Only got a month until the ACT? No worries! In this guide, we offer you our best tips and advice on how to study for the ACT in a month. First, we’ll discuss the feasibility of a one-month ACT prep plan and the four critical steps you must take to get started. Then, we’ll provide you with our best high-impact tips to help you get the ACT score you need for college.
Can You Study for the ACT in a Month?
In short, yes, you can study for the ACT in a month—but how you manage your time will play a big role in how high of a score you ultimately get. Additionally, the feasibility of your plan will depend on how big of a point improvement you want to make, based on your baseline and goal scores (I'll explain both of these in more detail shortly).
Generally speaking, how long should you study for the ACT? Below are our estimates for total point improvements on the ACT based on the number of study hours you put in:
- 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+
As these numbers indicate, the bigger the point improvement you want to make on the ACT, the more hours you’ll need to dedicate to your studies—and thus the more difficult it’ll be to carry out your ACT study plan within a month.
For the most part, though, you should be able to study for the ACT in a month, as long as your score goals are workable. In other words, you shouldn't be spending more than five hours a day cramming for the ACT!
So what does all of this mean for you? Basically, you must be prepared to create and follow a reasonable study plan if you truly wish to hit your ACT goal score on test day.
How to Study for the ACT in a Month: The First 4 Steps
Before we give you our expert tips for a successful month-long ACT study plan, let's look at the four essential steps you'll need to take to get your plan started.
Step 1: Find Your Target Score
Begin by downloading our free guide to setting an ACT target score. Your ACT target score, or goal score, is the score most likely to get you into at least one of the colleges you’re applying to (excluding any safety schools).
To find your goal score, look up the 25th and 75th percentile scores for all your schools (or just your most selective school). You can either look at your schools’ official websites or search for your schools' ACT scores in our database by Googling “[School Name] ACT PrepScholar.” Our pages offer updated ACT (and SAT) score info for tons of schools. Here’s an example of UNC’s ACT scores and GPA page.
Next, take the average of the 75th percentiles for your schools. This average will be your target score and should give you the best shot at getting accepted into at least one of the schools on your list.
You can also aim for your most selective school’s 75th percentile instead. Compared with the average for your schools, this score will be somewhat harder to get; however, reaching it ensures that you’ll have an excellent shot at getting into all your schools (instead of just one or a few).
Step 2: Get Your Baseline Score
Your second step is to figure out your baseline ACT score. A baseline score is the score you start with before beginning any ACT prep, and it’s what you’ll use to calculate how many points you’ll need to improve by in order to hit your goal score from step 1.
To find this score, take an official ACT practice test. Treat the test as you would the real exam: find a quiet place to take it, time yourself in accordance with the official time limits, and forego extra or longer breaks than those allowed on the actual ACT. Your overarching goal is to recreate the ACT testing environment as closely as possible so you can get an accurate baseline score.
Once you finish the practice test, use your test’s answer guide to calculate your scale ACT scores for each section and the ACT as a whole. Your total score (out of 36) will be your baseline ACT score.
Step 3: Choose a Study Plan
Once you have your baseline and target scores, take the difference of these two scores to get the total number of points you'll need to hit your goal score. For example, if my target score is 32 and I scored 27 on my practice test, I'd need to improve my baseline score by a total of 5 points.
After, match the difference you get to its corresponding number of study hours:
- 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+
You now know the approximate number of hours you'll need to study for the ACT over the course of a month. But how should you spread out these hours each week? Each day? Below, we offer you different study plan options based on the amount of study time you'll need to commit to.
But first, a brief reminder: always choose a study plan that’ll work well for you. Don’t opt for a plan that’ll require you to study excessively on weekdays if you know this type of plan will wear you out easily. Consider your commitments, and be realistic about when and how often you’ll actually be able to study.
And now, here are our study plans!
