Not All ACT Practice is Created Equal

Published on Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019 by

ACT Chalk Talk #20

The adage “practice makes perfect,” requires modification when applied to the ACT. We prefer to say, “practice makes permanent.” The way you practice is the way you perform. If your students practice incorrectly, they are locking in bad habits and low scores.

Avoid these four common ACT practice pitfalls:

1: Inauthentic Practice

Most ACT practice books purport to provide genuine ACT questions, but this rarely pans out upon investigation. Practice books tend to emphasize the wrong skills (they do not match the weighting that the ACT places on each standard) and fail to match the ACT’s question syntax and rigor. Why? It’s cheaper for publishers to re-purpose content and rely on the opinions of an expert than do an in-depth analysis of the ACT and create practice questions from the ground up like we did with ACT Mastery. Stick with practice tests released by ACT, Inc. or rely on MasteryPrep curricula, where every item is a faithful reproduction of an actual ACT question.

2: No Time Limits

Give any student the ACT Math test without a time limit, and you’ll end up with a markedly improved score. The ACT is a speeded  test, which means that strict time limits are used to differentiate student ability levels. It isn’t a question of if students can answer a particular Reading test item; it’s a question of if they can read a passage and answer ten Reading test items in less than nine minutes! Don’t neglect time limits in your practice. Doing so gives students a false sense of security and fails to prepare them for the real thing.

3: No or Low Feedback

If feedback equals learning, why is it that the typical ACT practice test routine is for students to check their answers, calculate their scores, and move on without reviewing explanations? Or, just as bad, be asked to independently review cryptically written explanations? Students need help understanding why they missed questions and how they can improve next time. Always include time to review practice tests and give direct instruction and feedback. Video libraries can help with this, which is why our TruScore ACT practice tests include video feedback for every question (see gif below).

4: No or Low Effort

Some students say they are “practicing” the ACT when in reality they are reading questions and then reading the answers that go with them. While this might help them feel more familiar with the test, it won’t improve their scores. Score improvement happens when students go through the effort of attempting a question, then receive feedback on what they did. A sincere effort must be there or it’s all for naught. Students need to practice as though it were test day. They have to try. Or, as we like to say in our ACT Boot Camp, “if you only practice taking the ACT half asleep, you’ll only be good at taking the ACT half asleep.”



Written by: Craig Gehring, Founder and CEO of MasteryPrep


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