How to do Well on the ACT

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Everyone knows the key to happiness is getting a 36 on the ACT test. Just kidding. Even if it isn’t the key to happiness, it’s still important. The ACT test is one of many factors that colleges use to determine whether to accept a student into their school. A good ACT score can also open up many scholarship opportunities, so you still want to do well on it. When preparing for the test, most people are given the cliché advice of “get plenty of rest and eat a good breakfast,” but there’s much more you can do to get a good score.

My first tip would be to know what score range you are shooting for. A good way to do this is to find colleges or universities that you are interested in and checking what their average or middle 50% (25th to 75th percentile) ACT scores are. For example, the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities lists on their admissions website the middle 50% of ACT scores, which range from 27 to 32. If you are interested in a specific field or area of study, you should check to see what specific schools within a university list their averages as. The College of Education and Human Development at the U of MN lists their middle 50% as 23 to 28, while the College of Science and Engineering lists theirs as 30 to 34. You can find average or middle 50% scores for colleges or universities on their admissions websites as well as other sources such as PrepScholar or College Simply.

The next thing to do is to take a practice test, preferably from a test prep book such as The Official ACT Prep Guide. There are online practice tests that can be printed out as well. Take the entire practice test just as you would a normal ACT with the standard breaks after Math and Science (if you are also doing the essay) sections. Make sure to have a timer for each section. It is a good idea to have a feel for the pace of the test so that you don’t have any questions left over on the actual ACT. Use the bubble sheets that are provided and score yourself after taking the test.

After scoring yourself, you should look over each question you got wrong and try to detect a pattern. If you got several similar questions wrong, try to work on that skill.

Once you feel like you have a better understanding of the questions you got wrong, answer a few practice questions online. You can find these on the ACT website. Make sure not to overload yourself. Taking practice tests is time-consuming, and everyone needs a break to enjoy life. It is important to be familiar with the test format, so you should take more than one practice test, but you don’t need to take a billion of them.

Also, don’t study for the ACT on the day before your test date. It won’t help you very much and it’ll just stress you out. Do something fun or simply anything that’ll distract you from your impending doom… err… test.

Now it’s time for that cliché advice again. Sleep is important, especially when you need to focus for an extended period of time (the ACT test lasts nearly three hours). The ACT is known for being an annoyingly fast-paced test, so you don’t want to find yourself drifting into thoughts about the show you were binge-watching the previous night when you should be answering questions about passages from obscure 19th century literature.

On the morning of your test, in addition to “eating a good breakfast,” you should also read something to “warm up” your brain so you’re not half asleep when you’re starting the English section. Just a few pages of a book or a news article should be fine.

Finally it’s time for the test. Don’t look at anyone else’s test or go back to a previous section (unless you’re in the test proctor’s blind spot… just kidding). Don’t overthink the questions. Some will be ridiculously easy; others will seem nearly impossible. If you get stuck, guess and don’t look back. It’s better to answer one question wrong than to only answer half of the questions in a section.

Good luck and don’t mess up.

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