15 Tips for the ACT

Published on Wednesday, December 26th, 2018 by

ACT got you a little freaked out? Nervous about spending several hours taking a test? Considering just filling in the blanks randomly and hoping for the best?

We’re here to help.

We know the ACT can be intimidating. That’s why we work hard to help you learn the skills and techniques you need to be fully prepared for test day.

The following 15 tips will help you score higher on the ACT and stay calm when test day comes.

15 Tips for the ACT

  1. Answer every question. Even if you don’t know the right answer,there’s no penalty for wrong answers. So take a guess—you may choose the right answer!
  1. Use process of elimination (POE) when you guess. On some questions, you may be able to tell that one or more answers are incorrect. Eliminate these choices right away to narrow down to the right answer. Since you’re applying tip #1, POE helps you make the best choice.
  1. Answer the easy ones first. This will give you a boost of confidence and help you finish the section more quickly. Then, use the extra time you have to go back and work on the difficult questions. Don’t waste time on an easy question—save it for the hard ones!
  1. Skip the directions. You don’t get points for reading the directions to each section, so save time and skip them. If you’ve never taken the ACT before, then you may find it helpful to look at a practice test first and read the directions. Since the information you need earn points is in the test, not in the directions, don’t waste time on test day reading them.
  1. This isn’t art class. Don’t draw or mark on your answer sheet.A machine grades the ACT. If it picks up extra markings on your answer sheet, it could mark a correct answer wrong. If you need to circle a question so you’ll remember to come back to it, mark it in your test book instead.
  1. Bring LOTS of erasers. Okay, bring a couple. There’s nothing worse than going to change an answer only to find your pencil has an eraser that smudges lead (and risks getting you marked for wrong answers—see tip #5). It’s a good idea to have a backup or an eraser block that you know can get the job done.
  1. Pace yourself. Use practice tests and a timer to find a good pace that will get you to the end of each test section in time. Don’t wait for test day to discover how quickly 45 minutes can go by. You want to find a pace that will let you answer every question and maybe even give you a couple minutes to review.
  1. Bring a watch. Cell phones are not allowed, so bring a watch.Not every classroom has a clock—or one that works—and you need a watch to keep yourself on pace (see tip #7).
  1. Read ALL the answer choices. If you’re applying tips #1 and #7, it may be tempting to pick the first answer that looks correct and move on. Don’t do this. Make sure you read all the answer choices so that you pick the best answer (this is especially true in the reading section).
  1. Go with your gut. It’s easy to second-guess when you’re under pressure. But when you do this, you’re more likely to erase a correct answer and circle the wrong one—it happens all the time! Instead, trust your gut. If you’ve worked the math or have checked the information in the reading passage and you’ve looked at all the answers, pick the right answer and stick with it. Trust yourself—you know more than you think you do.
  1. Come back to the hard ones. Don’t freak out on the hard questions, just come back to them later. Use tip #2 to make your best guess, bubble in the answer, and circle the question in your test book. Go through the rest of the test this way, answering the easy ones and guessing on the tough ones. Once you reach the end of the section, use the remaining time to go back over the circled questions. See if you can figure out the right answer and get that one extra point.
  1. Check those ovals. Have you ever taken a standardized test and halfway through realized you had accidentally skipped a question, and now all your answers are for the wrong question? It happens. Do yourself a favor: check those ovals! Every five questions or so, check the next blank on your answer sheet and make sure it’s the same number as the question you’re working on in your test book. Keeping an eye on it as you go will prevent you from slipping up on the entire test section.
  1. Bring your own calculator. It’s true that all the math on the ACT can be answered without a calculator, but bring one anyway! They will not provide you with one on test day, so be sure to bring your own. Make sure you know how to do basic functions so you can move through the math section more quickly.
  1. Outline. Outline. Outline. If you are participating in the writing portion of the ACT, take a couple minutes to outline before you start writing. The graders on the writing section are looking for a well-organized essay, and getting your thoughts in order before you begin writing will make your essay flow smoothly.
  1. Practice makes perfect. Take a practice test. We recommend you check out the practice tests we provide at MasteryPrep and/or sign up for one of our boot camps so that you can get a feel for the real ACT.

We’re confident these tips will help you dominate the ACT. However, just reading this post isn’t enough—you have put these tips into practice so that they become habit. Then when the ACT rolls around, you’ll be ready!

Have you used any of these tips before? What other tips would you offer to students about to take the ACT?