SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

The Ultimate Free ACT Study Guide: Tips, Strategies, and Practice


At PrepScholar, we've written the best online ACT prep guides available, covering everything you need to know to improve your score on the ACT. They're all available right here on our blog, and we think they beat any book you can purchase. What's more, they’re completely free!

This guide—our Ultimate ACT Prep Guide—collects all of our most important ACT study guides and articles in one place. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to ace the ACT and improve your college admission chances.

We'll start off by briefly going over how to use this guide. Then, we'll go section by section through the most critical pieces of information you'll need to know to get a high ACT score. Here's an outline of what this free ACT study guide includes:

  • How to Use This ACT Study Guide
  • Intro to the ACT
  • How to Approach ACT Prep Effectively
  • ACT Content and Strategies
    • Overall ACT Test Strategy
    • ACT English Prep Guides
    • ACT Math Prep Guides
    • ACT Reading Prep Guides
    • ACT Science Prep Guides
    • ACT Essay Prep Guides
  • ACT Logistics and Planning
    • Test Dates
    • Study Plans
    • Prep Materials

Feature image: Alberto G./Flickr 


How to Use This ACT Study Guide

This ACT study guide collects our most important ACT articles on every topic, from general info to key test-taking tips and specific section content. Without a doubt, all of these topics are critical for making the most of your prep and staying confident on test day.

We’ve arranged the following guides in roughly the order we recommend reading them, starting with a basic overview of the ACT and moving on to high-level strategies. From there, we dive into content review and tips for each section before finishing up with suggestions for planning your ACT prep and picking a test date.

Depending on how much ACT prep you’ve completed, you might want to skip around and read only the sections that are relevant to you. However, we strongly recommend working through all of our guides more or less in order so that you're not overlooking any crucial info you need to know. It can also be helpful to read guides on topics you already know to refresh your memory.

If you're pressed for time, feel free to read part of this guide and come back to it later. There’s a ton of info here, so don’t feel as though you need to digest everything in a single sitting! In fact, we strongly recommend bookmarking this page to make it easier to return to later.

Now, let’s take a look at our top ACT guides!




Intro to the ACT

All beginners to the ACT should start with the basics. In this section, you'll learn how the test is structured, what kinds of questions and content it tests, and what its scoring scale means for you.


Why Is the ACT Important for Your College Goals?

You’ll likely need to take the ACT or SAT to get into college, but how important is your ACT score to schools? And how can you use this knowledge to raise your chances of getting into the college of your dreams? This extensive guide explains why colleges look at ACT scores and how they use ACT scores to compare students across the country.


What Is the ACT? A Complete Explanation of the Test

This article lays out all of the fundamentals of the ACT: how it started, what it tests, and why you need to take it. It also offers a few tips on how to get started on making an ACT study plan.


What’s Actually Tested on the ACT English Section?

What’s Actually Tested on the ACT Math Section? Concepts, Subjects, and Skills

What’s Actually Tested on the ACT Reading Section? Skills You Need

What’s Actually Tested on the ACT Science Section? Skills and Topics

You'll need to familiarize yourself with the four ACT sections. Our individual section guides explain what you can expect on each section in regard to content and question types.


How Is the ACT Scored?

What does a 36 mean? A 15? A 24? Understanding how the ACT is scored is vital to creating the most effective prep plan for you. This comprehensive guide lays out how your ACT score is calculated and how to use this info to your advantage.


Average ACT Scores for Colleges

Average ACT Scores by State (Most Recent)

ACT Percentiles and Score Rankings

Before taking the ACT, it's important to know what the average ACT score is and what percentiles are. Our guides give you the overall ACT average, explain how this average can vary by college and state, and go over how to use percentiles to compare your performance with other test takers'.


What Is a Good ACT Score? A Bad ACT Score? An Excellent ACT Score?

Everyone wants to get a good ACT score on test day. But what’s more important than hitting a certain percentile is getting a score that’s right for you. This guide explains how to figure out what a good ACT score for you is and how to set a target score based on where you're applying.


