In the spring of junior year, many students begin to stress about ACT and SAT test scores. With most state schools refusing to drop testing requirements, most students must take at least one standardized test in order to apply to colleges. The stress of getting a high score can eat students alive. In this article, I will share the study advice that helped me maximize my score and minimize my stress.
First, take a diagnostic test. Put yourself through test conditions and take the ACT all the way through to gauge a starting score. This is the score you will aim to increase by studying. Don't allow your diagnostic test to stress you out, this score is meant to be a baseline. From your diagnostic test, determine which section is the hardest for you, which section is the easiest for you, and which types of questions you missed on each section. This analysis will allow you to improve on the questions that are tripping you up the most faster. For example, my most missed questions in the English ACT section were comma and semicolon questions. Through 8 weeks of studying, I raised my English score from a 24 to a 34. By focusing on the material that tripped me up the most, I was able to improve my overall score quicker.
Second, take as many practice tests as possible. Practice tests allow you to grasp the format and pace of the test from the comfort of your own home! Practice tests are the closest thing most students get to the real test, before the test. Repetition is the easiest way to increase your ACT score. Through constant exposure to test material, you can determine repeated mistakes and root them out, improving your score more efficiently. For example, when I realized that on my first few practice tests that I was consistently missing comma and semicolon questions, I studied those topics and used practice tests to test the effectiveness of the studying that I was doing.
Third, review big concepts first. Once you determine what questions are tripping you up, study the general concepts around them. For example, geometry makes up a large chunk of the Math ACT section and I was missing about half of those questions. Through reviewing geometry, I raised my math score easily. By focusing on broader subjects, you will pick up more questions because you will be able to apply methods you previously couldn’t. I did the same with main idea questions in the Reading section. By studying where to find main ideas I was able to answer those questions quickly and accurately.
Lastly, don’t get in over your head. When studying for the ACT, it is common to set unrealistic expectations for tight time frames. For example, don’t expect a ten point increase in one month. On top of this, don’t compare yourself to others. Their score may be higher than yours, but they could have been studying for months or have had expensive tutoring. There are, unfortunately, many barriers that lead to higher ACT scores, but through prioritizing broad subjects, taking practice tests frequently, and diagnosing a starting place, you can catch up!