Once you register for the ACT, the clock starts ticking. Whether you have six weeks or six months, you can’t afford to waste your time with ineffective prep materials. But how can you know which materials to trust—and, what’s more, how to use them most efficiently? With that in mind, here’s what to do (and just as importantly, what not to do) to get your ACT score up before test day.
DO: Use ACT practice tests to drive your studies. A test a week is perfect, as long as you take the time to go over your answers and work every week. At the very least, you should take a practice test at the beginning of your work and another about halfway through to know how to tweak your work going forward to make sure you get the highest possible score.
DO: Keep an error log of your wrong answers. This might seem like a tedious step at first, I know. On the other hand, one-size-fits-all test prep doesn’t really fit anyone! What you need is a plan tailored exactly to your weaknesses and your strengths. How will find out what those are? Error log! It doesn’t have to be anything special—a simple notebook will do—but make sure that you write down the steps to get to the correct answer as you record the problem. That way, it becomes the perfect study guide for you.
DO: Set small goals. It’s not only unrealistic to expect a 10-point score bump in a week, but it also sets you up to be disappointed in yourself. On the ACT, the mental game is a huge part of succeeding. So even if your target ACT score range is way different from what you’re scoring on practice tests the week before the official exam, just breathe, and know that you can always take the test again, with better prep this time.
DON’T: Skip questions. There isn’t a penalty for answering questions incorrectly on the ACT, so even if you run out of time at the end of a section, pick your favorite letter and bubble it in for the remaining questions. Of course, this isn’t ideal—ideally, you’d save some time for strategic guessing, in which you eliminate all the answer choices you can and guess from what remains—but do the best you can with the time you have left.
DON’T: Let a plateau freak you out. In the past decade, I’ve seen more students panic over the fact that their practice test scores have started to stagnate or even go down partway through test prep than probably anything else. This doesn’t mean that the prep isn’t working. On the contrary, it could just be that the techniques you’re learning to master the test are taking you a little more time at first, and you’ll see those scores skyrocket later on. The best thing to do in this situation is to stay calm, update your error log, and then study it. Diagnosing the problem is half the solution, in this case.
DON’T: Assume your PreACT scores are all you’re capable of. Even though the ACT has now come out with a “pre-” test (like the PSAT for the SAT), scored on the same scale as the “grown-up” test, you’ll most likely take the PreACT unprepared for the testing experience. And that’s okay! Just know that all this is, is a baseline score. It has little to do with the score you’re capable of getting on the official exam with the right prep!
So keep pushing yourself, keep checking in with practice tests and error log updates, and keep yourself on a study schedule—and watch as those ACT points start to add up.