How to Improve your Score on the Act Test

You can improve your ACT score if you study 10 minutes a day, use practice tests, and focus on the best test-taking methods.

First, take a practice test to find out where you are likely to score without preparation.  ACT prep books that include practice tests are available to purchase online or in bookstores; one excellent resource is the “Barron’s ACT”, which includes subject reviews as well as practice tests.  You can also find free ACT questions online.

Secondly, begin to prepare for the ACT by focusing on the sections where you scored the lowest – is it Math, Science, English, or Reading?  Decide if you actually answered incorrectly, or just ran out of time.  If your answers were wrong, study the subject matter by using practice questions.  If you ran out of time, practice good test-taking strategies like skimming the passages, leaving the harder questions until last, and, when all else fails, guessing. 

With ACT Math, if you are answering incorrectly, the only solution is practice.  Take 10 minutes a day to review one or two math questions, or more time each day if the test is less than two weeks away.  You need to know the subject matter well in order to answer the questions quickly enough in the Math section.  The Math section tests algebra, geometry, and trigonometry at a high school level.

With ACT Science, the solution is easier – think of Science as a reading test.  You don’t necessarily have to know equations or facts, you just have to properly read the charts, or correctly read the debate questions between two scientists, in order to get a good score.  In fact, relying on outside knowledge can trip you up while taking the Science section.  Read the practice passages and answer the questions directly from the passages, rather than relying on any outside knowledge, and you should see your score improve.   If your Science practice score was very low, try to read practice passages for about 10 minutes per day up until the test.

ACT English can have some tricky vocabulary, so focus on the tone of the passage to understand the overall meaning.  Vocabulary and spelling will not be tested directly on the ACT.  Instead, the questions will focus on punctuation, grammar, and organization.  Questions that refer to specific points in the passage will give you line numbers so you can easily jump back to the sentence in question. 

If your English skills are very low, consider reading at least one practice passage a day to prepare for the test.  Any reading you do at all from books, magazines, or newspapers will help raise your skills for the English section, as well as increase your reading speed.

The question type that frequently trips up students in the English section is the “re-ordering” question, in which you are asked to rearrange sentences or paragraphs to make the passage more effective.  Look for key words like “First”, “Secondly”, and “In conclusion”, but also look at how general or specific the sentences or paragraphs are.  Usually, a well-written passage will begin with a general statement, use specific details to back it up, then come to a conclusion. 

The ACT Reading section has four longer passages, and reading all four while still having time to answer the questions can be difficult.  Using practice tests, see if you work more quickly by reading the passage first and then answering the questions, or if you can go to the questions first and then scan the passage for answers.  A third method for ACT Reading is to scan a passage quickly, reading the first and last sentence of each paragraph, then go to the questions and refer back to the passage when necessary.  Use the practice questions to bring up your speed.  If the passage deals with a topic you have a strong opinion about, do not let that influence your answers.  Use the information from the passage itself, not anything you may have read or seen, to answer the questions.

Lastly, for all sections, use good test-taking strategies in order to score higher on the ACT.  It is a multiple-choice test that does not penalize guessing, so if you run out of time, fill in some guesses rather than leaving the questions blank.  If you run into a very difficult question, skip it and move on, rather than using up precious minutes staring blankly at a single question.  Try to eliminate wrong answers.  Make sure to get enough sleep, and eat an energizing breakfast, on the day of the test. 

If you study 10 minutes a day in your weakest subject areas, use practice tests to become familiar with the testing format, and follow these test-taking strategies, you can increase your score on the ACT.