April 27, 2019

How To Nail The ACT

As the college process rolls around, nothing seems more daunting than standardized testing. There are so many options these days: SAT, ACT, and test optional schools. It’s difficult for students to find where they fit in within all of this. However, after taking a few practice tests and weighing their strengths/weaknesses the ACT becomes the clear choice for many. It was for me. Here are my strategies to mastering the ACT.

  • The English Section

    The ACT English Section consists of 75 questions that students are asked to complete in 45 minutes. There are three main “types” of questions in this section: Production of Writing, Knowledge of Language, and Conventions of Standard English. The Production of Writing questions ask students about passage organization, topic development, and order of information. Knowledge of Language questions ask students about word choice, concision in language, and consistency in style/tone. Conventions of Standard English problems ask students about sentence structure and all types of punctuation. A lot of people are put off with the idea of mastering vocabulary. Worry not! Unlike the ISEE and SSAT the ACT has no section that strictly tests vocabulary knowledge and most questions regarding such words are not looking for synonyms but instead ways to make the sentences more precise. This is a fast section with 75 questions to answer in a mere 45 minutes you only have 36 seconds per question. In order to make sure you have sufficient time to answer every question, don’t get too hung up on one question. It is much better than you get four easy questions right instead of that one difficult question. What I recommend doing is putting a star next to any question you are still struggling with after 30 seconds, move on, and then return in your extra time at the end. Towards the end of my preparations for the ACT I found that I almost always had 5-7 minutes left after answering all of the English questions. I used this time to go over the 1-2 questions that really stumped me earlier. This section does require a great deal of practice, too. Whilst it is helpful to learn the theory behind grammar (and that is something 4Schoolers tutors can help with!) it is very important to take a lot of practice tests for this section in particular. There are many similar question types that arise on many tests and eventually you will have seen all of them. Therefore, for the English section, my biggest piece of advice is to practice this section a lot. This will help not only in your content knowledge but also in your timing. 

  • The Mathematics Section

    The ACT Math Section is very different from that of SAT in terms of how it is structured. Students who struggle with the non-calculator section of the SAT and the “create your own answer” problems on the SAT may find the ACT to be an attractive option due to the fact that you will always have access to a calculator and that all problems are multiple choice. That being said, you have 60 minutes to complete 60 questions in this section. Topics on this section include the following: Number and Quantity, Algebra I + II, Functions, Geometry, and Statistics/Probability. Most of the topics covered on the ACT are usually covered by the third year of high school. However, for those looking to prepare early, the “Preparing for Higher Mathematics” sections of the test (which includes topics usually taught in eleventh grade) are not very hard and can easily be covered by a tutor within a few lessons. This section is unique in that you are provided the help of a calculator. I urge all ACT prospects to use this feature to the greatest of your ability. While I do no recommend utilizing the calculator simple computations because it is a squandering of time, I do believe that the proper use of a calculator can allow you to do certain problems with speed that was previously unrealistic. For instance, you can download (or code their own!) calculator programs via the TI Connect CE to their TI-84 calculator. Examples of programs that students can use include a triangle solver, volume calculator, and geometric/arithmetic sequence solver. Sufficient practice and training on this software can allow you to stop worrying about memorizing every possible equation and also calculate certain values with great speed. It should also be noted that the ACT increases the difficulty of mathematics questions as you continue on in the section. Therefore, it is very important that you do not spend too much time on the earlier problems. Ideally, you will spend under 60 seconds per problem for the first 30 problems in order to devote more time to the difficult questions in the latter portion of the section. Remember, as your score increases, one more correct question can often boost your overall section score by a whole point.

  • The Reading Section

    The ACT Reading Section one of the test’s two “fast” sections. This one, alongside the science, only budgets 35 minutes for 40 questions. The name of the game in mastering the ACT reading is not being able to pick up every message and metaphor buried inside of the text, but instead to quickly and accurately answer the questions at hand, most of which are very much plot based. There are two types of passages: single passages and double passages. Single passages ask you to analyze a single piece of text via questions on the following topics: vocabulary, fact of the text, mood/tone, and more. Double passages ask you all of the same questions as the single passages, but there are two smaller passages to read. Therefore, you answer questions pertaining to each of the two texts individually as well as a few questions that ask you to compare and contrast the two.

  • The Science Section

    The ACT’s Science Section is definitely the aspect of the ACT that is most different from the SAT. It is also the part of the ACT that worries people the most. Rest assured, however, this section is most certainly crackable. In addition, there is one very large misconception about this section. The vast majority of questions are not actually on science knowledge that you have going into the test so much as graph/passage interpretation. In essence, the ACT science section is a science-themed Reading section with a few very basic science questions sprinkled in (think pH scale level). What I personally found useful was utilizing the same strategies that I leveraged on the Reading section, including underlining and small summaries (1-4 words) once again.