99 Random Tips To Improve ACT Scores
To improve ACT scores, you cannot expect to simply sit down and take the test numerous times without learning anything specific from each attempt.
While giving yourself as many opportunities as possible is part of it, there are other things you can, and should, be doing to find success.
To aide you in this goal, we have put together a list of 99 random tips that represent the best of the best for maximizing ACT scores. Some are general; some very specific. But in each case, you should find it easier getting as close to 36 as possible. Let us get started!
1. Relax the night before the test.
Relaxation is an integral part of recharging your mental batteries after a rigorous week (or month) of studying. At some point, you have got to say, “Enough is enough,” and give yourself a break.
Rather than spend that final night before the exam cramming away, you should learn to trust your training — more on that in a moment — and allow your mind to relax the pressures of the days leading up to test day.
Therefore, do not think about studying the night before your exam. Watch a favorite television show. Read a book. Go to the movies. Exercise. Do whatever you can to not think about it. And on a related note…
2. Go to bed early.
There is a difference between relaxation and sleep. You need to relax your mind and give it a chance to reconnect with the world around you. But that in no way makes up for a good night of sleep.
Your body requires sleep in order to think clearly and critically. If you are not already getting eight hours of sleep per night, then you need to rearrange your sleeping patterns and get on a healthier schedule, at least one week before test day — that is, if you want to give yourself the best chance at success.
3. Be like Floyd Mayweather (well, not entirely).
Okay, Floyd Mayweather may not be the best of role models given the past history of domestic violence, but when it comes to work ethic and preparation, he does set a good example.
This was recently made apparent in an anecdote shared by the WWE superstar Triple H — a friend of Mayweather — in the Tim Ferriss book Tools of Titans.
Triple H shared details of a meeting he had with Mayweather before a big championship fight. The wrestler and wife Stephanie McMahon went backstage to wish Floyd well.
When they arrived in his dressing area, he engaged them in conversation and urged them to hang around much longer than intended.
Concerned that he needed to get ready for the fight, Triple H and Stephanie continually tried to let him go, but he implored them to stick around. Finally, Triple H said to Mayweather, “Do you not need to get ready for the fight?”
Floyd responded that getting ready is what he had been doing for the last six months. If he was not ready prior to the 2-3 hours before the fight, there was not anything he could do to get ready now.
There is a lesson in that for anyone who hopes to improve ACT scores. You do not get ready the night before or even the week before your test. You get ready with a strategic plan that has you working towards readiness each and every day.
4. Focus on strategy, and read aloud.
Strategy is just as important as content knowledge when it comes to boosting your ACT scores. While you definitely want to know what is on the test, you also want to take the exam in the smartest way possible.
One of the first things you should do when focusing on strategy is to read aloud questions and passages. This is easy in the practice stages. Just sit in a quiet room by yourself where you do not have to worry about being disturbed or disturbing others — think: a study room at the library — and go to town.
On actual test day, you can still do a form of reading aloud, though not literally. Move your lips as you read particularly difficult passages or questions. Even if you are not making any sounds, going through the motions will produce many of the same benefits as if you were.
5. Do not second-guess your marks.
The time to second-guess yourself is before you fill in the Scantron bubble. Once you have made a mark, leave it unless you have plenty of time left at the end to go back and revisit some of the questions you are iffy on.
6. Substitute numbers for variables.
When working on math problems — particularly algebraic ones — cut through some of the confusion by selecting simple numbers and replacing letter variables in an equation.
Then, solve for the numeric components and see which answers come the closest to your findings.
7. Take notes while reading.
Reading is more than simply moving your eyes across a set of words and sentences. Similarly to listening, it requires you to be active while doing it.
Therefore, as you are reading, consider jotting down notes in the margin of your test booklet. Hone in on key words and ideas. By “pulling out” the information from the paragraph it is in, you will find it easier to refer back to helpful parts of the passage once you get to the questions.
8. Look for idea connections.
Another part of being a good reader is making connections between what you have just read and existing knowledge derived from other texts, world events, or personal experiences.
Whenever you can connect words on a page to something of greater value and longevity, you stand a better chance of answering inference questions and other question types that you are likely to encounter on the ACT exam.
9. On science and reasoning, ask yourself what is being measured.
The ACT exam “measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences.”
This descriptor of the science reasoning section gives you a very specific overview of what you should be looking for with each passage and question.
If you are like us wordy types, it is easy to get lost in unfamiliar terrain trying to figure out what you are supposed to be looking for. By resorting back to the descriptor above and constantly asking yourself the question, “What is being measured here?,” you stand a much better chance of staying on track.
10. Also on science reasoning, pinpoint the variables.
Variables — as with the mathematics section — are good callsigns when trying to figure out a problem. By anchoring your understanding to the variables of a passage, you can come much closer, directly or via the process of elimination, to finding out what is being asked and how best to answer it.
11. Look for trends in data.
Data trends (or the DTs as we like to call them) are very important when it comes to science-based questions. With the DTs, you are entering a natural relationship between data sets and the equational solutions they lead to.
Whenever you see a question or set of questions where DTs are involved, it will be up to you to figure out the relationships between them. For more in-depth assistance in handling this often tricky terrain, we recommend this examination at PrepScholar by Dora Seigel.
