How To Study for the ACT – Prepare For The Test In 2024

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How to study for the ACT - preparing for the ACT in 2023

How to Prepare for ACT

Understanding the ACT: What you Need to Know Before You Start Studying

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Before starting your ACT prep, it is important to have a solid understanding of the exam. The ACT is a standardized test used for college admissions in the United States. It consists of four multiple-choice sections:

  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science

As well as an optional Writing section.

Format: Is the ACT Short?

Each section is timed separately, with a total test time of about 3 hours (or 3 hours and 35 minutes with optional Writing section included).

The sections are presented in a specific order: English, Math, Reading, and then Science, and followed by the optional Writing section at the end.

For more info on the individual sections:


The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36.

Each section is scored from 1 to 36, and your composite score is the average of your four multiple-choice section scores, rounded to the nearest whole number.

The optional Writing section is scored on a scale of 2 to 12 and is not included in the composite score.

When To Take It

The test is typically administered six times per year, in September, October, December, February, April, and June.

Some things to consider when deciding on a date include:

Application deadlines for college

Test preparation: Start studying at least 2-3 months before your chosen test date.

Retakes: Be aware of the policies surrounding retakes, such as the waiting period between tests and any additional fees associated with retaking the test.

Strategy #1: Create an ACT Study Plan

Without a solid plan in place, it can be easy to waste time or become overwhelmed with the amount of material that needs to be covered. Here are some self preparation tips when you’re thinking of how to study for the ACT:

Set realistic goals: Do you want to achieve a certain score or improve in a specific section?

Know your strengths and weaknesses: Take a diagnostic test to identify your strengths and weaknesses. This will help you focus on areas that need improvement and avoid wasting time on areas where you are already strong. You can schedule a practice test with us here.

Create a study schedule: Break down your study sessions into manageable chunks, and schedule regular practice tests to track your progress. Your schedule should include specific times for studying each day, as well as breaks and time for other activities. Be sure to account for any upcoming events or commitments that may impact your study time.

Set aside time for review: In addition to regular study sessions, set aside time to review your notes and practice tests. Reviewing your mistakes will help you identify areas where you need to focus your attention.

Strategy #2: Choosing Study Materials

Using books, online resources, and practice tests

A lightbulb of understanding while studying for the ACT

Here are some tips for choosing the best study materials for your needs:

Official ACT study guide: The ACT offers an official study guide with practice tests, explanations, and tips for each section of the test.

Other books: Some of the most popular titles include The Princeton Review’s Cracking the ACT and Barron’s ACT 36. They typically include detailed explanations of each section of the test, practice questions, and tips for test day. When choosing a book, look for one that is up-to-date and has good reviews from other students who have used it.

Online resources: When using online resources, be sure to choose reputable sources and be mindful of time management, as it can be easy to get distracted or spend too much time on one area. A good resource is Khan Academy, which offers video lessons and practice questions for each section of the test.

Practice tests: Practice tests are an essential part of ACT preparation as they give you a sense of the test format, timing, and difficulty, and to identify areas for improvement. When taking practice tests, be sure to simulate test-day conditions as closely as possible, including timing and test conditions.

Strategy #3: ACT Practice Tests

How and When to Use Them

Start early: Start taking practice tests early in your ACT preparation process. This will give you time to identify areas where you need to improve and to focus your studying on those areas. It will also help you develop a sense of the timing and pacing required for each section of the test.

Take full-length tests: When taking practice tests, try to simulate test-day conditions as closely as possible. This means taking full-length tests, timing yourself for each section, and taking breaks between sections as you would on test day. This will help you build endurance and stamina for the test, as well as give you a sense of how much time you have for each question.

Analyze your results: After taking a practice test, analyze your results to identify areas where you need to improve. Look at the questions you missed and try to understand why you missed them. Did you misread the question? Did you run out of time? Did you understand the concepts? For example, if you consistently missed questions on algebraic expressions, make sure to practice more problems on that topic.

Use practice tests as a learning tool: Practice tests are not just a way to measure your progress, they are also a learning tool. Use the questions and answers on practice tests to identify patterns and trends in the types of questions being asked. Look for common strategies that can be applied across different sections of the test.

Space out your practice tests: While it’s important to take practice tests regularly, it’s also important to space them out over time. Taking too many practice tests in a short period of time can lead to burnout and fatigue. Try to space out your practice tests over several weeks or months to give yourself time to absorb the lessons learned from each test.

Strategy #4: Time Management

Maximizing Your Efficiency During the Test

Time management for ACT

Since the test is timed, you’ll need to pace yourself in order to complete all sections within the allotted time. When recreating actual test conditions while studying, here are some time management strategies:

Practice pacing yourself: Take practice tests and time yourself for each section. This will help you get a sense of how much time you have for each question and how to pace yourself accordingly.

