After working with hundreds of students, here are my best ACT tips to increase your score.
Practice, don’t “study”
Sometimes students hope they just by thinking about or worrying about the test will actually increase the score. It won’t.
The best way to increase your score is to practice, not study. (Especially deliberate practice.)The best way to increase your score is to PRACTICE, not STUDY.
Take a real timed test – that’s the best way to figure out what you know, what you don’t know, and what you need to work on.
Here’s how to do that:
Print out and take a timed (authentic) practice test. Check your answers and circle the ones you missed and go back and try them again. Check your answers again. For any ones that you still missed, seek out help to understand why the right answer is right and why the other answers are wrong. Your parents, other students, your teachers, the internet, or a tutor can all be good resources for this.
Use authentic materials
What materials should you use for practicing?
It’s critical that you use actual ACT tests published by the ACT to practice with. The Official ACT Prep Guide (which is written by the ACT folks) has 3 full practice tests. The ACT website also has a free practice ACT test.
Plan to take the ACT test twice
It’s very hard to perform your best when you are freaked out about that this is your only shot. So, for most students, they’ll perform better knowing that they have another shot at it.
Also, nerves. It’s hard to do something for the first time. Often students feel more comfortable the second time – they know what to expect.
Another reason is that stuff happens: kids get sick, unexpected things happen. It’s very hard to predict that one Saturday many months off that you will be in peak condition to take the test.
Hedge your bets by getting two test dates on the calendar.
Most students rush through the test trying to solve every question. That’s not a good use of their time, brain cells, or point total.
A better strategy is to work slowly and methodically through each problem. It’s no use rushing through and answering all the questions, if you are missing a bunch of questions along the way.
In fact, for many students, they’ll get a higher score by spending more time on a fewer number of questions and getting more answers correct.Focusing on FEWER questions usually results in more CORRECT answers (and a HIGHER test score)
For example, S. rushes through the last 10 questions and tries to answer all of them. She only gets two of them correct. Instead, if she only focused on 5 of the ten, spending twice the time on each of those questions, she’s got a higher likelihood of getting them correct. Maybe she gets 3 of those correct. Since she also uses the guessing strategy of guessing A on the one she can’t solve, she puts in A for other five and gets at least 1 of those correct. So she earns 4 points by spending her time more strategically and getting a higher score.
For most students, it makes more sense to slow down and focus on *fewer* questions, and just fill in “A” (or “F”) on the ones you don’t get to.
When you don’t know how to solve a problem, guess “A”
Since there is no penalty for wrong answers, you don’t want to leave any questions blank. For most students, that means randomly guessing letters when they don’t know how to solve a problem.
When you have no idea how to solve the problem, just guess “A” (or “F”) and move on.
The reason why you want to stick with one letter is this: Statistically*, you’ve got a better shot of getting the correct answer some of the time, when you stick with one letter. It also saves you time – instead of worrying about which letter you should choose, when you have no idea, and wasting time, you just choose “A” and save that time to spend on another question that you might get right.
(Here’s how one of my students used this strategy on the SAT for a 70 pt gain)
(*Though here’s further insight on statistical probability and teenagers. Which leads me to my point that:When you give kids a PLAN to handle Qs that they don't know how to solve, kids are more confident, efficient, and spend time on the right things (mathematically solving problems that they CAN solve) - leading to higher scores
Don’t read the Science passages ahead of time
Unlike in the Reading section, you don’t want to start with reading the passages in the Science section. You actually want to skip the passages and go straight to the questions.
Read the question, then go to the graph and charts and find the information you need to answer the question. By the end of the questions, you will have read the entire passage, but you did so through the lens of the questions.
The only exception to this is the differing viewpoints passage. You’ll need to read this passage thoroughly before you answer any of the questions. Look for the differences and similarities between the passages – on which points do they are agree and on which points do they disagree and why.
Reading: Mark signposts and find Waldo.
When reading the passage for the first time, you are skimming for general meaning rather than reading for detail.
When reading, mark signposts along the way. Write “photog” next the paragraph where they discuss the different photographers. Or write a smiley face next to the paragraph where the author is supporting the main point. Or “car” when they start on the car trip.
The reason for this is so you can quickly find the relevant part in the passage. When the question asks about which photographer took the panoramic views of the city, you’ll know exactly which paragraph to look at to find the answer.
The questions are usually pretty straightforward. You just need to know where to look to find Waldo. Marking signposts will save you time and brain cells.
(Erica Meltzer has a much more thorough explanation of this technique, as well as many others in her excellent book, The Complete Guide to ACT Reading, 2nd edition.)
Obsessively track (and fix) your mistakes
Obsessively track your mistakes to isolate your problems, fix them, and then take another practice test.
This is the magic secret to how to increase your score: Figure out WHAT questions you are missing and WHY you are missing them.The magic secret to how to increase your score: Figure out WHAT questions you are missing and WHY you are missing them.
Isolate the problem and then fix it.
For example, often students miss a question, not because they didn’t know the math concept, but because they didn’t re-read the question and realize they asked for x+1, not x. So in this case, the fix would be to RE-READ the question before you choose your answer.
Want weekly test tips and strategies?
Subscribe to get my latest content by email.