Tips and Tricks for Preparing for and Taking the ACT

author By Mary Boies

ACT is a standardized test widely used for college admissions in the United States and is administered by ACT, a not-for-profit organization.

The test covers academic areas, including English, Mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. There is an optional essay writing test, which one chooses depending on their goals, aspirations, and proclivity.

Several colleges and universities in the USA use ACT scores when deciding about placements, scholarships, and admissions. Every year, millions of graduate students look for the best ACT tips and tricks to pass.

Before we delve into ACT test-taking strategy, let’s look at its intricacies. Let’s look at something to do with the ACT format. The ACT consists of the following:

Now you are ready to consider the best strategies, tips, and tricks for taking the ACT and increasing your chances of passing with high scores. Before we go into the specific details of the five possible domains of the test, let’s look at it from a general perspective.

13 Useful Tips for Preparing for and Taking ACT to get a Higher Score

Now that you have decided to take the test, either for the first time or a second time, it is vital to get ready for it.

You are probably wondering how to get good scores, what aspects to consider and what to discard. And because your abilities might appear in the ACT scores, you must prepare well. Remember, schools like Harvard and other prestigious ivy league schools prioritize academic merit over other aspects.

If you are in pursuit of excellence, scoring high is the only tiny target to have, and better preparation is enough to help you exude confidence and handle the test better than other candidates.

In this section, we focus on general ACT testing. We have a following section that will delve into the respective sections or portions.  

These are general ACT tips that you can consider to succeed in the actual exam.

1. Get Familiar with the Test

Before anything else, you must understand the content to comprehensively lay down a strategy for passing the ACT.

Understand what goes into each section and the time limits so that you plan your time adequately. Ensure as well, that you know the patterns of the sections. Check whether there is a pattern.

For instance, the passages for the reading section will come in the order of narrative fiction, social studies, humanities, and natural sciences. For the math section, you would naturally expect the questions to increase in complexity or difficulty as you proceed.

If you want to familiarize yourself with ACT properly, take the practice tests repeatedly: it exposes you to its environment in earnest.

Knowing the structure of ACT before the test day and when preparing helps you handle it like a boss during the test day. You can save valuable time during the test and spend much of it working on stressful questions.

2. Check on Areas You Should Improve

When preparing for the ACT, check on areas you consider your weakest. Once you identify the weakest sections, specifically go into the details, including topics within these sections.

The only way to do it is to take a practice ACT and a few other prep programs and see what sections you score the best in and the areas in that you repeatedly score lower grades. For instance, you can constantly check the multiple-choice questions that you score low. If you need to hone your problem-solving skills, do so early enough.

You can zero in on the concepts, topics, or skills you must work on to succeed.

3. Set SMART Target Scores

One of the best tips for ACT is to set a reasonable score target, and to set the goal allows you to plan and execute well and track your progress.

No goal is so low to set as long as it matches your personal abilities and ambitions. However, if your goal is to get a modest score that can get you into a state school, find out about the average score range to get admitted into the stats schools and set your goal slightly higher than the average.

You can also benchmark your goals with the scholarship cutoff points or marks. For instance, some state universities offer scholarship funding based on specific ACT scores.

If you aim to get admission to selective colleges or universities with lower acceptance rates, you have no option but to set and achieve higher target scores.

If anything, aiming for a near-perfect score sets you in a good position instead of becoming an outlier.

Whatever target you make, ensure that it is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

4. Have a Study Schedule

Practice is everything in the passing ACT. Budgeting your study time after knowing your study style will help you adequately practice and prepare. Begin by identifying when you will be taking the test. Most college applications close in November through to January of your senior year of high school. Given this, you need to plan for the test date that allows you to get your score back so you can beat the college application deadlines.

When signing up for the ACT date, ensure that you plan at least 1-2 months for your studies. Such time will enable you to prepare in advance, including completing at least three full-length practice tests to ensure your expected score.

Dedicating many good hours a week to studying and reading for your ACT is imperative. You must align your reading strategies to complete practice exams and review topics and missed questions. Also, you must schedule a time to watch YouTube videos explaining concepts and working on math problems to hone your skills.

Related: How to read for a timed test.

