Last Updated: February 10, 2021

How to Prepare for ACT?

ACT is a competitive exam taken by high-school students in order to get admission to a college/ university of their choice. This exam is often compared to other competitive exams like SAT and has been gaining prominence over the last few years. Preparing for an exam that can be a life-changer requires perfect planning and input of extra effort when it comes to the actual act of preparation. We have made this page to help guide you through the process of preparation.

Register for the ACT exam

The first step one ought to take before preparing for any exam is to register for the exam in itself. Registering will include creating an account on the ACT website and following up the 30-minute procedure including choosing a test date and test center.

Choosing a test date must be by keeping in mind the time you will have for preparation. Picking out a date that gives you at least 3 months or 16 weeks would be perfect considering how you shouldn’t stress yourself out by preparing for ages nor have to cram a lot of information in a small amount of time.

Registering on a date as a first step gives you a deadline to work on. It also helps you in creating a perfect study plan. There are students who prepare for ACT from the time they have given PreACT but this needn’t worry you. 3 weeks’ worth of studying and reviewing topics will be enough to achieve your target score given that you work hard enough.

Learn the Format of ACT

Understanding the format of an exam is important to know what subject and which specific areas have to be focused on. This does not essentially imply learning the syllabus but is about knowing the time allotted and the number of questions that have to be attempted in that given time frame.

The ACT exam has 4 different sections and is completely multiple-choice-based. In the first section of English they allot 45 minutes for 75 questions. This section is passage-based and requires a skill to read fast enough and skim through to identify the required information. The second Math section comprises of 60 questions to be attempted in 60 minutes. You have to roughly complete every question in under a minute to be able to complete the section fully on time. The Math section also is the only section with 5 choices among the answers instead of 4. In the Reading section they ask 40 questions which has to be answered in 35 minutes. The final Science section comprises of 40 questions to be answered in 35 minutes.

The format, if meticulously looked at, can help you create the perfect study schedule because it gives you an idea of how the official exam is going to be and which sections require more focus than others.

Figure out your Base Score

Your base score is the score you receive while taking a diagnostic test before you begin preparing for the official test. This is possible because every topic that is covered in the syllabus for ACT is taken from your high-school syllabus. Since you have already come across the subjects and possibly even attended exams for the same, you will be able to take a practice test.

Ensure that the test is taken in conditions similar to the official test. Do NOT give yourself extra time and do NOT peep in between this mock test. Grade yourself by comparing your answers with the answer key and the score you receive at the end is your base score.

It is important to deduce your base score since it helps you understand how many points you have to gain in order to reach your target score. Further diagnosis also makes you realize your weaknesses and strengths whereby you can focus more on certain topics and just review other concepts.

Set a Target Score

Setting a target score relies on the research you do on the colleges/ universities you wish to apply to. These colleges will have lists of what scores are acceptable to them and what scores would be considered below average. Looking at the 75th percentile of the ACT exam of students who took them in the previous attempt will give you an idea of what they expect this year. It is important that you find the requisite scores from specific colleges.

After collecting information regarding the scores, you can just find a common point amongst them or a score above what is available in the data just to be safe. This score will be your target score.

A target score varies according to the place you apply to. But in general, the higher the score, the better. You can deduce the number of points you have to increase by comparing the base score and the target score and then create a study plan accordingly.

Choosing the Best Prep-Method

Considering the competitive nature of the exam it is no surprise that there are plenty of options relating to preparing for the exam. Mainly, you can either self-prep, join an online/ offline course, or get a private tutor to study for the exam.

Self-Prep is the most flexible and budget-friendly prep method available. The only investment necessary is in purchasing the right study guide. This helps you create your own schedule once you have noted down your strengths and weaknesses. You can also do practice papers after papers if you feel confident about the content. The only drawback of this method is if you are not as self-disciplined into making yourself stick to the study schedule.

Online/ Offline Prep Courses is not budget-friendly but is a combination of computers and tutors whereby you can easily diagnose your weaknesses and get lots of practice given the amount of content available online. Though expensive, you can always get a membership for a year for unlimited access to content. They help you realize whether you are closing in on your target score and how you have improved by tracing through your performance from the beginning.

Private Tutor is also an expensive method but works on a 1-on-1 basis which helps you have single-minded focus and does not let you deviate from the topic at hand. There is also a lesser burden upon the student since the tutor will now be responsible for calculating your base and target score as well as for creating a study schedule and making you stick to it.

Make a Study Schedule

Study Schedules matter when you stick to them. Being unrealistic while creating a study schedule makes you move away from the schedule with time. It is always best to have a specific number of hours devoted to ACT prep everyday. This can be a maximum of 3 hours on a school day and up to 5 hours or more on a weekend.

It is ideal to do practice papers on weekends when you have the time instead of focusing on content. Practice papers will help acquaint you with the official test and this also gives you an idea of where you stand based on the time frame for the exam.

Focus on Strategical Learning over Content-Based Learning

Focus only on essential content. Do NOT cram yourself with every theory and definition you have learned in school. Mostly, review content since you already have some idea of what the topics are. But at the same time stop to study concepts that look alien to you in comparison to ones you are extremely familiar with.

Test strategies matter more when it comes to competitive exams. It does not matter if you have gone through every step till you achieved the final answer if you can get the final answer in another method. Eliminating options till you get the most plausible answer is one of the best strategies that can be used for multiple-choice questions. You should also learn time management and ensure that you mark some answers instead of leaving a blank answer since there is no negative marking.


Once you feel confident enough about the key concepts you should not slack but focus more on doing practice papers. The more you practice, the more you realize areas where you ought to improve.

Practicing with the official full-test papers available online also helps boost your confidence and lets you attempt the actual ACT exam better. The concepts can only take you so far unless you master time management in the ACT. The total time of 2 hours and 55 minutes to answer questions from 4 different sections, therefore, needs practice and strategical learning more than anything.

ACT Resources

Online ACT Practice Tests

Average SAT score for Top Schools