Most tests are intimidating by nature, but big standardized tests that can make or break your future college plans tend to take the stress to a new level. The ACT, which stands for American College Test, is one of those tests that might keep you up at night if you don’t feel prepared for it. Luckily for you, ACT success is well within your reach. All you need to do is add a few ACT strategies to your tool box so that you’ll be ready to ace it and claim your spot at the college of your dreams.

How to Ace the ACT

The first step to acing the ACT is to know exactly what you’re up against. Some people think there are special ACT hacks that can help you score well, but the truth is that it all comes down to understanding what kind of material the test will cover and being ready to master anything it throws at you. The ACT covers four main subject areas: English, math, reading and science. It also offers an optional writing section that some colleges require. Let’s look at what you need to know about each section.

English: The English section of the ACT is a multiple-choice test with four or five possible answers to choose from per question. You’ll have 45 minutes to answer 75 questions that are designed to measure your understanding of writing and language skills.

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Math: The math section of the ACT is also a multiple-choice test with four or five possible answers to choose from for each question. You’ll have 60 minutes to answer 60 questions that are designed to measure the mathematical skills you acquired in your high school math classes.

Reading: The reading section of the ACT gives you 35 minutes to respond to 40 multiple-choice questions that are designed to measure your reading comprehension. This section is used to determine your readiness for comprehending the type of texts you are likely to encounter in first-year college curricula.

Science: Like reading, the science section of the ACT gives you 35 minutes to answer 40 multiple-choice questions that are designed to measure specific scientific skills and abilities. This section assesses your ability to interpret, analyze and evaluate. It also tests your reasoning and problem-solving skills in the areas of biology, chemistry, Earth/space sciences and physics.

Writing: The optional writing section consists of one essay that you’ll have 40 minutes to write. The writing section is designed to assess your writing skills and readiness for entry-level college composition courses.

ACT Tips and Tricks

Since the ACT is essentially measuring the skills you were supposed to learn in high school, take some time to update your knowledge and skills in the tested areas well in advance of the test. Use practice tests to review each of the content areas and brush up on skills that aren’t as fresh in your mind.

There are plenty of ACT practice tests available online that can help you determine where you stand and what you need to work on. Many of these practice tests are free and use retired ACT questions to give you a clear understanding of what types of questions you will encounter on test day. In addition to taking practice tests early and often, use tips and tricks to help you improve your score on the ACT.

Pace yourself: Don’t waste too much time on any one question. If you come across a question that you’re struggling with, move on to another question and return to the challenging ones if you have time at the end.

Answer easy questions first: Each question you answer correctly boosts your score, which is why answering the easy questions first is a good strategy to help you improve your performance on the ACT. Answer all the least challenging questions first and then go back for the more difficult ones.

Read everything carefully: From the test directions to the questions themselves, read everything carefully. You can’t ace the test unless you first understand what you are supposed to do and what each question is asking.

Answer all questions: The ACT does not penalize wrong answers, so if you aren’t sure about a question, give it a good guess and move on. Guessing on a challenging question is better than leaving it blank because at least it gives you a fighting chance.

Remain calm: Get a good night’s rest the day before the test. Wake up early on test day, eat a good breakfast and take a deep breath. Staying calm, cool and collected will help you remain focused and put you in a better position to act the ACT.

About the Author

Kristina Barroso earned a B.A. in Psychology from Florida International University and works full-time as a classroom teacher in a public school. She teaches middle school English to a wide range of students from struggling readers to advanced and gifted populations. In her spare time, she loves writing articles about education for TheClassroom.com, WorkingMother and other education sites.