Is The ACT Easier Than the SAT?

Should You Take the ACT or the SAT?

Still not sure whether to take the ACT or SAT? These guides teach you the differences between the two tests and help you decide which one is ultimately right for you.




How to Approach ACT Prep Effectively 

Now that you’ve got your basics down, let’s move on to getting started on your prep. What is the best way to approach the ACT? And how can you make sure you’re studying effectively for it? These resources will help you get in the right mindset for ACT prep.


How to Prepare for the ACT: Ultimate 10-Step Guide

You can’t take the ACT without prepping for it first. (Well, technically you can, but I certainly don't recommend it!) This guide gives you a detailed 10-step plan to help you make the most of your ACT prep.


ACT Advice: Top 5 Tips on Preparing for the Test

Looking for a more concise list of ACT prep tips? Then this guide is for you! In this post, we introduce our top five tips to help you prepare effectively for the ACT. These include designing an ACT study plan and using your time wisely.


How to Beat Procrastination in Your ACT Prep

Nearly everyone has procrastinated on something—and many on ACT prep! With school and homework, it can be difficult to find time and energy to study for the ACT. This is why we’ve written a handy guide to help you get started on your test prep. Our tips teach you to hold yourself accountable for your actions and show you how to find the willingness to study.


How to Get a Perfect ACT Score, by a 36 Full Scorer

If you’re trying to get a perfect ACT score, you absolutely must read this guide. Even if you’re not aiming for a perfect score, this is an excellent resource that can help you understand what kinds of strategies to use to get a high ACT score.

Written by a full scorer (who also got a perfect SAT score—twice!), our guide explains all of the major tricks and methods you must use to get a 36 on test day. Rather than focusing on content, we tell you the key strategies, such as how to find and target your weaknesses, you'll need to know when aiming for perfection.




ACT Content and Strategies

Our guides above teach you what the ACT is and give you a foundation for your ACT prep. Now, we get to the meat of our resources: all of the content and strategies you’ll need to know to do well on the ACT. We’ll start generally and then narrow in through section-specific guides to help you target particular skills and concepts.


Overall ACT Test Strategy

The Best Way to Review Your Mistakes for the ACT

Many students take practice tests and drill practice questions without actually stopping to understand what their mistakes mean or how they can use their errors to their advantage. In this guide, we teach you how to review your mistakes so that you can know your weaknesses and stop making the same mistakes again and again.


Should You Guess on the ACT? 5 Guessing Strategies

Should you guess if you don’t know the answer to a question on the ACT or are running out of time? Absolutely! Because there are no penalties for incorrect answers, you’ll give yourself your best shot at hitting your ACT goal score by answering every question. But how can you guess smartly? This guide offers five key strategies to use in your prep and on test day.


15 ACT Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Score

Having some trouble hitting your goal score? These 15 tips and strategies will improve your ACT section scores and give you the confidence you need for test day.


For High Scorers

Already Have a High ACT Score? How to Improve Even More

If you’re consistently scoring highly on ACT practice tests but still want to improve your score, this guide is meant for you. Here, we teach you how to focus your prep, manage your time, and conquer your anxieties to get the high (and perhaps perfect!) ACT score you’re aiming for.


For Low Scorers

Low ACT Scores: What Should You Do?

Are You Smart but Scoring Low on the ACT? What to Do

Not impressed with your ACT scores on practice tests? Then use these guides to learn what kinds of mistakes (both content and mental) you’re making and what changes you can make in your prep to ultimately increase your score.




ACT English Prep Guides

ACT English Prep: The Best Methods and Strategies

If you’re not sure where to start in your ACT English studies, read this guide. We cover the best ways to prep for ACT English as well as how to address and fix time-management issues.


The Ultimate Study Guide for ACT English: Tips, Rules, Practice, and Strategies

Looking for a thorough ACT English guide? This guide is actually a stockpile of all of our best and most helpful ACT English articles. From individual grammar guides to expert strategies, we give you everything you need to know to ace ACT English—in one convenient resource.


