Three Dimensions of ACT Score Improvement

Published on Monday, May 20th, 2019 by

ACT Chalk Talk #24

There are three dimensions across which you can improve your students’ ACT scores through content mastery. They are represented on what we call the Mastery Cube.


In this diagram, the lower left-hand corner represents a low ACT score, while the upper right-hand corner represents a high ACT score. All three paths are viable methods for improving performance. Almost all commercial test prep programs are one-dimensional in this regard, focusing only on breadth. This is probably one of the main reasons that commercial test prep programs average less than a one-point composite score improvement with their students. Not surprisingly, since score gains are available across all three dimensions, the biggest score gains occur when students develop ability along the entire Mastery Cube.


By breadth, we mean a shallow introduction or review of a topic or rule. Students who have never heard of a nonrestrictive phrase or who have completely forgotten what a control is would benefit from this approach. One example of content mastery through this dimension would be giving students a practice test with a wide variety of questions and then reviewing the answers. MasteryPrep’s ACT Boot Camp (a one-day student workshop) follows this method.


By depth, we mean an in-depth examination of a particular topic or rule. Students may know the Pythagorean theorem, but can they apply it to find the height of telephone poles or shadows? Can they put the length of one side in terms of another? Can they use it to determine the dimensions of compound shapes? In ACT prep, teaching along the depth dimension means preparing students for each major variant of how the ACT asks questions about a given content area. This approach is almost nonexistent in the test prep world but is similar to the approach you take with a typical Math or Literature unit in your classroom. MasteryPrep’s ACT Mastery curriculum is an example of this approach.

Speed and Certainty

The most-neglected of all content mastery dimensions is speed and certainty. By speed and certainty, we mean working on a content area with which your students are already familiar, with the goal of improving their ability to answer questions quickly and without second-guessing. No new content is introduced. There’s only practice, and it’s usually timed. Since the ACT is a timed test, improving speed and certainty with core topics and skills can have a marked impact. Speed practice works best when you scaffold from isolation to interleaving (see our last Chalk Talk [@nicole please make this a link]). This isn’t time mastery: you aren’t trying to improve your students’ time management skills. You are just making them naturally faster because they have learned the content cold. An example of speed and certainty practice is the typical approach taken in elementary school to help students learn times tables. MasteryPrep’s ACT Elements Bell Ringers curriculum addresses ACT test prep through this dimension.


This chalk talk was adapted from Decoding the ACT: The Unofficial Teacher’s Guide.
You can learn more about Decoding the ACT here.





Written by: Craig Gehring, Founder and CEO of MasteryPrep


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