Light: You Want to Improve Your Score by 0-1 PointsThis easily manageable plan requires a total of 10 hours in a month, which comes out to about two and a half hours a week. Your best options for this plan are as follows:
- 2 hours and 30 minutes, once a week
- 1 hour and 15 minutes, twice a week
- 30 minutes, five times a week
Medium: You Want to Improve Your Score by 1-2 PointsThis plan is slightly heavier than the Light Plan and requires 20 hours of prep over the course of a month, equaling five hours a week on average. I recommend trying out the following plans:
- 2 hours and 30 minutes, twice a week
- 1 hours and 15 minutes, four times a week
- 1 hour, five times a week
Heavy: You Want to Improve Your Score by 2-4 PointsMoving on to the heavier plans now! For this plan, you'll need to study for a total of 40 hours over the course of a month. This comes out to approximately 10 hours a week, which you can divide as so:
- 3 hours and 20 minutes, three times a week
- 2 hours and 30 minutes, four times a week
- 2 hours, five times a week
Heavier: You Want to Improve Your Score by 4-6 Points
Not many students will be able to keep up with this plan, but if you’re set on increasing your baseline score by 4-6 total points, you’ll need to prep for at least 80 hours, or about 20 hours a week. Here are your options for prep schedules:
- 5 hours, four times a week
- 4 hours, five times a week
- 3 hours and 20 minutes, six times a week
Impossible? You Want to Improve Your Score by 6-9 Points
This plan requires 150+ study hours over the course of a month. That's a staggering 40 hours a week! Therefore, I strongly recommend against undertaking this study plan.
If you’re committed to improving your ACT score by as many points as possible, try opting for the Heavier Plan and then retake the test at a later date should you still want to improve your score.
Step 4: Gather High-Quality Study Materials and Resources
Finally, it’s time to gather your top choices for ACT study materials and resources. Whether you already have a prep book picked out or are completely at a loss as to what you'll need for your study plan, let us help guide you with a compilation of our best ACT resources:
- Ultimate ACT Study Guides: Our free guides for the ACT English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing sections, as well as the test as a whole, offer a surefire combination of content review and strategy.
- Complete Official ACT Practice Tests, Free Links: Here, we've collected all the official ACT practice tests available online. These tests are based on real ACTs and offer the most realistic practice questions you can get. Plus, they're completely free to download!
- Best ACT Prep Books 2018: I strongly recommend purchasing a highly reviewed ACT prep book to use as your primary guide throughout your studies. Our article offers in-depth reviews of the best ACT prep books currently available. Furthermore, all the books on our list have been personally reviewed by a perfect ACT scorer, so you can rest assured they're worth the investment!
- The Best ACT Prep Websites You Should be Using: This handy compilation lists various websites you can use for all sorts of ACT help, including practice questions and strategy guides.
- The 4 Best ACT Apps (and How to Use Them in Your Prep): If you’re looking for on-the-go, supplementary learning materials, these four ACT apps are certain to lend a boost to your test prep!
As a final tip, I suggest browsing our SAT/ACT blog to learn more about the ACT in general, including how it works, what it tests, and what steps you can take to get the scores you need for college.
Once you've got your study materials picked out, read on to learn about our top 11 tips on how to study for the ACT in a month!
How to Study for the ACT in a Month: 5 Essential Tips
At last, it's time for you to get your study plan off the ground! Here are five tips for making the most of your month-long ACT prep schedule.
#1: Learn the ACT Format Inside and Out
Before you take the ACT, it's important you know everything there is to know about the structure and content of the exam. This way there will be no surprises for you on test day!
- 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
- The New Enhanced ACT Writing Test (2016): Complete Guide
#2: Track Your Progress With Official Practice Tests
While you study, it's imperative to track your progress using official ACT practice tests. Once again, these tests are the closest you can get to the real exam and will let you see whether you’re on track to hitting your target score.
Because you'll only have a month to study for the ACT, try to take two to three tests in total. It's best to take one at the beginning of your study plan (to get your baseline score) and a second one closer to the middle of your study plan, or around the two-week mark.
Just make sure you're spacing out your practice tests. Don't take more than three in a month, and definitely don't take one right before test day—you'll just burn yourself out!
#3: Review Basic English, Math, and Science Topics
To do well on the ACT, you must familiarize yourself with all of the basic English, math, and science topics most likely to appear on the test. Here, we cover the specific concepts you'll need to have down before test day.