12. When writing essays, organize your ideas first.
As you set out to write an essay, you are going to have a lot of random facts, figures, thoughts, and ideas floating through your head. Left unchecked, this will simply be a chaotic assortment of knowledge that leads to no real point.
Do not let it best you. Brainstorm the things you want to say, then look for commonalities and differences in the information. Understand the relationships between them as you would data trends on a science reasoning question, and you will be well on your way to an effective essay.
13. When writing essays, stick with structure.
Essay writing can be difficult, particularly when you are under a time crunch. In order to do it well, you need to focus more on structure than “wordsmith-ing.”
A simple hack for effective essay writing is to learn the structure of a good essay. This typically involves an introduction that previews the points you will be dealing with in the body.
For the ACT, keep it simple and stick with a three-point essay. From there, each point and its supporting evidence will comprise one body paragraph.
Your statement — usually given at the end of an introductory paragraph — along with the three supporting points should lead inevitably to a conclusion which you can then state in your final paragraph.
Five paragraphs: intro, supporting point #s 1-3, conclusion. Once you have memorized that, it becomes much easier to write effectively to a time limit.
14. Focus on the most concise answer for Language Arts multiple choice.
Notice we are telling you to focus on the most concise answer. That does not necessarily mean choose the most concise answer.
To clarify, focusing on the most concise answer will help you to simplify the complexity of what is being asked regardless of whether the short answer turns out to be the right answer.
If the concise answer does not come close enough to what you believe is being asked by the question, then expand to the next most concise and go from there.
Standardized exams have a tendency toward trickiness, so by honing in on concise language early and often, you can avoid falling for traps.
15. Read paragraphs to get the context.
Many test-takers make the mistake of thinking they will save time by jumping right to the questions without reading a single word. They figure the questions are shorter than that big wall of text they pertain to, so it is best to just blow through them.
At the very least, you should consider skimming each paragraph before advancing to the Q&A part of the exam. By being extra familiar with what is about to be asked, you will spend way less time looking for answers and you will feel more confident with final selections.
16. Think twice before selecting the ‘no change’ option.
Remember where we said standardized exams have a tendency toward trickiness? One of the hallmarks of a tricky question is the one that carries the option “No change” or “None of the above” or “All of the above” or “A and C only.”
You get the point.
If you are certain of an answer, do not allow these smokescreens to get you off track. Just because the question puts in one of these “swerves,” that does not mean it is legitimate.
17. Focus on diagrams and other visuals.
The architects of the ACT rarely include visuals for the sake of visuals. If a section has a diagram or other accompanying picture, the chances are almost 100 percent it will factor in significantly to the questions that follow.
Lesson: spend time learning how to read graphs and pie charts and other visuals. It will serve you well not only on the test itself but in life.
18. Plug in answers on math questions.
When in doubt, figure it out. Even if it takes a mock set of numbers. If you are not particularly good at math, choose as simple of a set of numbers as you can and try to reach a logical conclusion. Even if it does not get you to the exact right answer, it may be able to turn you on to the correct selection from the multiple choice options.
19. Gravitate toward your strengths.
The best explainer we can give you here is to answer the ones you are most certain of first, the ones you have a good feeling about secondly, and the ones you are completely stumped on last.
20. Learn how to skim, and do it often.
There are a lot of challenging passages on the ACT, and if you are worried time is a factor, then you should employ the technique of skimming long passages early and often.
When you skim, your eyes may not touch on every word, but you will be able to pick up enough details to parse the main idea of the passage(s) and what is being asked.
21. Save conflicting viewpoints for last.
Why are these types of questions on the science reasoning portion best saved for last? Because they have a tendency to be the most difficult.
When encountering a conflicting viewpoints question — and there are 7 of them on the ACT — you will find each side of the issue to be presented in convincing fashion, leaving it to you to reason out the “correct” item.
This requires careful reading and examination, and you are likely going to need as much time on it as possible. Therefore, go after the low-hanging fruit first, and if you need any more specific help, make sure you check out the website PrepScholar’s breakdown of this section here.
22. When writing, make your introductions and conclusions sizzle.
It is common to feel “crunched” when trying to develop a well thought out essay under time constraints. Rather than strive for flawless perfection, do your best to make the intro and concluding paragraphs sizzle.
The intro is the first thing an evaluator will read, so it is your chance to make a great first impression. The concluding paragraph is your chance to make your thesis and points resonate.
Making sure both paragraphs are as strong as possible will leave the evaluator with a favorable impression, and they also serve as the foundation that will make your supporting points stand out.
23. Skip the hard stuff.
No, we are not saying skip it altogether. You want to answer every question on the test. Just do not agonize over material that you know will give you trouble. Skip it in the short term and move on to something you are more comfortable answering.
Then, when all of your “certain” answers are in place, use the time you have remaining to think through what is left. You will find in doing so that some of those hard questions can be reasoned out.
If you are down to the last couple of minutes, guess.
24. Learn to love the process of elimination.
Do not get frustrated if by using the process of elimination, you fail to arrive at a confident answer immediately. The process is designed as more of a fat-trimmer than a magic bullet.
If you can eliminate two or more answer choices, then you are well on your way to being able to reason out the rest. So make peace with the process of elimination in all its messy incompleteness.
25. Bubble at the end.
This is an especially good tip for improving ACT scores for those of you that worry about the time factor.
Rather than going through and pausing with each question to darken in those Scantron bubbles, mark the correct answers beside each question in your booklet.
