Top ACT Tips & Strategies to Ace the Test

June 22, 2023
7 min read

If you’re stressing about writing the ACT, this guide has got you covered! In it, we’ll discuss ACT test-taking strategies and our tried and true best ACT tips!

Despite more schools becoming test-optional in recent years, the ACT is still taken by over a million students each year. This test not only helps the admissions committee assess your preparedness for college but can help substantiate your academic performance and boost your application.

Acing the ACT will require time and dedication. To ensure you study in the most effective way and work smarter, not harder, read on!

General ACT Tips & Test-Taking Strategies

Before delving into specific ACT tips for each section of the test, here are some general testing strategies to help you achieve your target score:

1. Familiarize Yourself With the Test Format

Getting to know the ACT format is crucial. That means understanding how many sections there are, the time limits for each, and the types of questions you'll face. This knowledge helps you manage your time better during the test. 

Plus, being familiar with the format means you'll know what to expect, which can ease some nerves on test day and help you perform your best.

Section Time Limit Number of Questions Time per Question
English 45 minutes 75 36 seconds
Math 60 minutes 60 60 seconds
Reading 35 minutes 40 53 seconds
Science 35 minutes 40 53 seconds

2. Practice Under Timed Conditions

Take timed practice tests to simulate the actual test experience. This will help you get accustomed to the time pressure and improve your pacing. It will also allow you to assess your progress and identify areas where you may need to improve your efficiency. 

By simulating the time constraints of the actual test, you'll develop strategies to manage your time effectively and prioritize tasks accordingly. Moreover, practicing under timed conditions can help alleviate test anxiety by familiarizing you with the time constraints, allowing you to approach the test with greater confidence and composure.

3. Find Your Strengths

Identify what you're good at. Knowing your strong subjects lets you focus your energy where it counts. This way, you can boost your confidence and snag easy points when they come your way. Understanding your strengths means you can tackle challenges head-on, armed with the knowledge that you've got what it takes to succeed.

4. Focus on Your Weaknesses

Dedicating focused attention to your weaknesses is essential for overall improvement. By allocating additional time and effort to these areas, you can address any gaps in your knowledge or skills. This approach enhances your performance and ensures a more balanced and comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. 

Embracing the challenge of confronting your weaknesses head-on is a proactive step toward personal and academic growth. Remember, every obstacle presents an opportunity for development, and by facing your weaknesses with determination, you pave the way for significant progress.

5. Rely on Useful Test Materials

Explore a variety of test materials, including practice exams, study guides, and online resources, to discover which ones suit your learning style and preferences. Experimenting with different preparation materials can help you identify the most effective strategies and resources for maximizing your study efforts.

Additionally, don't hesitate to seek guidance from teachers, tutors, or peers who can offer valuable insights and recommendations on useful test materials. By relying on a diverse range of resources, you can enhance your understanding and confidence as you prepare for your exams.

6. Guess Strategically

If you’re running out of time on a question, do not leave it blank. Make an educated guess so you can still receive a point. When making an educated guess, try to eliminate obviously incorrect options first. Look for clues within the question or context that might help you narrow down your choices. 

Remember, even if you're unsure, it's better to take a calculated guess than to leave the question unanswered. By strategically guessing, you increase your chances of earning points, which can significantly affect your overall score.

Along with these general tips to ace the ACT, you may want to consider seeking the help of experts who know exactly how to get you to your target score with as little hassle as possible! We offer personalized ACT tutoring that will fit your needs and aspirations!

ACT English Tips

Now, let’s focus on the English section of the ACT. This section will include several essays or passages followed by multiple-choice questions. 

These multiple-choice questions will ask you to find appropriate alternatives for underlined words or phrases, to comment on the passage as a whole, or to find the information that best supports or explains the argument at hand. 

