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 toward the ACT score of your dream in just 10 days. In this article, we show you how to pinpoint your weaknesses, create an effective study plan, and significantly raise your ACT score.
Feature image: alan9187 from Pixabay
Who Should Use This ACT Study Plan?
Because this is only a 10-day plan, you'll have to commit to between two and five hours each day to see major improvements. Unfortunately, there's no substitute for putting in ample prep time, whether that’s an hour a day over five weeks, or a more concentrated plan like this one.
If you do have more time before your test date, we highly recommend spending at least five weeks studying 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 quickly, or have already taken the ACT and want to improve your score 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. How well you can do this will ultimately dictate how much you improve on the ACT.
Now, let's take a look at the three steps you'll need to take to get your 10-day study plan started.
Step 1: Take a Practice Test
Your first step is to take an official, full-length ACT 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.
Remember to simulate actual test-taking conditions, including using a bubble sheet, and to follow official timing restrictions exactly.
After you’ve taken the test, calculate your score out of 36 for each section to get your composite score (i.e., your total ACT score) and subscores. You can read our guide to learn more about how ACT scoring works.
As you go over your answers, note where you lost the most points. For example, maybe your geometry subscore was super low but your other math subscores were good. Or maybe you lost points randomly, meaning you'll have to dig a little deeper to figure out which concepts you're struggling with.
The ultimate goal is to pinpoint your weaknesses so that you can study the most effectively. Reviewing your mistakes is essential to formulating a solid prep plan.
Your 10-day plan could look very different based on how you do on the practice test. Let's use three hypothetical students as examples: Student A, Student B, and Student C.
Student A's Practice Test Scores
- English: 23
- Math: 25
- Reading: 26
- Science: 25
- Composite: 25
Student A has work to do across the board to get her composite score up to 32. Although we'd recommend this student definitely devote some serious time to studying ACT grammar rules to raise her English score (her lowest section score), every single section score must see significant improvement for her to hit her goal score of 32.
Student B's Practice Test Scores
- English: 30
- Math: 24
- Reading: 24
- Science: 26
- Composite: 26
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 simply scoring 2 or 3 more raw points on that section—which shouldn’t require hours of extra studying. However, they'll need much bigger raw point gains for the other sections.
Don't worry, Student B. By following this 10-day study plan, you'll be able to meet your ACT score goals! (Valerie (Vee) Bordeleau/Flickr)
Student C's Practice Test Scores
- English: 30
- Math: 20
- Reading: 32
- Science: 22
- Composite: 26
Student C needs to make serious gains in Math and Science but is already strong in English and Reading. He should focus his 10-day program on figuring out his content weaknesses in Math and Science, addressing them, and then drilling practice questions.
He can also spend some time working to improve his English and Reading scores so as to lessen the burden on his presumed Math and Science score increases. Any additional composite point he can gain on English or Reading is one he doesn't have to earn on Math or Science. For example, he could aim for 34 on both English and Reading and 30 on both Math and Science and still get a composite score of 32.
Step 2: Set Raw Score Goals for Each Section
For this guide, we are assuming an ACT goal of a 32 composite score. But how many raw points (i.e., the number of questions you answer correctly) do you need to aim for to get this score?
Here are the number of questions you'll need to get correct on each section:
- 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 to these target scores compared with the ACT 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 score.
Remember, the ACT composite score is averaged, so you could get two 30s and two 34s and average out to 32 for all sections. 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 in mind.
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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Step 3: Gather ACT Prep Materials
The final step is to gather the ACT study materials you want to use throughout your study plan.
For step-by-step guidance, we highly recommend our PrepScholar ACT program. We go through the process of identifying your weaknesses for you, giving you more time to focus on filling in content gaps and improving your score.
If you’re going at it alone or just want more tools, though, here's what we recommend for your ACT prep:
#1: ACT Prep Books
Use our guide to the best ACT prep books on the market as a starting point for building your ACT prep book arsenal. These prep books contain practice problems, tests, and the content information you'll need to fix your weaknesses and get a 32 on the ACT.
Definitely start by getting The Official ACT Prep Guide and the Black Book, plus subject-specific books if your performance on your practice test shows weaknesses in certain areas. For example, we'd recommend Student C from our example above get books specifically for Math and Science.
#2: Test Accessories
Pencils, erasers, a calculator, a watch—think of these as tools you need to do well on the ACT.
It might seem trivial, but getting used to using a (ACT-approved) watch to time yourself can help you save time on the test. Plus, if you aren't used to telling time on a watch (as opposed to a cell phone), it's better that you get used to doing so before a high-stress situation like a standardized test.
The same goes for your calculator: you want to make sure you're familiar with the calculator you'll be using on the ACT so you don't waste valuable time on test day fiddling around with it.
Using non-mechanical pencils and erasers instead of pens on the test will get you into the right mindset for the test as well. If you're doing the ACT Essay, writing with a non-mechanical pencil is even more important because you need to get used to writing in pencil for long stretches rather than just for bubbling in answer choices.
#3: Our Free Online ACT Resources
We've got a lot of free ACT prep resources to offer you at PrepScholar.
Our free eBook gives you a more in-depth guide to improving your ACT score and identifying and fixing your weaknesses.
We also strongly recommend reading our article on how to get a perfect 36 on the ACT, written by our resident perfect scorer; this guide will help put you in the right mindset for a 32 or higher. Even if you're not trying to get a 36, you'll need to use these principles to improve your ACT score, especially in such a short time frame.
Finally, we've consolidated all of our writing on the ACT sections into ultimate prep guides. Whether you want general tips or specific strategies, these guides have them all. Learn the principles and get the tools you need to propel your composite score to a 32 with our complete study guides to ACT English, ACT Math, ACT Reading, and ACT Science. If you plan to take the ACT with Writing, be sure to also check out our ultimate guide to the ACT Essay.