Then, after you have worked through the entire section, turn to the bubbles and fill in all at once. In doing so, you may not mark your first answer until 20 minutes into the test, but you will be able to dash through from minutes 21-30 and have most of the test complete before turning to the time remainder and using it to address the more difficult questions.
26. Remember to breathe calmly.
Test anxiety is a very real thing, but if you learn to control your breathing, it will not have mastery over you. The best way to control breathing is to simply be mindful of it.
Force yourself to count each breath. 1 for inhale, 2 for exhale, 3 for inhale, 4 for exhale, 5 for inhale, and so on. By calling out the rhythm and the certainty of your breathing, you will be able to center your thoughts and channel them towards the exam.
27. Aim high on your score.
When many of us were coming up taking the ACT, there was no such thing as the Internet to easily search all the examples of students, who scored perfectly.
When it did occur, it took the shape of an urban legend, and no one was really sure if it happened or if it was utter BS.
Today we know a lot more about the students who score perfectly on the ACT, and we have this thing called the World Wide Web that allows us to learn from them.
Point being, scoring a 36 is definitely possible, and anyone can do it with the right amount of content knowledge, study time, test-taking strategy, and luck. Of course, luck improves if you are ticking the boxes on those first three. With that in mind, do not set your sights too low for ACT scores. You are capable of far more than you think, so go for it.
28. Know your biggest weakness(es).
By focusing on weaknesses first, you can harness the amount of time between you and test day to make progress.
Many students make the mistake of studying for everything when prepping when they should be trusting in their existing abilities and enhancing the areas that need support.
Do not be that person. Take an honest assessment of where you are and grow your study strategy from there.
29. Look for specifics.
Regardless of which section you are on — reading, language arts, math, or science reasoning — zero in on specific information. That means gravitating toward names, facts, figures, and specific wording on the questions themselves.
30. Look for broadness.
Some specific answers are arrived at by understanding broad principles. So whether working through an algebraic equation or the scientific method, make sure you have done your due diligence in studying and learning concepts on which content areas rely.
31. Look for revised relationships.
Put in simple terms, by “revised relationships,” we mean those questions that ask, “As a does this, b does this.” Many questions, particularly in the science reasoning realm, select their correct answers based on accurate interpretations of how the state of one relationship affects another. (Think “cause and effect” and apply it to each content area.)
32. Beware unrelated concepts.
Sometimes the ACT will try to throw you off track by using verbiage that appears to link two concepts that, in reality, have no relationship to one another or what the question is actually asking. That is why it is important to slow down and really understand the concept on which a question or series of questions operates.
33. Predict before reading the answers.
This is especially valuable on any passage that asks you to read before answering questions. By getting into the habit of predicting outcomes, you will be able to more easily spot main ideas and key details that are so vital in choosing the correct response even if your initial expectations are proven wrong.
34. Read questions before the passage…
Another wise reading technique that will serve you well on each section is to delay tackling the whole passage. Instead press forward into the questions. These will serve as a preview for what the passage is going to be about, and they will help the analytical part of your brain spot those details as you go.
Notice: we are not telling you to answer the questions first. Just give them a look and allow them to be a primer into what you are about to read.
35. …or read whole passage first.
This opposite approach can be equally effective. While you may feel like you are losing time by reading the passage instead of filling in answers, you may actually be making up the time you lose by having enough knowledge to answer the questions in a more expedient manner.
Let us say it takes five minutes to read a passage, but from that five minutes, it allows you to answer each question in 30 seconds tops. For a typical 7-question passage, you are done in about nine minutes.
Compare that to jumping right into the questions, which will force you back into the passage with no knowledge of structure or word placement. It could take at least 90 seconds to understand what is being asked, find the appropriate place in the passage, and read through the answer choices before selecting the right answer.
The latter is a full 90 seconds longer than the former when you do the math.
36. Learn from your mistakes.
A big part of improving your ACT scores is not what you do before or during the exam, but what you do afterward. If you are like the vast majority of students out there, you are not going to get every test question correct.
That leaves room for improvement, provided you are willing to dig into the guts of your scoring report and recognize the areas where you fell short.
Do not fixate on your composite score. Instead go into the details of each section and see how you performed on individual subsections. Use those areas as a baseline for developing a study strategy for the next time.
37. Fake fascination.
You are not going to fool everybody. Some things are just boring no matter what. If your natural propensity is toward English, the chances of you being a whizkid at science reasoning is slim, and vice versa.
However, it is important to “fake it till you make it” to some degree. This involves stepping outside of yourself and getting into the material on a micro level. Approach each section using the $1 million rule.
Try to envision the life you would lead with $1 million in your pocket and then pretend your imaginary benefactor will give that amount to you if you do your best on the section ahead.
Creating these imaginary scenarios to hype yourself up for a section may not result in all the right answers, but if handled with enthusiasm, it can give you the energy to get through the more difficult sections while giving your best effort.
38. Leave time at the end.
You never want to finish your first pass through a test section with seconds to spare. By doing some of the things we have already covered — answering questions first in the booklet, darkening circles last, focusing only on the ones you know before moving to the ones you are not sure about, and the ones you have no idea on — you will be able to effectively manage your time.
Try to “finish” a test section with at least 10 minutes left; then apply your most critical of thinking to those last 10 minutes in an effort to decipher correct answers to more challenging questions or making wise guesses.
