Tips And Tricks From A Veteran - The ACT Test

Nov 21, 2000 (Updated Dec 16, 2000)

When I went to take the ACT during the spring of my junior year of high school, I was completely clueless. Even though I had taken a couple of the practice tests, I had no idea what the test would really be like. How would the testing room be set up? Would we get a break? What if all of my pencils simultaneously snapped, leaving me leadless and frightened? It didn't end up being the nightmare that I had thought (I actually did really well!), but to put any nervous ACT takers' minds at ease, here are my tips for achieving ACT success:

Step one: Figure out which colleges you're most interested in. It might be a little soon for this, but you have the option of writing down the schools you'd like your scores sent to when you take the test. To save yourself money and the hassle of sending scores to other schools after the test, it's best to be able to make an educated guess at the time of the test.

Step two: Sign up for the test immediately. It should go without saying, but don't put it off. You really need to take the test to get into most colleges and universities. Even if you're not thrilled about the prospect of taking the ACT, get it over with as soon as you can. You'll feel much better.

Step three: Buy one or two books on the ACT. Don't go overboard with buying books; you won't use them much and you really don't need more than one or two good study books. I recommend buying books that include full practice tests. The two books I purchased were: "Cliffs ACT Preparation Guide" by Bobrow, Covino, Kay, & Nathan ($8.95) and "Barron's Pass Key to the ACT" by Ehrenhaft, Lehrman, Mundsack, & Obrecht ($7.95). I bought the books at Barnes and Noble, but you should be able to find ACT books at just about any bookstore. The Pass Key book helped me out a lot on the math section, so I recommend it if you need a lot of help with math!

Step four: Take a practice test. Don't go overboard though! You really don't need to take several practice tests to prepare for the test. I recommend taking a practice test before you've started studying; this will help you find out the areas that you'll need to study and will also get you familiar with the format of the test. If you have time, take another practice test after studying to see if you can improve your scores in the sections in which you hadn't done as well as you'd hoped.

Step five: Study only what you really need help with. The ACT is broken into four sections: English, math, reading, and science. If you're good at English, don't even consider studying for that section of the test. If math is your strong point, don't study for that. Since I do well in English, reading, and science, I only studied for the math section. And since I had just finished a year of algebra but hadn't taken geometry in a couple years, I only studied geometry and the few things in algebra I hadn't fully understood. Don't overstudy for the test or you'll become a ball of tension. Study for a couple of hours a week before the test, and for an hour or so a couple of nights before the test. You're not going to learn a lot of new information by cramming!

Step six: Eat and sleep! Go to bed early the night before. You do not want to be tired when you take the test the next morning, but you also don't want to be tense. Don't stay out all night, but hanging out with friends for a couple of hours the night before may help you relax if you're nervous about the test - just don't go out for coffee! The morning of the test (usually Saturdays), get up early and eat as much as you can for breakfast. Getting hungry during the test can be a distraction, so make sure you're full when you get there.

Step seven: You're finally at the test, so what should you have and what should you expect? My advice is to bring three or four sharpened, number two pencils. Even if you don't need all four, your tablemate just might (mine didn't even bring one pencil with him). Have a calculator handy - you can use it on the math section and you will definitely want it! Also, consider bringing a snack (for example, a granola bar and water) to eat during the break. You can't eat during the test, but if you can't go three or four hours without eating, bring something to snack on when you're allowed a break. It will make you feel much more relaxed if your stomach isn't growling during the final section! As for the set up of the test, this is my experience: I was in a large (cold) gymnasium. There were about 30 folding tables set out, with two people randomly assigned to each table. A clock was hung on the wall so that everyone could keep track of time, and the people administering the test walked around (to make sure no one was cheating) and timed the test. I had plently of time to finish all of the sections.

I hope this helps people who are looking into taking the ACT or who are worrying up their upcoming test! Remember to relax, take your time on the sections, and don't go absolutely crazy trying to study beforehand. You'll do best if you don't push yourself too hard.

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