The best ACT strategies to tackle this section are as follows:

  • Skim the passage: Before you read any of the multiple-choice questions, quickly skim the passage so you know the content and make more informed choices without having to reread the passage several times to find your answer.
  • Pay attention to what’s underlined: Ensure you’re aware of the exact words that are underlined; missing just one or two can completely change your answer and cause you to mistake the right answer for the wrong one.
  • Pay attention to what isn’t underlined: While you’ll be answering specific questions about the underlined portions of each passage, you’ll also be asked questions about the text as a whole; understand the context that isn’t underlined and pay attention to the writing elements used in them.
  • Read every answer before making your decision: Go through each of the possibilities before making your decision to ensure you’re choosing the best option.
  • Reread the sentence using your answer: To double-check you’ve chosen the correct answer, reread the sentence and plug in your alternative to see if it flows. 
  • Find your grammar weaknesses: A large part of this section of the ACT is testing your grammar. To improve, you have to figure out what your weaknesses are (everyone has at least one) and work on them. 

If you’re hoping to increase your reading comprehension speed outside of your ACT prep, you should consider reading different types of texts, creating questions for yourself based on these texts, and answering them. Doing this can help you feel more confident during the test!

ACT Reading Tips

The reading section of the ACT will involve four sections; three will contain a long passage, and one will contain two shorter passages. Each section will contain multiple-choice questions to assess your ability to read closely, reason logically, and use information from multiple sources.

Scores will largely be based on your ability to determine central themes, accurately summarize information, analyze word choice and structure, and understand the author’s claims, perspective, and purpose. 

To master the ACT reading section, integrate these tips into your learning approach:

  • Skim the Passage: Although it may seem counterintuitive to skim a passage in the reading section, going line-by-line and trying to understand each sentence will waste your time. Most questions will be broad, and the few that are specific can be referred back to.
  • Refer Back to the Passage When Answering Questions: Always refer back to the passage when you’re answering questions; some answers may even be plainly stated in the text.
  • Use the Process of Elimination: With these questions, it’s typically easier to find the wrong answers than the right; focus on eliminating choices until you find the one that fits.
  • Don’t Get Lost in the Vocab: When passages use confusing language, it can be hard not to get distracted by the vocab. Defining vocabulary will play a minor role in this section, so focus more on the relationships between the ideas and the context of the words than their meaning.

Reading comprehension is typically a difficult skill to learn, so it’s important you prioritize practice to improve in this section.

ACT Math Tips

In the math section, you’ll be tested on specific knowledge that most students have acquired by grade 12. It’s suggested students take challenging math courses to best prepare for this section of the ACT. 

The main skills you’ll be tested on are:

  • Number and quality
  • Algebra
  • Functions
  • Geometry
  • Statistics and probability
  • Modeling 
  • Integrating essential math skills to complex problems

Follow these ACT tips to improve your math score:

  • Memorize Your Formulas: Unfortunately, there’s no getting around memorizing the math formulas you’ll use during the ACT. You will not be receiving a formula sheet, so it’s essential you have the basic formulas locked and loaded for the test.
  • Use the Answer Choices to Your Advantage: For some questions, it may make more sense to simply plug the answers in as variables than to try finding them yourself; use your judgment, and try to save time where you can!
  • Review the Fundamentals: The ACT test-makers know that students forget the fundamentals under pressure, so they create attractive answers that rely on these mistakes. Go over the basics like BEDMAS, how to simplify fractions, cross-multiplying, and using decimals and percentages. 
  • Hone Your Weaknesses: There will be a few math concepts you struggle with more than others. Dedicate more time to strengthening these so that you can answer each question as quickly and accurately as possible.

By incorporating these strategies into your ACT math preparation, you should be able to improve your math skills and achieve your desired score.

ACT Science Tips

The ACT science section will involve several authentic scientific scenarios, followed by multiple-choice questions that will test you on your interpretation, analysis, reasoning, and evaluation of the following natural sciences:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Earth/space science (e.g., astronomy, geology, and meteorology)
  • Physics

Students do not need advanced knowledge in these subjects to do well in this section. Introductory science courses should provide a solid enough foundation to understand these questions.