The Complete Guide to ACT Grammar Rules

ACT English is all about grammar. Check out this article to see all major grammar topics tested on the ACT, from ambiguous references to verbal phrases, in addition to key rhetorical skills, such as redundancy, formality, and conciseness.


The Best Way to Approach ACT English Passages

To do well on ACT English, you need to have a good passage-reading strategy. This strategy won’t necessarily be the same as the one you use for ACT Reading and Science passages (though it can be!).

For English specifically, we recommend the graf-by-graf method (short for “paragraph-by-paragraph”). This guide goes over what this strategy is and how you can use it on test day to get a high ACT English score.


How to Improve Your ACT English Score: 9 Tips From a Perfect Scorer

If you’re currently scoring in the 14-24 range on ACT English, this guide is a good fit for you. Here, we offer you expert tips on how to approach and study for the English section so that you can eventually raise your score to 26+.


How to Get 36 on ACT English: 9 Strategies From a Perfect Scorer

This guide contains expert advice, all from a perfect scorer, and teaches you how to get a 36 on ACT English. Key points covered here include how many questions you must get right to get a 36 on English, how to study grammar effectively, and how to identify patterns in your mistakes.




ACT Math Prep Guides

The 31 Critical ACT Math Formulas You MUST Know

Math formulas are critical to doing well on ACT Math. And since you’re not going to get any on test day, you’ll need to memorize the most important ones as you prep. This guide covers 31 major math formulas likely to pop up on the ACT.


The Ultimate ACT Math Prep Guide: Strategies, Topics, and Tips

This guide collects all of our best ACT Math articles in one place for you. From strategies to content to expert tips, we cover everything you need to know to get the Math score you want.


Plugging In Answers: A Critical ACT Math Strategy

Plugging In Numbers: A Critical ACT Math Strategy

Of all math strategies you can use on the ACT, these two are by far the most important. If you don’t know how to solve a math problem or need a quick and easy method, try plugging in an answer or number and then solving.


How to Stop Running Out of Time on ACT Math

The Secret to ACT Math: Mastering the Time Crunch

You’ll only have about one minute per question on ACT Math, so time management is crucial. These guides offer essential tips on how to use your time wisely on the Math section so that you're never spending too much or too little time on a question.


How to Improve Low ACT Math Scores: 9 Tips From a Perfect Scorer

If you’re having trouble scoring above a 24 on ACT Math, read this guide. You'll learn what it takes to get a 26+ on Math and how to prepare effectively for the section.


How to Get 36 on ACT Math: 8 Strategies by a Perfect Scorer

Aiming for a perfect ACT Math score? Then you'll definitely want to check out this guide. Here, our resident ACT full scorer offers several foolproof tips on studying math and making the most of your prep.




ACT Reading Prep Guides

The #1 Critical, Fundamental Strategy of ACT Reading

If you only have time to read one ACT Reading guide, definitely read this one. Here, we give you the #1 critical strategy you’ll need to know to get questions right on ACT Reading. Once you’ve mastered this strategy, your Reading score is sure to go up.


The Ultimate Prep Guide to ACT Reading: Strategies, Tips, and Practice

This ultimate guide is essentially a gigantic stockpile of all of our best ACT Reading resources. Get the rundown on what the Reading section tests, how it’s scored, and what the best test-prep and test-day strategies are.


The Best Way to Approach the ACT Reading Passage

Wondering how to read ACT Reading passages—or whether you should even read them at all? This guide goes over the three best ways to approach Reading passages and offers tips on how to answer the questions that accompany them.


How to Answer ACT Reading Questions: 5-Step Guide

Need help getting questions right on ACT Reading? In this resource, we explain how to break down Reading questions and eliminate incorrect answer choices. We also go over the common ways ACT Reading likes to trick test takers.


How to Stop Running Out of Time on ACT Reading

Time management can be difficult on ACT Reading, which only gives you about 53 seconds per question. This is why it’s so important to learn how to manage your time wisely. Our guide explains how to monitor your time and practice effectively so that you're getting more questions right before time runs out.


