or pair of passages. These topics are as follows:
- Prose fiction/literary narrative
- Social science
- Natural science
To make sure you’re getting the most out of this section, start by reading the passage(s) that correspond to the topic area in which you are most comfortable. This might simply mean starting with subject matter that is most interesting to you and will thus make for a quicker read. This way, you can get the questions that are easiest for you out of the way first and won’t risk running out of time before you have a chance to answer others.
#7: Skim Passages
There’s a lot of time pressure on the ACT Reading section, so try to read the passages as efficiently as possible. For some students, it might be manageable to read passages normally and still have enough time to finish the section, but you have to be a really quick and thorough reader in order to pull this off.
The best strategy for most people is to skim the passages instead. In order to skim effectively, read the introduction and conclusion paragraphs as well as the first and last sentences of every body paragraph. This will give you a good overview of the main ideas and allow you to answer most main point questions. When you get to questions about details, you can then reread specific parts of the passage if necessary.
ACT Science Tips
For the Science section, you'll need to know how to interpret data and must answer questions dealing with graphs, tables, and scientific experiments. Here are our two best tips.
#8: Do the Conflicting Viewpoints Section Last
The conflicting viewpoints section on ACT Science is usually the most time consuming for students. In case you’re not familiar with it, this part of the section asks you to read two or three passages that detail different viewpoints on a scientific issue. You'll then answer questions about these viewpoints and how they relate to one another.
Since this is more reading-intensive and can eat up a lot of time, it’s best to save this part for last so that you don’t end up missing other questions later on in the section that will be quicker and easier for you to answer.
#9: Rely On Visuals
The ACT Science section hits you with a lot of complicated terminology and unfamiliar facts that make it seem overwhelming. The best policy when faced with all of this information is to ignore it and go straight for the graphs, which should provide enough information for you to answer the majority of the questions you’re faced with.
Most of the information you’re given is just extra stuff thrown in there to make this section seem more difficult than it really is. In reality, ACT Science is more about logical reasoning and data interpretation than it is about actually knowing any science. As long as you can read the graphs, you'll be fine!
If you can't read this graph, drink more coffee.
ACT Essay Tips
The ACT Writing section, or Essay, is an optional section and the last one you'll take (if you signed up to take it). Below, we give you two expert tips to help you get the Essay score you deserve.
#10: Pre-plan Examples
Since ACT Essay prompts are relatively predictable, you can do some of your own essay planning before the test to save yourself time and stress. Choose concrete examples from art, history, literature, and/or personal experience; try not to use hypothetical or vague examples to support your points.
Keep in mind that all of the facts you use in your essay don’t necessarily have to be true. Graders don’t have time to fact-check, so they'll take everything you write at face value. This means you can make up statistics or historical facts to support your thesis, and you won't be penalized!
#11: Write a Great Intro and Conclusion
It’s likely that the essay graders will read your introduction and conclusion more closely than they will the rest of your essay. If they can find your thesis easily, you're already on the right track to earning a great Essay score. As long as you have body paragraphs that make sense and support the points outlined in your thesis, graders will likely give you at least a 4 in the Organization and Ideas and Analysis domains.
You'll also need to write a conclusion paragraph that restates your thesis and shows a strong understanding of how all your points relate to one another. If you can demonstrate basic knowledge of how to logically structure an essay and stay on topic, you'll be good to go.
Overall ACT Tips
Now, let's wrap up with some general ACT tips to help you feel more confident for test day.
#12: Skip Hard Questions
On the ACT, time pressure is a very real problem for many students. To avoid losing points, you need to learn to skip questions that are giving you trouble before they eat up too much of your time. “Too much of your time” means something different for each section:
- English: more than 30 seconds per question
- Math: more than 60 seconds per question
- Reading: more than 45 seconds per question
- Science: more than 45 seconds per question
As a rule of thumb, if you feel like you’re not any closer to figuring out a question after about 30 seconds, move on. Circle that question so that it’s easier to spot later on when you want to go back to it. Then, make a quick pass through the whole section and answer all of the easy questions first so you don’t miss points by running out of time before you're able to get through everything.