5. Prepare in Advance

As indicated before, preparation should take between a month and three months to make sure you can crush the ACT exam. The key is understanding your study habits, preferences, and style because it defines the intensity and length of preparation.

For example, go for it if you prefer to study intensively during the summer when there is not much schoolwork to bog you down. The same applies to students who prefer spreading the studying over 3 to 4 months during the school year. Whatever works for you, go for it.

As per statistics, most students take at least an ACT in their junior year. Given this understanding, the purpose is to start studying at least in the summer before your junior year, so you have plenty of time to reset the exam and study more as needed. On top of that, get a distraction-free environment to simulate the test-like conditions and prepare well.

6. Tailor your Strategy to each section of the ACT

ACT has different sections: English, Mathematics, reading, and scientific reasoning, implying that each section will have its unique approach. For example, the math section has the difficulty of questions increasing as you advance, which means completing the manageable sections quickly to save enough time to tackle complex questions that come toward the end.

Notably, the reading and science sections require you to preview the questions before reading the accompanying passages so that you can know what to read for in a passage. This is not the same for the English section, where you read the passage as you skim through the questions instead of reading the entire passage and answering the grammar questions.

7. Practice with Quality Study Material

We have insisted on practice as the only way to get a near-perfect or perfect grade score on the ACT. As a surefire ACT tip, you must take full-length practice tests while reviewing study guides and watching videos.

The score you get boils down to how hard you have practiced and the quality of resources you have used in your preparation. Ensure you get reliable, accurate, and accessible study materials that reflect the ACT questions.

Go for the material that allows you to review concepts. There are many ACT prep guides and resources online.

Primarily, acquaint yourself with practice questions and tests. You can also hire ACT tutors and experienced preppers or leverage your peers to brush up on concepts or learn new ACT-related stuff. Private tutors can help you immensely as you prepare, especially for the ACT math section. You can also take the online ACT prep classes to be on the sure side of things.

8. Work on your Time Management Skills

When practicing for taking the ACT, ensure that you time yourself as it will be during the test day. You don’t want a situation where you get time pressure and risk getting a lower score. Therefore, limit the time is limited in the exam. The more comfortable you become with the time restrictions for the ACT, the higher the chances of scoring well. Understanding the approximate time you should spend on each ACT question is a great point to start managing your time well. Some sections have more time per question compared to others. Below are the time restrictions per section:


Time Limit

Number of Questions

Approximate Time Per Question


45 minutes


36 seconds


60 minutes


60 seconds


35 minutes


53 seconds

Science Reasoning

35 minutes


53 seconds

Practicing adequate time management and learning how to prioritize things helps you score better on the ACT. You will have the best time advantage and beat many ACT testers when you have excellent time management skills.

As part of budgeting your time for the ACT answers, limit yourself to 1-2 minutes for the more challenging questions and 10-20 seconds for the more straightforward questions. Beginning with easy questions helps you tackle the remaining questions without making guesses. You can also evaluate other answers well in case you are to make a guess. Have a perfect track of time for each section so you are not caught unawares. Have your stopwatch to keep track of time as you proceed.

9. Answering the Questions that You Know or Easy Ones First

During practice sets and the ACT exam, ensure that you focus on answering the questions you comprehend first, even when this means jumping around.

If you can prioritize answering questions you are confident about, you will save time to work on the complex questions you don’t know. The same applies to passages; read those that are better for you. You need to read the questions moving forward to avoid wasting time carefully.

The time you spend on the areas of your strength generates more points than focusing on areas you are weak and will only waste your chances for better marks. You can go ahead or take the test in whatever pattern you suppose because you can always go back to handle the questions you skipped.

Remember, guessing an answer later is better than leaving it blank; you can do that later. Also, sometimes as you advance through what you know, you can get hints and ideas about the sections you skipped.

As you settle into the exam mood, knowledge and understanding sometimes take time to spring up, and you have new perspectives to charm up your confidence when answering.

10. Increase Your Reading Speed

Reading is a fundamental part of the preparation and execution of ACT. As part of the test prep, you need superior reading speed to review the material and get as much information and knowledge as possible.

When taking the test, you need to leverage quick reading to read and understand the passages and questions, so that much of the time is left for you to contemplate the answers.

If you find yourself struggling to read the long passages or constantly running out of time (during the practice ACT sets), consider reading more about reading techniques that can build your speed reading skills.