How to Improve Your ACT Reading Score: 8 Expert Tips

If you’re scoring around 24 or lower on ACT Reading, this guide—written by an expert full scorer—can help you raise your score to at least a 26 on test day. We summarize what it takes to get a 26 on Reading, explain how ACT Reading likes to trick test takers, and give you eight strategies to help you get a higher score.


How to Get 36 on ACT Reading: 11 Strategies From a Perfect Scorer

Aiming for perfection? Then check out our guide to getting a 36 on ACT Reading, written by an actual full scorer. With this resource, we teach you how to identify and target your weaknesses as well as how to find the best passage-reading strategy for you.




ACT Science Prep Guides

The Big Secret of ACT Science: It’s More Reading Than Science

If science isn’t your forte, don’t freak out! The truth is that, despite its name, ACT Science is way more about reading than it is about actual science. This guide explains what kinds of reading skills you’ll need to have for ACT Science and teaches you how to improve them.


The Ultimate Study Guide for ACT Science: Tips, Practice, and Strategies

For a robust resource of all of our best ACT Science articles, check out our ultimate ACT Science study guide. We give you links to a variety of articles and guides focusing on the format of ACT Science, what it tests, and how you can prepare effectively for it.


The 5 Best Strategies for Reading ACT Science Passages

Because the Science section is more about your reading comprehension than it is your science knowledge, it’s important to develop a solid passage-reading strategy for test day. This guide summarizes the five possible strategies you can use and shows you how to find the perfect fit for you.


The Only Actual Science You Have to Know for ACT Science

You now know that ACT Science doesn’t really contain that much science. So what science do you actually need to know for it? This guide lists the key scientific concepts in biology, chemistry, physics, and math you’ll need to know to score highly on ACT Science.


Time Management Tips and Section Strategy on ACT Science

Like Reading, you’ll have about 53 seconds per question and about five minutes per passage on ACT Science. But how can you manage your time so that you’re answering most or all questions correctly? We teach you what order to read the passages in, the maximum amount of time you should spend on a question, and how to keep your energy level up on test day.


How to Improve ACT Science Scores: 6 Tips From a Perfect Scorer

Did you take practice tests but didn’t get the ACT Science score you wanted? Don't worry because there are plenty of ways to raise it! If you’re scoring in the range of 14-24 on the Science section, this guide will give you the confidence and practical tools you need to score at least a 26.


How to Get 36 on ACT Science: 13 Strategies From a Perfect Scorer

Aiming higher than a 26? Then check out our guide to getting a perfect ACT Science score, written entirely by an ACT expert and full scorer. In this guide, we provide you with 13 key strategies for reaching perfection in addition to examples of schools that expect perfect Science scores.




ACT Essay Prep Guides

Should You Take the ACT With or Without Writing?

ACT Writing is optional, meaning some students take the ACT with Writing and others don’t. But what should you do? Read this guide to get advice on whether you should take the ACT essay. We go over key factors to consider, such as the price of the ACT with Writing and whether a high Writing score could potentially boost your application.


How to Write an ACT Essay: Step-by-Step Example

You’ve decided to take the ACT with Writing—but how do you actually write an ACT essay? This step-by-step guide takes you through the entire process of composing a strong ACT essay, from planning and brainstorming to organizing paragraphs and revising your work.


The Ultimate ACT Writing Study Guide: Tips, Strategies, and Practice

If you prefer having all of your ACT Writing resources in one place, this is the guide for you. Here, we’ve gathered all of our best ACT essay articles and guides to help you prepare for the Writing section and get the score you want on test day.


How to Attack ACT Essay Prompts and Raise Your Score

ACT essay prompts can be confusing if you’re not used to them. We explain what the ACT wants you to write about in your essays and go over the different ways essay prompts are often worded.


ACT Writing Tips: 15 Strategies to Raise Your Essay Score

Getting a high score on ACT Writing can be challenging, but as long as you know what graders are looking for, you should have no problem raising your score. Read this guide to learn all of our best tips and strategies for getting a solid essay score.