To score high in this section, consider implementing these test-taking strategies in your ACT prep:

  • Don’t Get Bogged Down by the Jargon: The scientific passages you’ll be asked to read will have a lot of technical details that can easily distract you; ignore all of the jargon and focus on the main point and what the graphs, tables, or other figures represent.
  • Annotate the Passages: As you read the science passages, underline or highlight key information, such as variables, trends, and significant data points. Annotating can help you stay focused and easily locate information when answering questions.
  • Master Graph and Chart Interpretation: A large part of the science section on the ACT involves graph analysis, so ensure you practice this skill thoroughly. Pay attention to labels, scales, and data trends to extract accurate information.
  • Avoid the Science Textbooks: While you can simply brush up on basic science concepts to feel more confident in this section, do not use your science textbooks as prep materials. You will be tested on your comprehension, not knowledge, so this will only waste your time and may confuse you further.

With practice, you’ll likely notice a pattern among these questions which can help you find the correct answers faster! 

ACT Writing Tips

The final ACT tips we’ll be discussing relate to the writing section. If you register for the full ACT, a writing section will be included, which will consist of a 40-minute essay.

You will be given one writing prompt that describes a complex issue and three different perspectives on the issue. You will be asked to write an essay discussing your own perspective on the issue and the relationship between your opinion and the ones presented. You may agree with one of the existing opinions or share a new one.

Here’s how to ensure you write a compelling essay:

  • Budget Your Time: As you practice for this section, decide how to best budget your time. Figure out how much time you need to review the question, brainstorm, write the essay, and edit it. Stick to your budget throughout your practice so you become familiar with it.
  • Use the Planning Questions: You’ll be given some planning questions to help you brainstorm ideas for your essay; these are meant to aid you, so use them to your advantage.
  • Create an Outline: Spend a few minutes creating a quick outline to determine the flow of your essay and the arguments you want to make.
  • Keep It Simple: Use words you understand and are comfortable using; this is not a vocabulary competition, so don’t feel the need to impress the committee with big words that you’re likely to misuse.
  • Use a Basic Structure: Stick to an introduction with a compelling thesis, one or two body paragraphs, and a conclusion - do not overcomplicate it!
  • Review Your Work: Give yourself at least five minutes to review your work before submitting it; you are being tested on your communication skills, so you don’t want to make any silly errors that could reduce the efficacy of your writing.

Time management tends to be the most difficult aspect of the ACT writing section, so always practice this section under timed conditions.

Think you're ready to ace the ACT? Put your knowledge to the test with our free ACT Pop Quiz.

FAQs: ACT Tips

For any remaining questions about the best ACT tips, read on to find your answers.

1. How Can I Get Better at the ACT?

It's important to adopt a strategic and focused approach to get better at the ACT. Start by familiarizing yourself with the test format, content, and timing. Take practice tests to identify your strengths and weaknesses, then allocate more study time to areas that need improvement.

Work smarter, not harder, by utilizing reliable study materials, such as prep books and online resources, to enhance your knowledge and test-taking skills. Follow the test-taking strategies shared in this guide and seek expert help if you’re still struggling to reach your target score or want more personalized support.

2. Is a 26 on the ACT Good?

A score of 26 on the ACT can be considered a good score, depending on your personal goals and the median scores of the colleges or universities you are interested in. A score of 26 falls well above the national average, which was 19.5 in 2023. 

However, certain competitive colleges and universities may have higher average ACT scores for their admitted students. 

3. What Is the Hardest Part of the ACT?

The hardest part of the ACT is time management. Students find it difficult to complete all of the questions within the allotted time frame. 

4. What Is the Easiest Section on the ACT?

What is considered to be the easiest section on the ACT is subjective and depends on your strengths and weaknesses. 

5. How Can I Study and Prepare for the ACT?

To get ready for the ACT, start studying early, pick the right materials, do practice tests, set a test date, make a study plan, ask for help if needed, regularly practice with tests, and manage your time well. Understanding how to prepare for the ACT exam is key to acing it. 

Final Thoughts

When all of these strategies are said and done, the biggest ACT tip we can give you is to remain positive! Take care of yourself as you prepare for the test, and try to manage your stress! Give yourself adequate time to study without rushing, and believe in your abilities! With the right attitude, resources, and strategies, you’ll ace the ACT!

Book Your Free Assessment Today

We’re eager to discuss your needs and goals, provide expert feedback, and answer any questions you have about our programs!
Get Free Assessment