- Rhetorical skills (40-55%)
- Sentence structure (20-25%)
- Punctuation (10-15%)
- Grammar and usage (10-15%)
We’ve got tons of topic-specific guides for ACT Math, which you can access through our ultimate ACT Math prep guide. Before you delve into higher-level math concepts, though, make sure you read all about integers (we’ve also got an advanced guide to integers).
Below is the breakdown of the math topics you'll need to know. I suggest beginning with the most important sections (pre-algebra and plane geometry) before proceeding to the others.
- Pre-algebra (20-25%)
- Plane geometry (20-25%)
- Elementary algebra (15-20%)
- Intermediate algebra (15-20%)
- Coordinate geometry (15-20%)
- Trigonometry (5-10%)
Luckily, you’re not expected to have a ton of background knowledge in biology or chemistry for this section! That said, there will be a handful of scientific concepts you’ll need to be familiar with in order to do well on the test. Read our guide for more info about what these fundamental topics are and how you should study them.
#4: Learn the Most Helpful Math Strategies
ACT Math may or may not be your cup of tea, but with these handy strategies, you’ll be getting the Math score you want in no time!
First off, always try to re-solve any ACT Math questions you answer incorrectly. This strategy is important because it lets you think deeply about where you might’ve made a mistake with your calculations and what different steps you can take to try to get the right answer.
As you re-solve the question, use the correct answer to guide you—but don’t look at the answer explanation before attempting to figure it out on your own!
On test day, your two best math strategies are plugging in answers and plugging in numbers. With these strategies, even if you’re unsure how to solve a problem, you can still attempt to work it out, ultimately increasing your chances of choosing the right answer. Both of these strategies work particularly well for algebraic problems that ask you to manipulate or solve variables.
#5: Pick a Strategy for Reading Passages
It’s passages galore on the ACT English, Reading, and Science sections! But before we dive into possible reading strategies, let's look at the different skills each section tests:
- English tests your understanding of grammar, style, and flow.
- Reading tests your overall reading comprehension and vocab knowledge.
- Science tests your ability to correctly interpret data and understand scientific concepts and hypotheses.
Because these three sections test such unique content, it’ll be best for you to develop separate passage-reading strategies for each section. Here are the best strategies to try out:
There's only one highly recommended passage-reading method for English, and that's the graf-by-graf method. With this strategy, you'll read passages paragraph by paragraph, and answer questions for one paragraph at a time. This method is ideal for ACT English since it lets you digest the content of the passage while also taking note of any glaring technical errors.
There are three possible passage-reading strategies for the Reading section of the ACT:
- Read the questions and then skim the passage (highly recommended)
- Skim the passage and then read the questions
- Read the passage closely (not recommended)
In this section, your passage-reading options are as follows:
- Skip straight to the questions, answering as many as you can using only the visuals (i.e., graphs, tables, etc.)
- Skim the passage and then read the questions
- Read the whole passage first (not recommended)
To figure out which reading strategies work best for you, take an official ACT practice test and time yourself on the English, Reading, and Science sections using official time limits. (You don’t need to take these sections back to back—separately is fine!) If possible, take multiple tests so that you can try out a different passage-reading strategy each time.
Once you finish, check your answers and score your test. The passage-reading method that gives you the highest score on a section should be the one you practice with and use on test day!
6 Additional ACT Prep Tips for High Achievers
If you want to increase your ACT baseline score by a fairly large margin—anywhere in the 4-9 point range—you’ll need to spend as much time as you can mastering all major ACT concepts. Our six additional tips below teach you both how to study for the ACT in a month and how to get a super high ACT score.
#6: Closely Analyze Real Questions
To truly do well on the ACT, you need to know not only the basics of how it’s structured but also what kinds of questions it'll give you on test day and the approaches you can use to successfully tackle these problems head-on.
Official ACT practice tests are your best bets for realistic questions. What you'll want to do is tear apart these questions to ensure that you can identify the ACT question types and readily understand what they’re asking you to do.
For example, can you distinguish the Reading section's inference questions from function and development questions? Can you tell apart the different types of math on ACT Math? Do you understand how to read graphs and tables so that you're capable of answering questions about scientific data?