How to Get a Perfect 12 on the ACT Writing Essay

Craving a perfect essay score? This comprehensive guide explains what a 12 on the ACT essay means, elaborates on how a 12 differs from a 10 (even though both are high scores!), and offers a list of do’s and don’ts for a level-12 essay.




ACT Logistics and Planning

You won’t do well on the ACT if you don’t plan ahead of time. This is why it’s important to ask yourself some basic logistical questions: when will you take the ACT? How many times should you take it? How many weeks or months should you spend studying?

Our resources below will help you plan your ACT prep. In addition, we give you links to high-quality study materials you can incorporate into your prep plan.


Test Dates

When Should You Take the ACT? Best Test Dates

When Should I Take the ACT for the First Time?

Choosing a test date is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make when it comes to the ACT. You should give yourself enough time to prepare for the test and (hopefully) raise your score. These guides explain when the best time to take the ACT is, whether it’s your first or third attempt.


ACT Test Dates Full Guide to Choosing (2016, 2017, 2018)

Future Years’ ACT Test Dates: 2017, 2018, and Beyond

For a full list of ACT test dates, check out these guides, which offer verified (and projected, if info has not been released yet) dates and deadlines for future ACT test dates. Use these resources to help you decide which date works best for your schedule.


Study Plans 

Exactly How Long Should You Study for the ACT? A 6-Step Guide

How long you need to study for the ACT depends on a few main factors: your baseline score, your target score, and how much time you have before test day. This guide explains how to figure out what an ideal study plan is for you using these criteria.


1-Month ACT Study Plan: How to Raise Your Score Quickly

How to Cram for the ACT: 10-Day, 4-Point Prep Plan

The key to doing well on the ACT is to not procrastinate. But if you already made the mistake of putting off your prep, the best thing you can do now is to figure out how to use the rest of your time effectively. These two guides teach you how to study for the ACT despite your time limitations and offer tips on what study materials to use.


Prep Materials

Complete Official ACT Practice Tests, Free Links

Guide to Using ACT Practice Tests: 20-Hour Prep

Official full-length ACT practice tests are by far the best resources you can use for ACT prep. These links give you all available practice tests as PDFs and explain how to use them in your prep.


Best ACT Prep Books 2017

The 10 Best ACT Books Recommended for ACT Prep

Prep books offer comprehensive overviews of the ACT, from content review and practice questions to answer explanations and test-taking tips. But which ones are worth buying? These guides give you our top picks for both official and unofficial ACT prep books.


The Best ACT Prep Websites You Should Be Using

Although we believe PrepScholar offers the best ACT info on the web, it’s a good idea to supplement your studies with other high-quality ACT prep websites. In this guide, we give you a list of the best websites you can use for ACT practice, content review, and strategy help.


The 4 Best ACT Apps (and How to Use Them in Your Prep)

Apps shouldn’t be the only material you use for ACT prep, but they can be excellent supplemental resources and on-the-go refreshers. This guide introduces the top four ACT apps and explains how to use them so that you’re benefiting from their best features.


Concluding Words

By now, you’ve hopefully read, or at least skimmed, several of the resources in this free ACT study guide. That’s great! Use the guides we link to here to launch you to other resources and links you think might be helpful to you. We hope you’ll continue to use this resource to look for answers to your questions and prepare yourself for the ACT.

As a reminder, try not to get overwhelmed by all the info here (and out there, too!). The ACT is an important test, sure, but it’s also completely manageable. So take your time, read what you want to learn more about, and practice your skills using high-quality materials. Good luck!


body_four_leaf_clover.jpgA little extra luck for you on the ACT! (JD Hancock/Flickr)


What’s Next?

Want more help with your ACT prep? Let us lend you a hand! With our customizable online ACT prep program, you'll get all the help you need and the freedom you want.

Thinking of taking the SAT, too? Then you'll definitely want to check out our ultimate SAT study guide. Like this guide, our SAT version offers a giant compilation of our best articles and resources, all of which are completely free!



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Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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