One of the most commonly asked questions by parents of my high school student clients is what tips can I share for ACT success -what do I recommend for ACT preparation? In other words, how can their kids raise their ACT scores?
The ACT is widely used in our part of the country to determine scholarships as well as admission, so there is a lot of motivation to achieve the highest score possible, and rightly so.
As many of you know, my husband and I have five kids – even though they’ve all graduated now, at one time, all five were enrolled in college at the same time. We were highly motivated to get those scholarship dollars!
Between them they took the ACT 30 times, and raised their scores an average of 5 points person, with one raising her score a total of 8 points. All five just used the resources I recommend below and implemented the following tips and strategies:
1. Practice, practice, practice
This is true for all standardized tests – practice is the essential strategy. The more you practice, the more your confidence will grow. And so much of your success with the ACT and other tests comes down to mastering the timing which leads us to my second tip….
2. Understand that timing is absolutely crucial for getting a high ACT score
There is just no substitute for taking the whole test to learn how much time you can spend on each question and section. The more times you take the ACT, the more you will become comfortable with the format and timing, and the higher your score will be. Time management is an absolutely essential key to success with the ACT – and any other standardized test.
3. Get familiar with the types of questions on the test
One of our favorite tools for overall preparation is Chad Cargill’s ACT Prep workbook and his workshop, if you can find one near you. Cargill took the test 18 times in high school, raising his score from 19 to a 32. His book covers the strategies he shares in his workshop, but the workshop is both informative and entertaining, so worth the minimal price if it is offered near you. Our other favorite tool is an online prep program called Magoosh. It is much more reasonably priced than most of the ACT prep programs out there, very comprehensive, and effective.
4. Master strategies to ace the ACT
Chad Cargill’s book contains a lot of good information on strategies, but Barron’s was another favorite that includes very helpful practice tests, step-by-step reviews, and effective strategies.
5. Hone in on the sections and types of questions that are most challenging to you and practice those
Princeton Review’s book of ACT practice questions is a great general resource for practice questions and drills. In addition to the practice problems to help familiarize you with the exam, the book contains drills and full-length tests with detailed answers and explanations to help you understand tricky problems. Check out these recent editions: 1,511 ACT Practice Questions, 6th Edition: Extra Preparation to Help Achieve An Excellent Score and Princeton Review ACT Premium Prep, 2020: 8 Practice Tests + Content Review + Strategies.
6. But don’t neglect your strongest sections
You want to continue to practice the sections that are strongest for you. It can be tempting to focus so much on your weaker sections that you let your stronger sections go less practiced, but that’s not strategic. Your ACT score is a composite average of all the sections, and many times people are able to raise the score on their strongest section(s) more than they can raise their scores on their more challenging sections.
7. Understand the science section
The ACT science section can throw non-science people because it uses science terminology and concepts, but the science section is much more about reading comprehension than science knowledge. It is not content-based – instead it’s designed to measure a student’s ability to interpret, analyze, evaluate, reason, and problem-solve.
Focus on learning science skills, such as how to read graphs and tables plus understand experiments. Once again, practice is key to building your confidence and ability to do well with this section. Barron’s ACT Math and Science Workbook, 3rd Edition (Barron’s Act Math & Science Workbook) contains helpful practice drills and strategies.
8. Consider whether you would benefit from engaging a tutor or going through a structured class or prep program
Magoosh is an effective structured online program (with a 7 day money back guarantee), but some students can really benefit from the accountability that a tutor or class can bring with more personalized training and coaching. Ask your high school counselor, family, and friends for recommendations for outstanding tutors and special classes in your city. One of my friends swears by Applerouth online tutoring which offers flexible scheduling and one-on-one tutoring via Skype. I have no personal experience with them, but I like the idea of online tutoring by Skype. You have to consider your unique situation and weigh the potential benefit with the cost of special tutoring and classes.
I know it can be tiring to prepare diligently for the ACT and take it over and over again, but I encourage you to look at it as an investment in your college and career and tackle the challenge.
Hope these tips prove helpful for you. I’d love to hear your favorite resources and/or what strategies proved the most helpful to you.
To your success-
*I may be given a small “thank you for sharing about our program” gift through a couple of the links in the post above, but I only share about the products and programs that I/my family/my friends have used, and I truly believe in.