ACT Testing Tips Advice
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17 Drastically Important Tips To Follow When Prepping For The ACT

And honestly, some of these tips should be told to test takers more often.

Unsplash / Kinga Cichewicz

This past May, I finally mustered up the courage to register to take the ACT and finally venture out into the standardized testing world. Right off the bat, I was feeling like this was a bad idea because I was diving in headfirst, and I had just found out that I was signing up for the June ACT in the late registration period, meaning I'd have to pay extra. This is already a bad omen, I thought to myself, though I seriously didn't consider that I might have been overcomplicating the situation a bit too much. Maybe I would be testing at a different center than my friends because I signed up late, but I'd have to make that the least of my worries. In actuality, if you're taking the ACT for the first time, there are some key pointers to remember to ensure you have the most comfortable experience possible. I know I would have been a lot more comfortable myself if I'd known these beforehand.

Sign up for the ACT at least two months before taking it.

Now I know that seems like way too long of a time period in between to feel like one has signed up for the ACT testing date at the right time, but keep in mind the amount of preparation one needs to be able to answer countless questions in a shortened time period. That preparation is not going to be easy and will require numerous practice tests, testing tips from online and maybe even hours of tutoring, so having a two-month "warning period" will keep you from being shocked on test day when you realize you haven't finished the section in time.

Plus, you'll need to keep in mind that there is a penalty fee for signing up during the late registration period, and your testing center may already be completely taken up by then. Both of these happened to me when I finally registered, and let me tell you, it is not fun going to a completely brand new location far from home and filled with people you don't know.

Don't immediately start reaching for a tutor.

Yes, tutors are great for giving out test taking tips and basic preparation, but you have all of your tutoring online and — in some cases — for free. Online prep is a growing resource that I found to be exceptionally helpful in scoring high for both sections of the ACT, and this simple article helped me get a near-perfect score in the written essay section of the ACT. It's just that easy to have access to good preparation sites without needing to spend money at all.

The ACT essay is a formatted a bit differently.

Writing an essay is never a walk in the park.

You're probably used to writing an essay that is formatted in such a way that there cannot be any first person or reference to the person writing the essay, but this rule of formality does not necessarily extend to the ACT essay. You can use first person, and I suggest that you use first person. This heightens the argument you are trying to make by bringing validity to yourself. By directly referring to your own experiences and highlighting that with the "I" pronoun, you've already brought your argument to a higher and more convincing level.

Bring a small bag on the day of the test.

I had just taken AP exams a few weeks before, to which I brought a small Ziploc bag to carry my pencils, ID and other items. I thought that using the same bag would be resourceful on the day of the ACT, but when you're juggling ID forms, a calculator and dozens of other items, you'll definitely need a tiny backpack or purse to hold everything comfortably. My fingers began cramping at one point after I held onto the bag awkwardly for half an hour, so don't have that happen to you, too.

Skip questions you don't know, and come back to them later.

I usually take this advice and use it as my last resort when I seriously cannot figure out how to solve a problem in a few minutes, but during the ACT, you don't have a few minutes to spare for each problem. If right after you read a question you're not able to figure out how to approach it, you have to skip it. Maybe give yourself a few seconds to read it over just to double check that it's too challenging to sit and think about because each question should only be taking a minute or two maximum (to finish the section safely).

Reading comprehension requires reading the entire passage.

There's quite a bit to read.

Now, I know you're probably thinking that this is a stretch, and before I took it in June, I would have thought the same thing. But reading comprehension can also be extremely specific and not just be about the theme or author's purpose. It could be a question about something you'll only find the answer to in one sentence in a page-long story, and if you don't focus and read the passage thoroughly as soon as you see it, you'll find yourself wasting time by fishing for it afterward. The best strategy is to actually just read the questions attached to the passage before going in and reading paragraphs of text because you'll at least know what you're looking for.

Have two clocks to look at at all times, one of them on your wrist.

A watch can be your best friend during the ACT, whether or not you feel confident in how efficiently you're managing your time. If you don't have a clock immediately in front of you to look at just to pace yourself, having a watch is always a better backup plan. I accidentally forgot my watch on the day of the ACT, and it was painful to keep searching for the clock when I needed to know how much time I had left.

ACT questions are not meant to be easy.

People seem to have this huge misconception that the ACT is automatically easier because the questions are designed to be completed in a short amount of time. That's absolutely not the case. You have to take weeks — even months — to prepare yourself to walk into a high-stress environment and complete somewhat challenging questions back-to-back, designating less than a minute for each one in some sections. If you fall for the myth that the ACT is a breeze and will be easy to complete, you're in for a rude awakening.