39. Work out of order.
Are there specific types of questions that you are better at answering than others? Consider working out of order. Save time consuming sections — like reading passages, for example — last. Come back to them later when you have the appropriate amount of time to fixate on critical thinking.
40. Pick two letters and guess, guess, guess.
Yes, at some point in the test taking process you are going to come across test questions for which you are not prepared. It is okay. Happens to the best of us. When that happens, you have heard it said to always mark C.
The effectiveness of this is unproven. You will do much better by picking two letters — B and D, for instance — and alternating them for each guess until you have covered all the unanswered questions.
41. Find the wrong answers.
Not sure what the right answer is? Sometimes it can be easier to find the wrong ones first. Not only will this help you with the process of elimination, but it will help you approach the rest of the decision-making process with more confidence because you have already proven to yourself that you know enough about the question to eliminate incorrect possibilities.
42. Take multiple practice tests.
There are few better ways to prepare for the actual exam than to start with practice tests — yes, plural. By taking multiple practice tests, it will allow you to get comfortable with the format and the pacing of the exam, so that on actual test day you know exactly what to expect.
While multiple practice tests cannot telegraph exactly what will be on the test, they can help you to nip test anxiety in the bud long before the real deal.
43. Pay attention to directions.
The directions are everything when taking the ACT. Misreading or overlooking something at the start of a test section can poison the well, so to speak, and lead to you missing most every question.
Also, on a micro level, make sure that you know exactly what each question is asking before turning your attention to the answer sheet.
44. Study a little each day.
Rome was not built in a day, and neither was the knowledge base needed to master the ACT. Build a roadmap for studying with plenty of “stops” along the way.
By “stops,” of course, we mean to break down each day of study into digestible chunks, and leave enough room between where you are now and the actual test day so you are not having to cram the night before.
By taking the incremental approach to studying and leaving plenty of time to do it, you can make sure you know key concepts that will help you in being able to choose correct answers and elevate those ACT scores.
45. Read it like you wrote it.
When you have to write something for a class, you tend to slow down and take greater care with what the actual words on the page say before you hand it in. Try to use this same level of scrutiny when you are reading through a passage because it will help you to zero in on key details that will prove helpful in answering the questions to follow.
46. Seek outside help.
No one has all the answers — well, unless you are one of those rare people who walk in and score a 36 the first time through. If you feel like your score needs to be higher and you have hit a wall studying for it on your own, consider reaching out to someone else.
Even if it is just another student who performed slightly better on the test, you can learn a lot by comparing notes and growing from what others have done.
47. Neglect your expertise.
You read that correctly. We are actually telling you it is best to ignore certain types of test content if your level of proficiency in those areas is already above average. You will be better served redirecting your attention to a weak spot.
Say you are scoring a 32 on the reading, a 30 on the Language Arts, a 24 on the math, and a 16 on science. Where are you best served in those scenarios? It is actually a question worth considering.
You may want to pour more resources into science reasoning since, in this scenario, it is so low, but 24 on math could be a good option, too, since your score there is decent and shows promise but is not in it with the 30 and 32.
The composite in the above scenario would be around 25 or 26. But if you pour all your resources into studying for science reasoning and math, then you could bring those up to maybe an 18 and a 27. Provided the other scores stay steady, you are up to a 27.
If you can work even harder and get that science reasoning up to a 20 or beyond — well, you see the benefits of taking the test multiple times and working on improving those lowest scores.
48. Focus on the lines mentioned in the passage.
Whenever a question tells you to refer back to this line or that line, pay extra close attention. It is not a trick. If you are the type of test taker, who likes to read the questions first, this can be a big time saver.
49. Learn how the test is scored.
Only by understanding how the test is scored can you learn where your weak spots and strengths are. Yes, the scores themselves give away a lot, but most students look no further than general numbers when the scoring report goes into much greater detail and gives you the keys to understanding what you need to improve to get ahead.
Look at each scoring report as an opportunity — a preconfigured road map to achieving higher scores and greater levels of success.
50. Spot the main idea in reading passages, first and foremost.
When you understand a reading passage on the macro level, it becomes much easier to understand it on the micro level. Therefore, try to lock down the main idea of the passage before venturing off into more detailed questions. It is like building a house. Start with the foundation before throwing up the walls and the roof.
51. Focus on point-of-view question types as given by the author.
If you are wondering which types of questions are likely to find their way onto your ACT, start with the point-of-view of the writer. While versions of the test differ, most have some section that challenges you to infer meaning from what the writer is talking about.
It will not all be spelled out in simple fashion. You will need to pay attention to word choice and structure oftentimes to derive deeper meaning, so make a point of questioning what the agenda of the writer is from word one.
52. Focus on detail question types.
Detail question types are also prevalent on the ACT. With detail questions, you will simply be asked to recall key elements from the text. These are pretty self-explanatory, but that does not necessarily make them a cakewalk.
It is all about how good you are at spotting those details and recalling them quickly. Remember that each section places you on a time crunch, and there will be some form of reading involved whether you are working with grammar or algebra and science reasoning.
53. Look for context clues when reading for vocabulary.
What are context clues? In case you have not already heard, they are the surrounding words and phrases that help you decipher the meaning of a specific word or phrase. Think about when you read for enjoyment. Do you stop each time you come across a challenging word and head to the dictionary, or do you acknowledge the word and try to figure out what it means after reading the rest of the sentence and perhaps a few more after its use?