You might want to train yourself in skim-reading or scanning. Besides, you also need to be an active reader by circling, highlighting, underlining, or drawing arrows to connect ideas and develop them further.

11. Make an Educated Guess

There are no penalties for wrong answers in the ACT. Therefore, you can do some guesswork instead of leaving the test sections blank.

If there are questions that you genuinely can’t answer because you don’t know them, it is good to use guesswork. A perfect guess leads to the right answer choices when there are many answer options.

Even when guessing, you should do it in a structured format instead of a completely random guess. You can use the elimination strategy if you have no idea how to answer a question or don’t have the time; pick the same spot on your answer sheet.

Commit to the same answer for guessing, especially for the multiple-choice question section. You can also try to eliminate many incorrect answer choices and select the solution that makes sense.

Any answer is better than no answer! Besides, there is only one correct answer, so select what you perceive as the best.

12. Avoid Writing on the Answer Sheet

When preparing or taking your ACT test, keep your answer sheet neat, and avoid writing on it because the ACT exam booklet is scored by a machine that cannot distinguish the correct answers from stray marks. Ensure that the sheet is free from imperfections that can confuse the answers you entered or chose.

13. Don’t Assume Questions

Instead of assuming you know what a question is asking, consider reading it entirely.

Make sure to go through the question quickly in the first and slowly in the second as you rake your brain for answers. This is where practicing and honing your reading skills comes in handy.

In most instances, most students provide answers they recall from taking practice tests. Therefore, before penning the answers, read each question carefully and answer the question comprehensively.

On the same note, when changing answers, only do so after reading the question and making sure you made a mistake in the first instance. In most cases, if you read the questions well, the first answer you will give is always the correct answer, and you can give a wrong answer if you don’t read well.

Specific Tips for the Respective ACT Test Sections

Getting an ACT score that impresses you and shapes your academic future means making the correct answer choices. You can do so right from the test prep process to when taking the actual ACT.

Below are several tips and tricks for taking the ACT to get the best scores for each section. These test-taking tips are specifically excellent if you are looking for quick fixes or last-minute tidbits to improve your scores.

We have already covered the in-depth study hacks.

ACT Tips and Strategies for English

The most immediate section of the ACT is the English section, which focuses on your grasp of grammar and editing skills. To succeed in the English section, consider the following important strategies:

ACT Tips for Math Section

The math portion is the next ACT section after English. You can get a high math score on the preparation and test day if you:

Reading Section Strategies

The ACT reading is the third section of the test that demands you to know how to read effectively and interpret passages accurately, quickly, and comprehensively. To succeed in this section:

          Related Reading: How to make good notes to learn better.

Tips for Science Reasoning Section

This is the last section of your ACT test covering data representation, research summaries, and conflicting viewpoints. The ACT science section focuses on interpreting data and answering questions about tables, graphs, and scientific experiments. Below are the best act test tips for this section:

ACT Writing Section Strategies

ACT has an optional writing test with a 40-minutes time limit, and the essay test measures your high school or pre-college writing ability.

The test entails analyzing and evaluating several perspectives, then developing your perspective and comparing your perspective with those provided in the ACT booklet.

The score for the writing test is not integrated into the composite ACT score. To succeed in this section:

Related Article: The ideal number of paragraphs in an ideal essay.

Test-Taking Strategies for the ACT

As people who have researched ACT test-taking, we can tell you more about essential strategies you need to do before and during the test.

Here are some things to do before the test:

On the same note, here are some things to do during the ACT test-taking day:

Before you close the Tab!

We have shared excellent ACT tips that apply when preparing and as soon as you get the test booklet. This information will help you plan your time and strategy if you are doing test prep.

The test-taking tips will help you execute the Strategy and get a passing score that guarantees entry to a dream university. You will be confident when taking the test, whether it is the ACT math section or the dreaded science section.

You will also explore and display your rhetorical skills in the reading and writing sections. The best thing in the entire process is to have good time management skills so that you don’t constrain yourself to a time limit and save time for other sections.

Our comprehensive ACT prep guide is all you need to set yourself up for success. We have private tutors who can write essays for you so that you can know what approaches to take. Talk to us if such help is what you need.

We wish you all the best!

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