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What it Takes to Ace the ACT

The ACT is a nearly three-hour exam with four sections – English, math, reading and science – plus an optional writing section that adds 40 minutes.  In order to take the test on February 11, be sure to register by January 13.

With the deadline to register for the February 11 ACT fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about ACT prep.  What does the test look like?  What are some key ways you can prepare?  Implement the following strategies to maximize your chances of acing the ACT.

Wreck the Reading Section

Comprised of 40 multiple-choice questions, the reading section requires that you read various passages and answer questions in just 35 minutes.  In order to receive a high score in this area, you will need to apply rhetorical skills so that you can interpret the author’s intentions or speak to the author’s form and style.  This section requires more prep than simply memorizing a list of rules or terms, as with grammar or vocabulary.

 Read, read, and read some more: By expanding your reading list to include scholarly essays, literature, and even magazine articles, you can easily boost your reading score.  As you’re reading, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does the writer make his/her point?
  2. What flaws or holes can be identified in his/her argument?
  3. Do I feel persuaded? If so, why?
  4. What literary techniques does the writer implement to help communicate his/her thoughts and ideas?

Practicing your answers to these questions will help you analyze the reading passages given to you during your test.

Master the Math Section

The ACT Math test consists of 60 questions that must be answered within the 60-minute time limit. All of the math questions are five-choice, multiple-choice questions. These questions draw from six areas of math that most students have covered by the end of their 11th grade year: pre-algebra, basic algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, plane geometry, and trigonometry.  The ACT is known for its tricky math questions, so try using these strategies to boost your score:

  1. Memorize the instructions ahead of time: Don’t waste valuable time reading and re-reading the directions—by reviewing a practice test ahead of time, you can walk into the test and completely bypass that part and dive right into solving problems.
  2. Understand ACT math relationships: Know the difference between values, ratios, and percentages.  Keep in mind, a ratio is a relationship between numbers.  You’ll save yourself time if you can easily move back and forth between fractions, decimals, and percentages.
  3. Memorize your triangles: The ACT will no provide you basic information at the beginning of the math section, so be sure to memorize the 30-60-9-0 and 45-45-90 triangle rules.
  4. Watch for outliers: Test-makers’ love to trip up test-takers by including bogus answers that don’t fit. Keep your eyes open for these and cross them out as viable options.

Surmount the Science Section

The ACT Science test consists of 40 questions that must be answered within the 35-minute time limit. The test consists of several science passages, each of which focuses on one of the following subject areas: biology, chemistry, earth/space sciences, and physics. Each passage is presented in one of three different formats: Data Representation, Research Summaries, and Conflicting Viewpoints.

  1. Data Representation focuses mostly on charts, graphs, and tables, so you will need to practice identifying trends and understanding the layout of variables.
  2. Research Summaries describes one or more experiments. You will need to understand the Purpose, Method, and Results for each experiment, and know what the similarities and differences were between them.
  3. Think of the Conflicting Viewpoints Passages as a debate:two or more parties state their conflicting beliefs. Sometimes they agree on one point but disagree on others. When answering the 7 questions, be sure you’re considering the correct viewpoint—don’t get the two mixed up.

Execute the English Section

The ACT English test consists of 75 questions that must be answered within the 45-minute time limit.  There are two types of ACT English questions: Usage/Mechanics questions and Rhetorical Skills questions.

  1. Keep it short, sweet and to the point: For the ACT, the best answers are typically the most clear and concise. Don’t get hung up on the lengthy, wordy answer choices, but rather look for the simplest answer that provides the best fit.
  2. Pay attention to punctuation: The most important punctuation symbols you need to remember are commas, apostrophes, semicolons, and colons.  In addition, the version of the test you take may also include questions regarding parentheses, dashes, periods, question marks, and exclamation points.  Familiarize yourself with the rules associated with punctuation ahead of time.
  3. Go in order: The questions on the English section go in order according to the passage, so it won’t help you to skip around and answer the questions out of order. Do your best to answer the question the first time, guess, and move on if necessary.

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