You can usually infer the accurate meaning of a word if you just trust what you know and keep reading. Since you will not be allowed to have a dictionary with you for the test, it is important that you learn the art of trusting context clues.
54. Pay especially close attention to purpose and word choice.
What is the reason this passage was written? Why did the writer choose this word or relay his meaning in that manner of speaking? An inquisitive mind will help you stay out in front of the challenges that a reading passage thrusts upon you.
For the brief moment of time that it takes to take the exam, you need to tap into your inner 2-year-old and start questioning everything again.
55. Look for distortions.
Often when you are working on the ACT exam, an answer will sound right, but you will not be for certain it is. When your gut is telling you to pause and reconsider, you should probably listen to it.
That is because the test framers will often force you to choose between two or three answer choices that hinge on a word or two. These choices may otherwise sound correct, but a closer reading will help you avoid whatever obscure mistakes are lurking in the verbiage.
These are the types of questions you want to be extra careful of. If you get a sense that two or more answers sound correct, leave the question blank and come back to it once you have worked through the ones of which you are more certain.
56. Beware misused details.
One of the ways the ACT will try to swerve you is to key in on a detail that is actually relevant to the passage or question, but use it in a non sequitur manner (i.e. the logic does not follow through to the correct response).
Especially when going through walls of text in a reading passage, you need to make sure that you are not jumping to conclusions based on a familiar piece of information that is purposely used by the test architects in the wrong manner.
57. Beware answers that fall out-of-scope.
Sometimes the goal will be to draw conclusions outside what is actually in the materials. In math problems, for instance, the test architects may try to make you think an answer exists when there is not enough information to justify a given conclusion.
When looking at the details that are there, also be mindful of what is not there. Not every question leads to a correct answer. Sometimes being correct is not being able to answer the question at all.
58. Beware of extremes.
Another “trick” you may run in to when answering questions is the extreme response. An example of this would be an answer choice that follows a correct line of logic to a conclusion that is not detailed in the passage.
For example, let us say you are answering questions in a reading passage about climate change. Going by the passage itself, you can infer that the ice caps in Antarctica will melt by the year 2055.
While catastrophic loss of human life may be an eventual result of the phenomenon that causes those ice caps to melt, that is not the specific message of the passage. However, there is an answer choice that says from the information given in the passage you can infer that humanity will be extinct by the year 2095.
We are just spitballing numbers here, so please do not take any of this as scientific certainty. We only use the example to call out the extreme nature of that 2095 answer. While we all may be dead by 2095 from extreme climate change, if the passage does not support that specific and extreme conclusion, then it cannot possibly be the right answer.
59. Beware of contradictions.
Again, the test architects are going to do their best to fool you, and one way they will do that is by setting together intelligent-sounding but conflicting information. Study the relationships between two elements of an answer, and do not let yourself get suckered into the trap.
60. Beware the random-sounding answer.
Sometimes questions can confuse you on the basis of the random-sounding answer. This occurs when all but one of the answer choices sound alike or similar. Out in left field is this other answer — call it option C — and C is so different from the other selections that you feel it must be correct.
The random-sounding answer is particularly dangerous when you have to go into guess mode at the end of the test. You are better off choosing one of the more closely aligned answers at random.
61. Examine class notes and textbooks.
If you are wondering what is going to be on the ACT, you could look in a number of places that are likely already tucked away in your backpack, and it will not cost you a cent. That is correct. Your class notes and textbooks.
The ACT is about college readiness. That means the things that are on it will align closely with the things you should be learning in school.
While it is true that you are at a disadvantage taking the test in 10th grade compared to taking it in 12th, there are workarounds. In the meantime, dig out those old papers and the heavy books, do your homework, read over your marked-up exams, and make the most of what you have for study materials.
62. Look for more specific tips.
The tips that we are giving you here are sort of a random assortment. As previously mentioned, there are some content-specific items in here, while in other cases, there are time management and productivity tips that will serve you well no matter which test you are taking.
As with any type of study plan, do not stick with one source. We would love for you to refer back to this piece often, but do not limit yourself. Search for specific videos and blog posts in the content area you are studying.
Seek out those that deal specifically with the ACT course. Go as deep as you can with it, and learn from multiple people. Your brain will retain the important stuff the more that you immerse yourself in different techniques and viewpoints.
63. Do not rush.
Seriously. You have more time than you think. While some questions may take you a few minutes to work through, others will be answer-able in seconds.
Your best bet is to work through the “easy” ones first and dispense the remainder among the questions that will give you the most difficulties.
64. Get familiar with pacing first.
Before digging into the content areas, you will want to focus on the flow of the test first. This is why we recommended the multiple practice test-taking, but it is also not enough to answer the questions. You need to recreate the environment of test day as best you can.
Read up on what is allowed in and what is not. Set your timer to strict standards, and do not work past it. If you get to the end of the exam, utilize your remaining time to review your answers.
By recreating the environment and the circumstances, you can get a real sense of the pacing. That will make test day feel more manageable.
65. Use affirmations.
Scott Adams is a smart guy. Creator of the popular comic strip Dilbert, he accurately predicted the electoral victories of Donald Trump, first in the Republican primary and later in the general election.