#4: Free and Official ACT Practice Tests
Sitting down and taking realistic, full-length ACT practice tests is key to preparing for the ACT. Not only will it familiarize you with the test format, but it'll also help you pinpoint your weaknesses and work on them, as well as give you an idea of how your studying is going. Use our collection of free and official ACT practice tests to get started.
General Advice as You Begin Studying for the ACT
Before we go over our 10-day plan, here are some of our best tips for getting the most out of your ACT prep. Follow these to help you get the biggest score improvements in the least amount of time.
#1: Always Guess
There's 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, it's best to just fill in random answers. You have a 20-25% chance of getting a question right, so take the shot!
#2: Use the Process of Elimination
Eliminating wrong answers is a good way to approach tough questions, and will increase your odds of getting points if you encounter a question you're not sure about and end up guessing on. Even though the right answer isn’t always obvious, it’s usually easy to spot at least one or two wrong answers, raising your odds of getting a question right to 33% or even 50%.
#3: Don’t Get Stuck on Hard Questions
A great strategy is to mark difficult questions and come back to them later. Timing is key on the ACT as you have less than a minute per question. This means that if you waste five minutes on a hard question, you are losing the opportunity to work on five more questions, which can seriously tank your score. See our guide on ACT length for more tips on pacing yourself.
#4: Mark Questions You're Unsure About
When practicing, don’t just correct multiple-choice questions and tally your score. Rather, star any questions you weren't sure about. That way, when you correct your answers, you can make sure to study that type of question and see why you struggled with it (even if you got it right).
If you only focus on correcting wrong answers, you can easily miss subjects that it will help you to review. Remember, the goal isn't to study until you can get most of the answers right—it's to study until you're confident that you won't get any questions wrong.
#5: Identify and Fix Weaknesses
When correcting your answers to ACT practice questions, don't go over the answer explanations too quickly. You need to figure out why you got an answer wrong as well as how you can keep yourself from making this mistake again. Just drilling practice questions without understanding your true weaknesses won’t help you improve your score.
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 ACT Writing section, or Essay, does not affect your composite score. So if getting 32 is your main goal, don’t spend tons of time practicing for the Essay. You only have 10 days, and you'll need to use them wisely!
While we recommend preparing for the Essay to an extent (I suggest reading our guide to writing the ACT Essay), don't waste precious hours practicing for this section when you still have big point improvements to make on other, more important sections.
10-Day ACT Study Plan
Now that we've gotten the basics out of the way, here is a 10-day ACT prep plan you can use to go from 25 to 32. Again, be aware that this a very time-intensive plan. To truly benefit from it, you'll need to clear your schedule as much as you can and give yourself adequate time to study.
Days 1-4: Fill In Content Gaps
Time: 3-4 hours per day
As you start studying, your first priority is to pinpoint topics you don’t know and learn them. You can’t expect to get 32 with major content 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 master it.
Use your results from the practice test to determine what to focus on during these first four days. You should then use your prep program, books, and/or other study materials to concentrate on subject areas you're struggling with the most.
On each day, focus on a single ACT section: English, Reading, Math, or Science. Take practice sections and use practice questions, but don’t worry about taking full practice exams just yet.
For example, Student A above would devote one day each to all of the sections, whereas 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 online resources to fill in your content gaps. After you’ve learned the new content, quiz yourself on each individual 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 this topic specifically.
35 minutes-1 hour: Take a full section from a practice test, strictly timed. If pacing is an issue for you, experiment with doing a combination of untimed sections, time-and-a-half sections, and officially timed sections.
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.
Days 5-7: Take and Review Practice Tests
Time: 4-5 hours per day
During this time you'll take a full practice test each day (excluding 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 can ensure you'll do just as well on test day as you do in your practice. Consistency is key!
As you test, star questions you're unsure of to make sure you revisit them while correcting, even if you end up getting them right.
Spend time afterward identifying your mistakes and figuring out why you made them. Don’t just brush off an answer and say, “Oh, I forgot the Pythagorean theorem, so I guessed." Figure out why you couldn’t remember the formula and then make a plan so you can get similar questions right in the future.
Also, revisit questions you starred even if you ultimately got them right. It's important to address any stubborn content gaps.
Suggested Time Breakdown
3 hours: Take a full ACT practice test (ideally, an official one) without the Essay section.
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.
Days 8-9: Review and Target Weaknesses
Time: 3-5 hours per day
Based on your performance on the practice tests, you'll now do more fine-tuned work on areas you still have weaknesses in. Here are some examples of what you could focus on in your prep:
- Drill areas you're still making mistakes or have content weaknesses in. Maybe you’re struggling with the trigonometry questions on Math. In this case, head back to your study materials to review the content before you do any more practice questions in that area.
- Do more practice sections if you're 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.
- If you're consistently hitting 32, continue to take full practice tests and grade them. Your goal is consistency, so keep practicing, even if you think you're set to go.
- Spend some time working on the Essay. Again, the Essay does not affect your total ACT score, but you don’t want it to be extremely low in comparison. Check out our guide to writing an ACT essay to help you get started.
Day 10: Brush Up On Weaknesses and Rest
Time: 1-2 hours
You don’t want to study too intensively the day before the test—this will burn you out and do more harm than good!
At this stage, it's best to do some practice problems in your weak spots, or one or two practice sections if you're working on pacing, to keep your mind warmed up.
That said, remember to focus on relaxing and getting rest before the test, too. Read our tips for getting ready the night before and the morning of the test. Additionally, make sure you don’t forget anything important when you go to take 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.