The Dos and Don’ts of Taking the ACT
Taking the ACT can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never done it before or you don’t have a really great track record with it and you desperately need that scholarship money. While earlier this week, we did an article on how to get a 30 on the ACT — no guarantees, by the way, just a good game plan for getting there — today we want to talk to you about the things that you should and shouldn’t do on and leading up to test day. Let’s get started with the Dos and Don’ts of taking the ACT.
DO Treat Math, English, and Science classes like ACT training courses.
The ACT, as I’m sure you’re aware, is comprised of four sections — English, Reading, Math, Science Reasoning. Your English classes will cover two of these sections while college preparatory math and science will cover the rest. Class and homework and chapter tests should not be the full extent of the studying you do — after all, you may be a sophomore about to take the same test that a senior is taking. There are likely things you’ve yet to see in your classes. But taking what your teacher does seriously will give you a firm foundation for what’s to come. It’s like a free ACT practice course without adding any extra time to your study plan. You would be wise to listen, take good notes, do all homework assignments and work hard to understand the things that are more challenging.
DON’T Assume that making good grades prepares you.
It doesn’t. Some teachers are lax when it comes to the rigor of their testing and homework. While all must “teach to the test,” that doesn’t mean they fail people. You might make a C or a D and think you know “enough,” but don’t let a teacher’s administrative preferences fool you into thinking, “I got this.” The only real benchmark for that is how you do on the work itself and how confident you feel with the lessons you’re learning in class. Again, class can prepare you for pieces of the ACT, but it should not be the only barometer you use for determining readiness.
DO Study for the test at least six weeks in advance of test day.
Six weeks of regular studying is enough to give yourself a shot at a great score. Obviously, you will also need to have a sense of your strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll need to be using the majority of that six-week timeframe to prepare for the areas where you struggle. For me, it was Science Reasoning. To this day, I freak out around anything scientific method-related. On the other hand, I didn’t miss a single question on the English portion. Had I spent more time studying Science Reasoning and less time reinforcing what I already knew, the ACT might have turned out better for me than it did.
DON’T Cram for the exam.
Cramming only “works” when you have a limited set of materials to study for the test. Cramming also only “works” in getting you a grade. It does little to solidify difficult concepts in your head. The problem with cramming is that you’re applying it to your short-term memory only. To do well on the ACT, you’ll need to do better than that because the test is somewhat unpredictable. It covers a wide variety of concepts that you either have or will learn throughout school, and it does so with a limited number of questions. Unless you have access to the questions and answers prior to test day, you cannot predict what you will see, nor the quantity of what you will see. You might feel pretty good about your math skills, but the test could be comprised primarily of questions that give you the most trouble. Cramming cannot prepare you for that, so don’t rely on it.
DO Come prepared with the required materials.
Photo ID, sharpened pencils, admission ticket — those were the requirements that we had to bring in my day. With the rise of computer-based testing, that may not always be the case. It’s your job to prepare ahead of time and read over the instructional materials provided by the organizers of the ACT. They will tell you exactly what you need, but it’s up to you to make sure you’ve followed those instructions on test day.
DON’T Count on disallowed pieces of technology to help you.
Calculators may be a part of the norm in everyday life, but they don’t have much of a place with the ACT test administrators. You need to be able to understand how you arrived at certain answers anyway if you’re ever going to be proficient enough for future challenges. While you may not see a math-oriented career in your future, the ACT is a bit too early to rule it out.
DO Show up early for the test.
Unless you’re taking the test in a location that you’re very familiar with — your home school for instance — you may want to give yourself a 15-minute cushion for arrival. Even if you are familiar, you might want to do this since students from other schools could be taking the test at your location, and that may make it more difficult to find a parking space. Besides getting there early is a part of acclimating you to the test environment, so your mind will be completely focused when the timer starts.
DON’T Just map it in your phone if you’re unfamiliar with where to go.
Seriously, I went for an eye exam the other day and found out 15 minutes before the thing was set to start that the doctor had moved locations across town. My map app had no clue. For those of you not completely familiar with the location of the test, give yourself some “getting lost” time. You never know when the mapping app on your phone is behind the times.
Taking the ACT is a stressful time, but it doesn’t have to be if you stick with the above Dos and Don’ts. What is worrying you the most about the ACT? Share your thoughts or questions below.
[Image via LifeFitness]