Adams noticed something about Trump that made him stand out over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. He was great, when speaking, at using persuasive speech styles and language. He simplified messages and spoke to voters on their level instead of speaking like an elite.
When Adams made the prediction, he was very nearly laughed off the talk show panel for his appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher. None of those laughing were doing so in the early morning hours of Nov. 9 when Trump became President.
To be clear, Adams is not a Trump supporter. He just has a clear way of looking at things, and in the aforementioned Tools of Titans, he shares one of his secrets for having such great insight and for accomplishing as much as he has in his lifetime.
The concept is simple. You think of a goal. You fixate on the goal. You repeat it to yourself either through written word or spoken mantra approximately 15 times per day, and you keep going until it becomes a reality. Adams says that once you fixate on the goal, opportunities to achieve it will begin to crop up seemingly from out of nowhere.
While it may not work for getting you a high score on the ACT, it certainly will not hurt your chances, and it only takes a few moments to pull off.
66. Re-read confusing questions.
Before delving into confusing answers, make sure you understand what is being asked. If you do not have that down, then the answer choices will look Greek to you no matter what.
It all goes back to the concept of foundations. Lay your foundation for choosing the right answer by grasping the scope of what is being asked.
67. Ask questions during the reading.
Questioning is a great way of staying involved in the reading. You may not always be asking the right questions, but the act of doing it will put you in the position to see where things are headed and mentally prepare for what you will be asked at the end of a passage or word problem.
68. Read productivity hacks.
The Internet is teeming with productivity hacks. Take advantage of your Google skills and read everything you can get your hands on. We recommend starting with Cal Newport, who teaches productivity from the educational perspective. He is brilliant.
69. Learn how to deal with anxiety.
We have mentioned test anxiety previously in this piece. It crops up whenever you are in a situation where you have to perform at a high level. It does not appear to be a problem for everyone. Some people do not struggle at all, in fact.
But the presence or absence of test anxiety will not necessarily break or make your performance. Calm and confident people bomb tests just like anxious test-takers turn out okay.
That said, no one wants to be dealing with an added pressure beyond the test itself. To gain control of your anxiety levels, consider starting meditation at 10 minutes per day during the study process. Make it a part of your routine.
70. Listen to TED on relevant topics.
TED Talks are invaluable resources for being able to understand content areas on a deeper and more engaging level. For these YouTube is your friend. You can also get them in podcast format.
71. Talk to others.
Discuss how you performed with your classmates and actively ask questions about specific parts of the exam. You might even want to schedule a group discussion outside of class.
Think of study groups you have been a part of. The free flow of ideas tends to take over when you have the right dynamic, and you are able to learn a lot more. Using similar logic, you and your friends will likely be able to remember more specifics about the test in a group setting. Give it a try, and take good notes.
72. Take a test prep class.
It never hurts to seek the help of a professional, who teaches specifically to the test. Check with your school district to see what classes are available. You do not have to go through the process every time to see a benefit from it.
While you are still going to need to work hard in class and study on your own time, a professionally licensed teacher familiar with the test can be invaluable to understanding what is on the test, how it operates, and how to deal with the stress that goes with it.
73. Stand while studying.
We know a lot more about extended sitting today than we used to, and the health repercussions can be nothing short of catastrophic. While it may not be as big of a health scare to the average teenager, it does not do any favors to your productivity or focus.
Consider purchasing a standing desk and working from an upright position every time you enter into an ACT study session. This will keep a healthy blood flow and make you less likely to get distracted as you work to make sense of the study materials.
74. Exercise regularly.
Once you start standing and moving around more, it will be easier to make the jump to regular exercise. Exercise will give you the endorphin rush necessary to keep from stagnating.
This will translate well into your studies by helping you keep a sharper focus on challenging concepts you will need to know to work with confidence on the ACT itself.
Whenever you hit a wall, work in some activity. It does not have to be overly strenuous. A simple walk around the block could be enough to nudge you past any roadblocks that you may experience along the way.
75. Study in a group.
In a similar fashion to the group idea for reviewing your test performance, consider staging a groupthink with your fellow classmates once or twice per week in the buildup to test day. The sooner you can plan for it, the better.
Rally a group of three or four classmates early in the process. That means staying on top of those test dates. Send out an email or text message at the start of each submission period to gauge interest and get the group in place.
By making it a regular thing, you can ensure a fresh supply of test-takers with new and interesting tips, techniques, and points of view to help the group as a whole.
76. Read for leisure.
It may not seem like you have enough time to read for enjoyment if you are constantly reading over textbooks, study materials, and homework assignments, but it is always a good idea to schedule some leisure reading.
Leisure reading does not have to focus solely on fiction. You may find it enjoyable to read self-help or nonfiction. Choose what suits you best and make time for it.
In doing so, reading efficiency techniques will kick in and you will emerge stronger for it. You will learn all about making connections in texts, life, and the world at large, and it will be easier to port those foundations over to the ACT exam.
77. Start working logic puzzles.
These are also wonderful “off the clock” additions to study time. While you are not focusing on content matter, you can exercise those logic muscles in a fun, low-pressure, and engaging way.
You can purchase a book of logic puzzles at any bookstore, and in addition to being a terrific primer for some of the question types we have mentioned in this article, it will also provide hours of fun.
