Clearly it is too late to do an in-depth study for this weekend’s ACT, but there are things all students can do in the next couple days to help improve their performance (and scores) on Saturday’s ACT. These 10 quick tips for taking the ACT will help students who have been preparing and those who are attempting to cram at the last minute.
1. Plan Your Food
This tip doesn’t top most test prep lists, but I think it is an easy thing every student can do. Think about it; marathon runners closely monitor and plan the food and drink they will consume. While you are not expending energy through prolonged physical exertion, you are working for four hours in a state of heightened mental exertion. You don’t need to have your blood sugar plummet for lack of food or spend half the test with the jitters from the double espresso you had that morning. Think through your breakfast and pack appropriate snacks to eat during breaks.
2. Set a Target Goal for Each Section
Whether you’ve been studying for weeks or just started thinking about the ACT, you should have score goals for each of the four graded sections: English, math, reading, and science. If you have previously taken the test, use those scores to guide your expectations. If you have never taken the ACT or PLAN, you may want to take one of the free full-length practice tests available from your guidance counselor’s office. Make sure your target goal for each section is realistic based on your abilities.
3. Familiarize Yourself with the Scoring System
Once you have a score goal, you can determine how many questions you need to answer correctly in order to reach that score. You may only need four of the five English passages or 60% of the math. Because there is no penalty for guessing on the ACT, you may choose to focus your attention of a portion of the questions and guess on the rest; this gives you more time per question and may help you reach your target goal.
4. Print Admissions Ticket & Verify Test Date and Location
Seems stupidly obvious, but I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of students I’ve worked with who were surprised to find they were registered for a test date or a location other than the one they expected. Also, when you print your admissions ticket in advance you have time to call tech support if you have trouble accessing your registration online. Avoid surprises on test day; check in advance.
5. Review Basic Math Formulas
Unlike the SAT, which provides basic formulas at the beginning of every math section, the ACT expects students to have this information memorized. You should know area for triangles, area and circumference for circles, and volume for cubes and cylinders. A2 + B2 = C2 is essential and can save you from memorizing the distance formula for coordinate geometry problems. The ACT has a handful of trigonometry questions, most of which are quickly solved with knowledge of sin, cos, tan, and the unit circle. Students are assumed to know the slope intercept equation for a line (y=mx + b) and occasionally questions will ask for the equation for a circle [ (x-h) 2 + (y-k) 2 = r2 ] or parabola (y=ax2 +bx + c). Make a formula chart you can review this week and look over before you go into the ACT on Saturday.
6. Work a Few Timed Passages
You don’t need to complete multiple full-length tests before Saturday. You do need to become familiar with the material tested and the pace you intend to keep in order to reach your goals. If you can complete a full 45-minute English section or a 35-minute reading or science section, great. If not, do one or two passages.
If you need to complete 80% of English section in order to reach your score goal, then you have 45 minutes for four passages. Before Saturday, set your timer and see if you can finish a passage in 10-11 minutes. If so, you know you are on track; if not, you know you either need to speed up or adjust your goal.
7. Verify You Have an Approved Calculator
The ACT limits the calculators students can use. You MAY NOT use your TI-Nspire or TI-89 and you do not want to be dismissed from the exam for using an unapproved calculator. Generally TI-83, TI-84, and non-graphing scientific calculators are approved. You can always get a scientific calculator from your local drugstore for under $20. For more information see: What Calculators Are Allowed on the ACT: Common Mistakes to Avoid.
8. Brush-up on Grammar Rules
Just as you will want to review common math formulas, it is helpful to brush-up on the commonly tested grammar rules. Start with punctuation (something not tested on SAT writing). Make sure you understand how to use a semicolon, colon, and dash. Review the difference between plural and possessive so you won’t have apostrophe questions. Spend some time with practice questions looking for the following errors: subject / verb agreement, passive voice, pronoun-antecedent agreement, pronoun case, parallel structure, modifier placement, adverb / adjective use, verb tense, and idioms. Most students will have studied these rules in school, but it may have been a few years, so a quick review can be helpful.
9. Practice Reading & Analyzing for Specific Details
You have probably figured out that ACT reading and science are more about your ability to ferret out particular details from a passage or data set than your ability to read or recall basic principals of science. However, if you are in the habit of reading slowly, absorbing information, then drawing conclusions based on the information provided, you will struggle to finish. Work through a couple reading and science sections untimed. Take note of where you found the answers. Once you see the pattern and understand how most questions simply want you to find details, you can improve your accuracy on these sections.
Your brain can’t perform at its best if you are exhausted. Take some extra time to rest. Start by unplugging from technology each night. It might be a good idea to turn off your phone, computer, etc. by 9 pm each night and plan to get an extra hour or two of sleep. Of course, you can’t put off assignments or tests for this week, but you can trade in some free time for extra sleep.
Do what you can to prepare for this weekend’s test. Remember colleges are looking for a student’s best scores, so if this ACT isn’t your best, you can always retest.