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Last Updated: July 15, 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. This page contains all the information required to guide candidates through the preparation process required for ACT.

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

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

Learn the Format of ACT

Understanding the format of ACT or 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 the skill to read fast enough and skim through to identify the required information. The second is the Math section which contains 60 questions that have to be attempted in 60 minutes. Candidates will 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, there will be 40 questions that have to be answered in 35 minutes. The final section called the Science section comprises 40 questions that have to be answered in 35 minutes.

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

Figure Out the Base Score

The base score is the score a candidate receives while taking a diagnostic test before they begin preparing for the official test. This is possible because every topic that is covered in the syllabus for ACT is taken from their high-school syllabus. Since candidates have already come across the subjects and possibly even attended exams for the same, they will be able to take a practice test without much hassle.

It is important that while taking an assessment test, candidates ensure that the test is taken in conditions similar to the official test. Do NOT take extra time and do NOT peep in between the mock test. Grade oneself by comparing the answers that have been marked with the answer key in order to obtain the base score.

It is important to deduce one’s base score since it helps candidates understand the number of points they will have to gain in order to reach their target score. Further diagnosis also makes them realize their weaknesses and strengths whereby they can focus more on certain topics and just review other concepts.

Set a Target Score

Setting a target score relies on the research candidates do on the colleges/universities they 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 an idea of what they expect this year. Candidates must find the requisite scores from specific colleges.

After collecting information regarding the scores, candidates 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 the target score.

A target score varies according to the place the candidate is applying to. But in general, the higher the score, the better. Candidates will be able to deduce the number of points they have to increase by comparing the base score and the target score and then creating 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 ACT. Mainly, candidates 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 candidates create their schedule once they have noted down their strengths and weaknesses. Candidates can also do practice papers after papers if they feel confident about the content. The only drawback of this method is that they are not as self-disciplined in making themselves stick to the study schedule.

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

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

Make a Study Schedule

Study schedules matter only when candidates stick to them. Being unrealistic while creating a study schedule makes candidates move away from the schedule with time. It is always best to have a specific number of hours devoted to ACT prep every day . 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 candidates have the time instead of focusing on content. Practice papers will help acquaint them with the official test and this will also give them an idea of where they stand based on the time frame for the exam.

Focus on Strategical Learning over Content-Based Learning

Candidates need to focus on essential content and not cram every theory and definition they have learned in school. Mostly, they have to review content since candidates will already have some idea of what the topics are. But at the same time stop to study concepts that look alien in comparison to ones they are extremely familiar with.

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


Once the candidate feels confident enough about the key concepts, they should not slack but focus more on doing practice papers. The more one practices, the more they will recognize areas where they ought to improve.

Practicing with the official full-test papers available online also helps boost confidence and lets candidates attempt the actual ACT exam better. The concepts can only take one so far unless they 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 strategic learning more than anything.

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