Overconfidence is often a direct bridge to failure and disappointment, so don't fall at the hands of a confused individual's hearsay.

Use the restroom and eat food before taking the test.

This is usually a given, and though each section is very little time to complete questions, the times add up and can take hours to finish. You only get one 10-minute break after the first two sections, and especially if you're taking the written essay afterward, you'll need some fuel and an empty bladder to avoid internal distractions.

Wear layered clothing.

At first, I didn't understand why layered clothing would be important to note because I'm accustomed to just wearing a sweatshirt in a cold testing environment, but in the unusual case that your testing room is too hot, having a t-shirt underneath a jacket can help alleviate the stress from combatting undesirable temperatures.

Take different practice tests over time to see improvement in your efficiency.

Printing out practice tests can really help.

Yes, you should be doing this anyway as part of your preparation routine, but notice the changes in your test taking strategies over time as you realize there are way to conserve time and still do your best. Don't be discouraged if you initially score low the first few times because, as said before, it is a common misconception that the ACT is perfectly easy. This is a challenge that is meant to keep you on your toes, but you'll be uncomfortable if you're not ready ahead of time. I used this website to take my first practice test, but keep in mind that your time may be a bit shorter online than if you take the same test on paper.

Math problems are built off what you've already learned.

I remember recognizing some basic concepts within a few of the questions asked, but other problems amalgamated different lessons and formulas that required a breakdown of what I had learned over the years. I had to admit that it was a bit difficult to recall some information, and I had made way too many careless errors; in the end, though, the main purpose of the math section was to highlight the importance of tying in together different parts of math and putting them into real-world context.

Do not take the ACT repetitively just to improve your score slightly.

This is one of the most important things any test taker needs to know to truly succeed, not only in taking the ACT but also in future situations similar to this. True progression takes time and does not include rushing for the next opportunity to bring up the score by one point. The ACT being scored on a 36-point scale may mean there's a huge difference between each point's value, but going month after month just to increase the score by one point is a waste of money and time instead of watching yourself grow a lot over a period of months. You'll also feel better about yourself because of the huge jump in scores rather than a gradual and seemingly-slower increase.

Have everything you need to enter the testing room.

You'll need a few pencils, an eraser, a watch, your admission ticket, a valid ID, a calculator for the math section (though you'll have to check to make sure it's allowed in the testing room first) and some kind of a snack. In case you want to make sure you have everything, check this list that includes descriptions of each item and how to make sure you're bringing the right ticket, ID and calculator.

You don't need to bring your phone.

It makes sense to bring your phone to communicate with someone if they're picking you up, but other than that, you really don't have a valid reason to bring your phone. Except maybe to scroll through social media posts you've already seen five times just to seem like you're not standing around aimlessly, but in the end, is it really worth it? You're just bringing an item you don't really need.

Don't panic during the test.

Don't panic!

I know that in the middle of the science section, I wasn't able to fully process what the questions were asking me, and all of the figures and numbers were turning into a blurring mess of confusion. I wanted to scream and tell the proctor to restart the time for the section, but I had to realize that this was just going to be two minutes of my entire life that I was taking too seriously. In a situation where you can't find yourself focusing at all during the test, take 10 to 20 seconds to take deep breaths and relax. That's the most impactful thing you can do in the moment to calm yourself, and it actually makes the rest of the section easier to conquer.

Take the written essay portion. It's not that bad.

I'm not kidding when I say that it was not a bad decision to take the essay on my first try. Just a few weeks before the exam, I still had not grasped the complete format of the essay, and I was ready to enter the exam with no knowledge of what I actually needed. After finally gaining access to the proper ACT essay writing resources that told me there actually is a proper way to write the ACT essay, I realized that I actually had to follow rules to try achieving a 12 or close to it.

If we're being honest, the essay is not a big deal at all compared to what people make it out to be. You do have to put in a little more effort because you obviously need to study for the essay portion, but in the end, it is completely worth it. You will have a score report for a portion that is not solely dictated by multiple choice questions, and you get to boast about a score some people may not have the courage to even attempt receiving.

In the end, the ACT really isn't too much of a challenge if you know how to prepare. Some of these tips are important to me because I should have known them before, but knowing them now, I realize how much better my ACT experience would have been and how much more comfortable I would have been that day had I kept these in my back pocket beforehand.

For anyone getting ready to take the ACT, follow these tips, and make sure you eat and sleep properly the days leading up to the exam! Good luck!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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