Dear high school seniors, juniors, and overachieving underclassmen,
The ACT is an essential step in getting accepted into your desired college. The ACT does two main things. First, it gives you an indication of how ready you are for each of the four subjects (English, math, science, and reading) in college. Secondly, it helps determine how much money can be given to you if you qualify for an academic scholarship (ACT score combined with your GPA). Deciding to take the ACT is a given; however, not all colleges require it for acceptance. Most colleges accept an SAT score as a substitute. I did not score a 36; I am not an expert on the ACT. Yet, I have graciously offered to share some tips that helped me increase my score by a few points on each section and the emotions that you may be feeling at the beginning of each test. Take what you want, and forget the rest.
English: Your Emotion… “Challenge Accepted”
This is the first section of the ACT. It consists of 75 questions that you are responsible for answering in 45 minutes. You will be tested over both usage and mechanics, and rhetorical skills. Even more precise in the usage and mechanics group are topics such as punctuation, grammar and usage, and sentence structure. More specifically, you will be tested over strategy, organization, and style within the rhetorical skills group.
I personally, have found that expanding my vocabulary, and taking college writing and English classes has improved my score by 4 points in the English category. I would also recommend reading college level books like Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Any of the classics will do, and reading diverse material like Shakespeare’s plays (Macbeth, The Tempest, and Othello) and any poems written by T.S. Eliot (namely The Waste Land) will broaden your knowledge of literature.
Math: Your Emotion… “This can’t be THAT bad”
The math test consists of 60 questions within 60 minutes. You will be tested on pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, plan geometry, and trigonometry. You are allowed to use a calculator; however, every question on the test can be answered without one.
I have found that the math questions are very doable; the problem is that you are on a time limit so you don’t have more than a minute to do each problem. Only use a calculator on the ones that you are absolutely not sure about. Skip questions and come back to them on the ones that you can’t do in a minute.
Reading: Your Emotion… “Must push through fatigue!”
This test contains 45 questions for you to answer in 35 minutes. You will be tested on your ability to understand and explain the material presented to you. The literature will be about Social Studies, Natural Sciences, Literary Narrative or Prose Fiction, or Humanities. The test has four such passages for you to read, and afterwards you are required to answer a set of multiple-choice questions. Do NOT read the questions first, then read the passage, and then answer the questions (like we were taught to do for State Assessments.) You are on a time limit and that wastes a ton of time. I want to encourage you to first read the passage, read the questions, and then search for the answers. If you read it well enough, you shouldn’t have to waste time looking for the answer. Do it right the first time.
To prepare for the test I would practice speed reading. Choose a challenging book, time yourself reading it to a certain spot that would be difficult to reach in the allotted time. Then after the timer goes off, have a prepared set of general questions to ask yourself about the passage (be specific when you write the answers though) and time yourself doing that as well. Some example questions could be “From what point of view was this passage written from,” “What can you conclude from this story,” “What did you learn from the 2nd paragraph?” Mold the questions to your benefit to challenge yourself; otherwise this whole exercise is pointless.
Science: Your Emotion… “Wow, I’m still alive!”
This test consists of 40 questions in 35 minutes. You will be tested over your ability to interpret, analyze, evaluate, reason, and problem solve the given natural science material. You will be given several different types of scientific information (in the form of a graph, summary, or hypothesis with opposing viewpoints). Following those reading sections, you will be responsible for answering a list of multiple choice questions.
To prepare for this, I practiced reading all kinds of data charts and graphs. While reading the summaries or hypothesis’s during the test, put yourself in the scientist’s position. What kind of questions would he or she ask?
The ACT can be taken more than once, and usually your first test delivers your worst score. The test just takes a few tries to get accustomed to its pressure (the time limit) and the college freshman material that it covers. Another trick that I found to be very helpful, was keeping a positive mindset throughout the test. I would always visualize myself as a college professor taking the test. Visualizing myself like that made me forget about my nerves (because college professors are smart, right? Of course they would do well on the ACT) and gave me confidence about the knowledge I had stored. Do not be discouraged if you get a bad score. The ACT score does NOT determine how successful you will be in life. No one will ask you after high school what your score is, because it simply doesn’t matter. To conclude, it is to your advantage to answer every question. There is no penalty for getting a question wrong. I wish you all the very best of luck and may the odds be ever in your favor!
What were your best strategies when taking the ACT? Let me know in the comments below!