Start with easier questions: Start each section by answering the easier questions first. This will help you build momentum and gain confidence as you work through the test.

Don’t get stuck: If you’re stuck on a question, don’t spend too much time on it. Move on to the next question and come back to it later if you have time.

Use your scratch paper: The ACT provides scratch paper for you to use during the test. Use it to jot down notes, organize your thoughts, make diagrams, or keep track of time. Don’t be afraid to use the scratch paper provided to help you work through challenging problems.

Manage your breaks: The ACT provides breaks between sections. Use this time to rest, eat a snack, or stretch. Make sure to return to your seat on time to avoid losing valuable test time.

Strategy #5: Sleep, Exercise, and Nutrition

How to Study for the ACT: Lifestyle Factors

Sleep: Getting enough sleep is essential for your brain to function properly, and it can have a significant impact on your test performance. Lack of sleep can lead to reduced attention span, decreased ability to retain information, and decreased problem-solving abilities. Therefore, it’s essential to prioritize sleep during your ACT test prep. Aim to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night and establish a regular sleep schedule to ensure your body is well-rested on test day.

Exercise: Regular exercise can improve brain function and memory retention, making it an important component of ACT test prep. Exercise helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, all of which can negatively impact test performance. It’s recommended to engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day, such as brisk walking, jogging, or swimming. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine can help you feel more alert and energized during your test prep.

Nutrition: A balanced and healthy diet is essential for optimal brain function and cognitive performance. Eating a healthy diet can improve memory retention, focus, and concentration, all of which are important for success on the ACT. To maintain good nutrition, eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Avoid high-sugar, high-fat, and processed foods that can lead to brain fog and fatigue.

Hydration: Staying hydrated is also essential for optimal brain function and cognitive performance. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, headaches, and decreased alertness. Therefore, it’s important to drink enough water throughout the day, especially during your ACT test prep. Aim to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water per day to stay hydrated.

Strategy #6: More Tips For Test Day

More Test-Taking Strategies and Techniques for Success on Test Day

Some other strategies for ACT test day

Here are some additional strategies to employ on test day:

Skimming and scanning: These are effective strategies for managing time and quickly identifying key information in a passage or question. These techniques can help you quickly locate relevant information and reduce the time spent searching for answers.

Process of Elimination: By eliminating answer choices that are clearly wrong, your chances of selecting the correct answer increase.

Guessing: The ACT does not penalize you for guessing, so it’s always a good idea to guess if you’re unsure about the answer. Use this in conjunction with eliminating wrong answers to maximize your chances of guessing the correct one.

Check your work: Before submitting your test, make sure to review your answers and check your work. This can help you catch simple errors or mistakes that you might have missed while answering the questions. Make sure to go over each section and review all of your answers, checking for accuracy and completeness.

Other Details About the ACT

Here are some additional details that may be helpful as you prepare to take the ACT:

What Time Does the ACT Start?

Generally, the test starts in the morning at 8:30 AM. However, it’s important to check your admission ticket or the official ACT website for the specific start time at your testing location. It’s also recommended to arrive at the testing center at least 30 minutes, or 8:00 AM at the latest, before the scheduled start time to allow for check-in and other procedures.

How Many Questions on ACT?

In total, the ACT contains 215 questions without the optional Writing section.

The number of questions on the ACT varies by section. Here’s a breakdown of the number of questions on each section of the ACT:

  • English: 75 questions
  • Mathematics: 60 questions
  • Reading: 40 questions
  • Science: 40 questions

Joining an ACT Lesson

Whether or not to join an ACT lesson depends on your individual needs and learning style. If you are struggling to prepare on your own or are looking for more structured and personalized instruction, an ACT lesson may be a good option for you.

ACT lessons can provide you with a structured study plan, targeted practice, and personalized feedback from an experienced instructor. Additionally, being part of a group class can provide you with the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with other students, which can be helpful in reinforcing your understanding of the material.

ACT Test Score Reporting

Students can choose to send their ACT scores to up to four colleges or universities for free. Additional score reports can be sent for a fee. Scores are typically available online within 2-3 weeks after the test date.

Students and parents look for answers to frequently asked questions about act math exam

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I register for the ACT, and what is the cost?

To register for the ACT, you can create an account on the official ACT website and follow the instructions to register for the test. The cost for the ACT varies depending on whether you choose to take the writing portion, where you are taking the test, and other factors.

As of 2023, the cost for the ACT without the writing portion is $66, while the cost for the ACT with the writing portion is $91. Fee waivers are available for eligible students who meet certain criteria.

How do I improve my weak areas on the ACT?

Should I take the ACT multiple times, and how do I decide when to retake it?

What should I expect on test day, and how should I prepare for it?

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