78. Eat a healthy diet.
Healthy body, healthy mind. While getting more exercise and standing up for longer periods of time will keep you focused, you still need to obey the laws of garbage in, garbage out.
If you are putting garbage in, it will translate into sluggishness. It will translate into malaise. It will translate into failure.
If you are wondering what constitutes a healthy diet, we like to keep it simple. Good protein, good fiber, lots of water, and eating fewer calories than your basal metabolic rate.
While you may also want to limit carbs, the real point is that you need to choose the diet that works best for you and produces the best possible version of you from a study perspective.
79. Work with a tutor.
If a special training class for the ACT is too much money and you cannot rally (or trust) your friends to help you out with study time, consider working with a tutor.
Check with your high school guidance counselor to see if he or she has any recommendations for good tutors that specialize in the ACT. You want someone well-rounded who is able to teach every facet of the test in a clear and concise manner.
80. Take the test as much as possible.
No smart person stakes all his or her chances on one long shot. They try to take the test early and often. How often? Each offering for every year of high school or until they get the score they want, whichever comes first.
It is important to note the financial rewards do not normally increase in any dramatic way because of a point or two, so if you truly feel a 36 is impossible, you may want to stop where you are.
Be strategic about it, though. If you scored 21, then getting to 31 is going to be a long shot. However, getting to the minimum scholarship award of 24 is doable.
81. Find a good mobile app to help.
It is hard to make a recommendation on one specific mobile app because you never know when some hot new startup will enter the fray or when an old favorite will sell out. Still, it is worth heading over to the iTunes or GooglePlay stores and doing a search or two for ACT and SAT apps.
Both are somewhat interchangeable when it comes subject matter and the circumstances under which you will want to use a mobile app to study.
We recommend apps as great supplemental tools that should not replace traditional tools, but instead be worked into your downtime and used as general reinforcement for your main study sessions.
82. Purchase a study guide.
Of course, the most comprehensive materials for studying to improve ACT scores is to buy an actual guide from a bookstore. While you are at it, it is important to keep up with changes in the test.
The SAT underwent a major overhaul a couple of years ago, and the ACT is not immune from experiencing the same. By being mindful of these changes, you can avoid buying an outdated guide. You can also seize on years when there are not a lot of changes and purchase older versions that are still compatible with the current version in order to save money.
83. Use ours. (Free!)
Yes, 4Tests has its very own practice ACT study test, and you should take advantage of it as a tool in getting where you need to be. But do be sure to look at some of the other ideas mentioned above as well as those yet to come in this article.
84. Job shadow.
More tests are emphasizing the role of real world application as they should. After all, what good is it to know how to solve for an equation if you are uncertain of how to utilize that knowledge in a real world setting?
By getting out of your comfort zone and job shadowing a local professional, who earns a living in the subject area you want to improve on, you can pick up a lot of the skills and concepts that define the questions and answers presented on the ACT.
You may also end up meeting your first mentor — perhaps the most important since successful people are only as successful as the relationships they forge in their chosen careers.
85. Skip filler words when reading.
It takes a little time to train yourself to do it effectively, but with a little work, you can learn to stop reading words like “a,” “an,” and “the.” All texts are full of filler words — or perhaps a more accurate label would be “connective” words.
These particular words mean little on their own, but they help to shape and form an idea for clarity in communication. They also act as a fast transport across the landscape of a large reading passage.
86. Get comfortable with the location.
The ACT started yours truly on a valuable practice that I still utilize today — the act of scouting out a location where you are supposed to perform in a high-pressure scenario. By doing a “test drive” out to a venue I have never covered before, I feel more confident on the actual day of when to leave, arrival time, and navigating the parking situation.
While this may not be necessary for you on the ACT — especially if you are taking the test at your existing school — it can be massively helpful if you travel to take the test, and you are not quite sure where you are going.
87. Start an online study group.
In-person study groups are our favorites because they require you to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with someone else and figure out solutions to the challenges that preparing for a test brings.
This is a skill set adult politicians could learn from, but one that people your age are capable of demonstrating flawlessly.
Nevertheless, not every meeting can happen in-person, and it is just as important that you do find a constructive way of working with others. Starting an online study group through Facebook, Google, or some other social network will ensure you have the prep time carved out regardless of schedule.
88. Listen to audio aides on the go.
As adults, we have places to be, and whether we are getting there by public transit or the comforts of our own automobiles, we are wasting a lot of time if we are not budded up and piping in audio help to our eardrums.
If you spend 15 minutes on a one-way commute from home-to-class, class-to-work, or work-to-home, you have got around 30 minutes of listening time to-and-fro that can be used to brush up on valuable lectures, podcasts, or other audio instructional aides.
Add that up over the course of a 22-day period (removing weekends), and you are looking at 11 additional hours of “study time” that you can work into your daily routines without any real noticeable effects to your detriment.
We call this “couch-cushioning,” or digging in the couch cushions of your existing schedule for a little extra time.
89. Get Bluetooth headphones.
As an extension of the tip above, we recommend investing in some good Bluetooth headphones because they make listening on-the-go so much more comfortable.
Without the nuisance of a dangly cord calling attention to yourself and getting snagged on protruding objects, you may even end up listening more than on a simple daily commute.
Bluetooth makes it easier to work in audio instructional aides to your workout routines, your browsing in a department store time, or any other way you want to do it.