In the end, you’ll save yourself both time and brainpower if you know ahead of time what kinds of questions you’ll be asked and when they’ll appear on the test.
#7: Study ALL Critical Math and English Topics
In addition to studying the basics of ACT Math and English, high achievers should spend extra time mastering some of the less common (but still important) concepts likely to come up on the test.
For Math, this means focusing on mastering trigonometry, the least prominent math topic on the ACT (albeit one that's certain to appear!). Trig accounts for 5-10% of your Math score, or four to six questions. Although six questions doesn't sound like much, it might very well be the difference between getting a 36 and getting a 32 on Math!
You should also spend time memorizing all critical math formulas. Because the ACT doesn’t give you any formulas on test day like the SAT does, you must spend time memorizing the ones that are most likely to appear on the exam.
As for English, take a look at our complete ACT grammar guide to learn every single ACT grammar rule. You might also want to read up on the less-commonly tested topics of adjectives vs adverbs and formality.
#8: Become an Expert at Critical Reading
Though ACT Reading questions can be confusing and difficult, there’s a pretty easy trick you should definitely try to master. Here it is: there is always one definitively correct answer—meaning all other answer choices must contain a clear indication that they are incorrect.
You can hone this crucial skill by studying with high-quality ACT Reading questions. As you practice, pay close attention to answer choices that don’t perfectly answer the question you’re being asked. A wrong answer choice is usually one that has one or more of the following qualities:
- The opposite of what’s written
- An inaccurate conflation of information from the passage
- Plausible but ultimately not supported directly by the passage
On Reading, all correct answers will be supported by clear evidence in the passage. So if you come across an answer choice that sounds sort of right but isn’t actually written down or directly supported by the passage, chances are it's wrong!
#9: Improve Your Vocab
Fortunately, vocab doesn't make up a particularly large part of the ACT English or Reading sections. But if you’re aiming for a high score on test day, I recommend dedicating a little prep time to improving your vocab.
Most vocab words on the ACT are of medium difficulty. This means you'll predominantly need to study idioms and lesser-known secondary meanings of common words. To learn ACT vocab words, check out our list of 150 ACT words you should know and Scholastic’s 100-word ACT/SAT vocab list.
Want to cover all your bases? You can learn even more words with our extensive SAT vocab list of 250+ words. (The vocab on the SAT is extremely similar to that on the ACT.)
#10: Strengthen Your Weak Spots
During your studies, you’ll likely notice some concepts or areas you struggle with more than you do with others. The best way to strengthen your weak spots is to concentrate more on content review and practice questions. I suggest working with a combination of high-quality prep books, strategy guides, and official ACT questions.
As you work on improving your ACT skills, keep track of any question types you’re continually missing. Try to identify why you're missing these questions, and start to think about how you can ultimately transform your mistakes into successes.
#11: Pace Yourself
Our last tip is to learn how to pace yourself. Knowing how to answer ACT questions won’t help you in the end if you’ve got 10 blank questions left because you ran out of time! So always be on your guard and pay attention to how long it takes you to answer specific question types.
Here are the average amounts of time you should spend per question on each ACT section:
- English: 36 seconds per question
- Math: 60 seconds per question
- Reading: 53 seconds per question
- Science: 53 seconds per question
Key Takeaways: How to Study for the ACT in a Month
Although one month of ACT prep isn't enough for everyone, it can suffice if your goal is to improve your score by no more than 4-6 total points. Students who want to improve their scores by 6-9 points will be better off aiming for a smaller score improvement and then retaking the ACT at a later date.
When embarking on your month-long ACT study plan, you must first set a target score, find your baseline score, decide on a study plan, and gather high-quality prep materials. Once you’re ready to begin studying, you can use our 11 high-impact tips above to help you get the most out of your ACT prep.
So what's my final tip? Always have the confidence that you can do this. Studying for the ACT in a month is difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible. As long as you know exactly what you'll need to do in order to make your goals a reality, you will be successful!
Not a lot of time left before test day? Our last-minute ACT strategies will teach you everything you need to know about strategic guessing, time management, and what you'll need to bring on test day.
Only got a month left before your SAT test? Read my other guide on how to study for the SAT in a month to get step-by-step tips and advice.
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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.