#13: Use the Process of Elimination
For every section of the ACT, use the process of elimination as your main strategy for attacking tough or confusing questions. This ties into the fundamental rule of ACT reading, which says that for every question there is only one completely correct answer—the rest can be eliminated based on evidence in the passage.
The process of elimination is more foolproof than trying to pick out the correct answer from the pack. Look for reasons to get rid of choices rather than reasons why they might work. This will help you be more picky about which answer you bubble in, and will also prevent you from thinking that more than one answer might be correct. If there’s even one tiny thing out of place in an answer choice, get rid of it!
#14: Bubble at the End
You can save time on the ACT by waiting until the end of a section to bubble in your answers. This cuts down on your time per question by letting you avoid the process of going back and forth between your test booklet and answer sheet. It’s more efficient to circle the answers you choose in your test booklet and then fill them in all at once later.
Before using this tip, though, make sure you can reliably finish the section with at least three to five minutes to spare! Don't risk running into a situation in which you don’t have enough time to bubble in your answers even though you’ve gone through all of the questions.
Just as you are legally obligated to pop all of the bubbles in a sheet of bubble wrap, so too must you fill in all bubbles on the ACT.
#15: Answer Every Question
Since there is no penalty for guessing on the ACT, make sure you fill in every bubble! An incorrect answer and an unanswered question both have the same impact on your raw score, so even if you have no idea how to answer something, it's best to go ahead and guess anyway.
#16: Get a Good Night's Sleep the Day Before the Test
It might sound cheesy, but you'll feel a lot more prepared (and awake) on test day if you get a solid amount of shuteye the night before the test. How many hours you need to feel well rested varies depending on the person, but generally it's good to aim for at least eight hours of sleep.
Heading into test day feeling sleepy and exhausted can dramatically affect your ability to focus and potentially lower your score. So get to bed early!
#17: Eat a Hearty Breakfast
In addition to the tip above, it's equally important to eat a healthy, satisfying breakfast before you take the ACT. This way you'll feel more awake and energized before taking the test. What's more, you won't have to worry about a growling stomach later on!
#18: Stay Calm
The most important thing to remember during the ACT is to keep a cool head. Especially given the time pressure, students who suffer from test anxiety often freak out if they have to skip a few questions. Don’t let this happen to you! Keep moving forward and answer what you can. You might find questions that initially seemed impossible are much easier when you come back to them.
The nice thing about the ACT is that once you get through a section, you’re completely done with that subject. So you won’t have to worry about it until the next time you take the test (if that time even comes!).
Review: 18 Tips for Improving Your ACT Score
You can quickly improve your section scores on the ACT if you remember to use these 18 tips before and during the test. Let's recap:
ACT English Tips
- Choose the Most Concise Answer
- Read the Whole Paragraph First
- Be Careful With "No Change" Answers
ACT Math Tips
- Pay Attention to Diagrams
- Plug In Answers and Numbers
ACT Reading Tips
- Start With Your Strengths
- Skim Passages
ACT Science Tips
- Do the Conflicting Viewpoints Section Last
- Rely On Visuals
ACT Essay Tips
- Pre-plan Examples
- Write a Great Intro and Conclusion
Overall ACT Tips
- Skip Hard Questions
- Use the Process of Elimination
- Bubble at the End
- Answer Every Question
- Get a Good Night's Sleep the Day Before the Test
- Eat a Hearty Breakfast
- Stay Calm
Remember, these are quick fixes that aren’t substitutes for studying content and gaining a deeper understanding of your mistakes. You should read some of our other articles, like this one on how to get a 36 on the ACT, to supplement your use of these tips and tricks!
Are you taking the ACT soon and need some advice on last-minute strategies you can use? Here are the best guides to read for last-minute ACT prep.
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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.