90. Front-load foods before you study.
One productivity driver we have found to keep us focused and energized through the tedium of work is to front-load foods at the start of our day instead of waiting until the standard time periods of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Try starting your day with a minimum 30 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber. This gives you enough energy to hit the ground running without overdoing it. If you would like to try more, go for it.
The prime productivity time of your body, if it is like ours, tends to be in that midmorning period from 10 a.m. to lunch. When you front-load, it becomes easier to do your best work during this period and then extend it through lunchtime.
Personally, I have found consuming about 50 grams of protein prior to 10 a.m. will give me the juice to get through six or seven hours of productive work time without the need to eat another meal.
Of course, you will want to adjust this based on your body size, type, and any noteworthy health conditions you might have. But generally, 30 grams of protein is a good starting point for anyone.
What makes us smarter than the best classroom teacher or most well-written textbook? The simple act of getting out there and gaining life experience.
Your community likely has tons of opportunities to add life experience through volunteer programs. Look up nonprofits in your area, and inquire about how you can help.
While feeding the homeless, for example, may not seem particularly helpful with the reading section, it will introduce you to a variety of people, circumstances, and life situations that could prove helpful to making connections — a process vital in becoming a stronger reader.
92. Get inspired.
Many times the simple act of reading about doing something can offer the requisite amount of inspiration needed to go through and actually do it. If you are having difficulty getting started, consider googling up some ACT study tips or questions on sites like Quora and see what others are doing to prepare.
You may find an idea that you have never thought of before, and that can be the catalyst that is so necessary for getting your day started off on the right foot.
93. Always assume connections.
Whether you are reading a lengthy passage in the reading or science reasoning sections or working through a stubborn word problem with one of those “None of the above”-type answers, always assume the information you are reading connects in some way.
By looking for any connections you can think of in the materials on the page, you will get in the habit of looking for other types of connections — real-world or personal — and it will make you a more thoughtful person capable of the critical thinking skills it takes to succeed in life.
94. Make a schedule.
It is rather difficult to study in an effective manner and thusly improve ACT scores if you are not adhering to some form of structured schedule. Always start on the date of your test and work backward using the time between where you are now and test day.
This can help you stay on track and avoid the dreaded need to cram, which is not all that effective anyway.
It will also help you to better manage your stress levels as the big day approaches. Incidentally, this is a good practice to take with you into adulthood as you encounter other challenges, such as preparing for a major presentation or the dreaded tax day. (The latter still sucks, though, no matter how you slice it.)
95. Do not let time be a substitute for quality.
Too often when preparing for an exam like the ACT, we like to “fool” ourselves into thinking we have done more work than we actually have.
You know how it is: you set aside a three-hour block of time and tell someone you studied for that long when, in reality, you studied for about 40 minutes, played 90 minutes of Crossy Road, then wrapped it up with a final 50-minute jam session.
While the 90 minutes of studying you did during that time is good, the 90 minutes of mobile gaming is not. Point being, do not let yourself get sucked into the “time for quality” mentality.
The more that you fall victim to it, the less likely you are to see a 50/50 split between work and play. No one is telling you to stop having fun. That is important for keeping your spirits high during the studying process. But you have to keep yourself from cannibalizing your productivity time.
96. Sharpen your pencils.
It is amazing how little things can put you in a calm-and-confident or stressed-and-panicky mode. One of those little things is having a dull pencil. Until the test goes fully digital — who knows when? — the ol’ No. 2 graphite will be an essential for getting to 36, and it gives you a psychological advantage that cannot be easily dismissed to know that all your pencils are razor-sharp and ready to rock.
97. Do not forget a calculator.
It does not hurt to bring along a calculator for the mathematics portion. (It is not allowed on other sections.) Even if you do not end up using the device, having it there can be a nice safety net for any numbers that you are unable to work out accurately in your head.
We do recommend not using one unless you have to, though. As with open-book exams, the seeming advantage of having them can sometimes create an over-reliance that prohibits you from getting into a productive flow while working through the questions.
You might consider, for the more difficult problems, marking them with a C (for Calculator), then coming back to those questions and working them straight through after you have finished the other questions.
98. Play strategy games.
Remember the aforementioned Crossy Road or the hard copy Logic Puzzles that you can buy at most chain bookstores and supermarkets?
Put those to good use.
As we have previously mentioned, you do need to be able to have fun while locked in the study process, but fun can take on many forms, and anything that involves critical thinking or strategy will ultimately be helpful to your study plan and your performance on the test itself.
Of course, you do have to effectively manage the time you spend doing these things as they are no substitutes for the subject matter and good, sound test-taking strategy.
We have seldom learned more than when traveling to new locations and experiencing different customs and ways of life. If the world within our own national borders worked a little harder to understand each other, we would not be in the shape we are currently in as a country.
As a test-taker, travel and immersing yourself in learning about other viewpoints can only help on test day. So whether you have a trip to Europe planned for the summer, or you just want to drive to another section of town and hang out in one of the “other half’s” favorite local hotspots, get out of your comfort zone often.
So there you have it, good test-taker. While not all of the tips on this list will work for you, we hope you have picked up enough information to move your journey to a perfect score of 36 forward by a little bit more. If there are some tips of your own that you would like to share with the rest of the community, we want to encourage you to do so in the comments section below. And good luck on test day!
[Featured Image by Discovery College Consulting]