25 Simple Tips for Students to Boost Their ACT

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This week, numerous states are administering the ACT to juniors statewide. This happens to be the case where we live and we happen to have a junior in the house.
It can be intimidating to parents and students to think of “the big test day,” yet being equipped with basic knowledge about the process, the test and a few tips can help all.
This set of tips is written for those looking for a quick overview prior to the test (not a comprehensive study strategy), with the goal of boosting the overall experience and hopefully even the score! It is something parents and students could read 1-2 days before the test and find a few helpful tips. It goes without saying that even better is a familiarizing students with the process well in advance.
I am a firm believer that a test score like this is solely one piece of a student’s overall profile, which also includes interests, experiences, aptitudes, mindset, determination and much more. Any one test score does not define a student, though it does have a direct influence on college admissions and financial aid packages. So it’s worth taking a few minutes to review.
Many of these tips came from The Real ACT Prep Guide (from the Makers of ACT)  as well as from several friends and colleagues who’ve been hammering out strategies to help kids do their best.

Overall Basics

The ACT is a “subject area test,” with five sections as listed below. Each section has a strict time limit, and not all students or states elect to include the writing component.

  • English: 45 minutes
  • Math: 60 minutes
  • Reading: 35 minutes
  • Science: 35 minutes
  • Writing: 30 minutes

Overall Test Taking Strategies

Many of these tips are pertinent for any type of testing.

  • Get organized. Get your pencils, calculator and know where you’re going. You cannot eat in the testing room, but you can expect a 10 minute break at the end of your second test.
  • Know what to expect. For example, two of the most critical things to know for the ACT include: 1) there are time limits; and 2) you are not penalized for wrong answers.
  • Keep it in perspective. As indicated above “you are more than your test score.”
  • Learn as much as you can. Nothing can replace good learning along the way.
  • Refresh your knowledge and skills. Even if students haven’t been prepping for months, it can help to review math formulas..
  • Physically prepare. Exercise, eat right and get plenty of sleep.
  • Apply general test taking strategies:

•  Pace yourself. The ACT must be completed in a limited amount of time. Specific strategies for pacing vary by subject area.

•  Know the directions. Understand the answer document and if possible, read sample instructions ahead of time.

•  Read carefully. Read the question, read the question, read the question.

•  Mark your answer document carefully. All sections (except writing) are multiple choice.

 Decide on strategies for answering easier or harder questions. On the ACT, your score is based on the number of questions you get right.

•  Check your work. Make sure you answered in proper places, answer all questions and reread your essay.

Section by Section Tips



  • 35 minutes
  • 40 questions, 4 passages with 10 questions each
  • There are passages covering prose fiction, social science, humanities and natural science. At least one section has a comparison component.

Test Taking Strategy Tips

  • Since there are 4 passages with 10 questions each and a total of 35 minutes allotted for this section. The pace should be between 8-9 minutes per section.
  • Skim the questions before reading the passage (but don’t waste time on answers until after reading).
  • Know what you are looking for–for example, if the question specifically refers to the passage, you can find it in the passage. If it starts with something like “most likely” or “reasonable conclusion,” you’ll need to infer it.
  • Read through all of the answer choices and eliminate extreme or judgemental answers.
  • When in doubt, read!



  • Time: 35 minutes
  • Questions: 40 questions total (7 passages with 5-7 questions each)
  • Content is on major topics in science spanning physical science, physics, biology and chemistry. Format is review and interpretation of charts/graphs, experiments or studies.

Test Taking Strategy Tips

  • Look for patterns and relationships in the data.
  • Remember to focus on “the obvious”–chart and graph titles or keys, bold words, italicized words, definitions and formulas.
  • Read and reread the questions, and ensure you organize your responses around the study being referenced. Some questions combine multiple studies.



  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Questions: 75
  • Tests grammar, use of the language, conventions

Test Taking Strategy Tips

  • Remember what you’ve learned in all of your years in Language Arts class.
  • Remember proper punctuation options–when to use periods, commas, semicolons, dashes, etc.
  • Double check possessives/apostrophes: “it’s vs its” or “who’s vs whose.”



  • Time: 60 minutes.
  • Questions: 60
  • Majority of the math portion is pre-algebra, though it also includes intermediate algebra, geometry and trigonometry.

Test Taking Strategy Tips

  • Review formulas.
  • Work through familiar problems carefully yet quickly.
  • Carefully check answers.



  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Prompts: 1
  • Prompts follow the pattern of presenting a topic, providing two views on a topic, then posing a writing prompt in the form of a question where you’ll need to take a position.

Test Taking Strategy Tips

  • Know the format of the prompt.
  • Read and reread the question.
  • Decide on your position and create an outline to support it. Be sure to present clear and concise arguments that are backed up by concrete examples.
  • Remember that clarity is king. Evaluators only have a short amount of time to read your essay so it needs to be logical and clear.

While these tips by no means offer a comprehensive boost-your-ACT strategy, they can hopefully help teachers, parents and students prepare for the basics.
For more from Mary, see:

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