Give yourself a gold star, friend. You are already checking off the #1 tip to raise your ACT score: learn more!
- Learn more about the test to be mentally prepared and more efficient.
- Learn more about which subjects/ideas/principles you specifically need to improve so you know where to focus your preparation and study efforts.
- Learn the expert ACT tips and tricks to improve your ACT score.
We are here to help you with all three.
After all, standardized testing is hair-raising-ly H-A-R-D. No question. It is designed to be. The ACT makers are trying to fake you out and trip you up to assess where you are in your educational process.
But with practice and some insider knowledge about how to achieve your highest ACT score possible, you will be able to see through the trickery, smooth down your hair, and win the day.
Whether you’re testing tomorrow and need ACT strategies you can implement quickly or you have a little more time to try out the following tips on a free practice ACT at home, these tips are designed to help you raise your ACT score fast.
Before we dive in deeper with our ACT tips, though, here’s a quick ACT facts refresher:
What Does ACT Stand For?
ACT was originally an acronym for the American College Testing Program. Nowadays, it is an organization that still runs the standardized college entrance exam- but also endeavors to do even more to help people achieve their educational goals. You can learn more about that here.
How Long Is The ACT?
The ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes long, plus a 10-minute break.
(If you are also taking the optional writing test, the total becomes 3 hours and 35 minutes, plus a 10- and 5-minute break.)
What Is On The ACT?
The ACT has four main subject sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. If you are looking for an in-depth exploration of the ACT components, this detailed article that covers what’s tested on the ACT is for you.
Now let’s look at some of the best tips to improve your ACT score and feel as confident as possible going into your ACT test date.
We’ll go through the test section by section, then finish up with some strategies you can implement on every section - so be sure to stick around to the end for the ACT tips that will tie the whole package up with a nifty bow on top and send you on your way to testing success in style.
ACT English Tips
ACT English is, of course, the first subject tested. So here are a few tips that can help you improve your English score and start strong right out of the gate.
The “ABCs Rule”
ACT English tests your editing and rhetorical skills. The correct answers should be:
- The clearest.
- The most complete.
- The most concise.
- The most complete.
So a helpful mnemonic device is to remember your A.B.C.s: The Answer has got to Be Clear, Complete, Concise.
Say yes to “No Change” sometimes.
Don’t be fooled or intimidated by the "No Change" answer option. Some students will feel tempted to choose this a lot. Some students will feel tempted to avoid it altogether.
Both strategies are problematic.
In reality, about 25-35% of the time, “No Change” is the correct choice. So explore all answer options, but do not be afraid to use “No Change” when it’s right.
Know what’s being tested on ACT English and study beforehand.
Key in to any grammar rules that usually give you trouble and practice them to pick up extra points.
Some good areas to sharpen that can help you improve your ACT English score are:
- Subject-verb agreement
- Pronoun agreement
- Adjectives and adverbs
- Comparisons and superlatives
If you want to get started right away, try this tip on an ACT grammar rule that most people miss:
Ready to give these ACT English tips a try? We've got some free ACT English practice questions waiting for you!
ACT Math Tips
Whether you’re a math whiz or not, you can raise your score by leveraging these tips for ACT Math. While most of them help you improve regardless of your math ability, ACT Math - unlike ACT Science - is a heavily content-based section. You’ll do best by pairing these strategies with a little review too.
Make the multiple-choice work for you.
Start with solving the problem on your own. If the answer you get is available, trust it and move on.
However, if you’re having trouble, eliminate any answers you know are wrong.
Then if you’re still stuck, try plugging random numbers into the equation to see if that yields one of the offered results.
As a last resort, you can always experiment with plugging the offered answers into the equation until one proves correct. Be aware, however, that this isn’t always possible. ACT, Inc. makes an effort to avoid questions that can be solved this way to ensure they are testing your understanding of a math concept and not your ability to substitute and evaluate. But if it IS possible, this is a great way to shortcut the solution.
Know what’s being tested on ACT Math and study beforehand.
Focus on any mathematical principles or equations that usually give you trouble.
Things to make sure you’re solid on include:
- Algebra (usually 12 to 15 pre-algebra questions, 9 to 11 beginning algebra questions, 8 to 10 intermediate algebra questions)
- Geometry (usually 12 to 15 plane geometry questions, 8 to 11 coordinate geometry questions)
- Trigonometry (usually 3 to 6 questions)
In planning your ACT study time, prioritize the different math skills. Sure, it’s important to practice the formulas you have the hardest time with, but focus most on where you can gain the greatest number of points according to how many points each area represents.
Underline what the question is specifically asking.
Accuracy is much more important than speed. Many students miss questions that they definitely know the answer to simply because they jump to conclusions.
Don’t be the person who rushes to calculate the area of a circle when the question is actually about the circumference. Be the person who earns all the points that they possibly can! You did the work. Make sure you get the credit.
A Note About Calculators:
Though a calculator is allowed, the ACT Math section is designed to be completed without one.
If you can do the calculations in your head, do it. The calculator will take longer.
If you are going to use a calculator, practice with the calculator you’re going to use on the ACT.
Whenever you’re ready to move to the next level, test out your skills with these free ACT Math practice questions for you!
ACT Reading Tips
Let’s be totally honest: the ACT Reading Section is the hardest of all the ACT sections to improve your score on. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! These strategies will help you streamline your approach and ensure that silly mistakes don’t drain your higher score.
Know what’s being tested on ACT Reading and how it’s being tested.
This section includes four reading samples taken from each of these four subjects, in this order:
- Literary Narrative/Prose Fiction
- Social science
- Natural science
Each of the four subjects in the reading section contains ten questions, all centered around testing your understanding of meaning and organization, your ability to draw conclusions, and your general critical thinking skills.
In other words, they’re not testing your knowledge of those subjects. They are merely using those subjects to test your ability to absorb and synthesize information when you’re reading.
Begin in your strike zone, then move to what is hardest.
If you like one of the four subjects best, or if one passage looks the most interesting to you, start there. That is the best use of your time and will give you the confidence to tackle the more difficult passages later on.
Getting points early with easier passages helps you build momentum throughout the section. So get on a roll and move through it with steady ease.
Skim first, then slow down.
As always, accuracy is essential. However, ACT Reading is the one section where speed can be your friend too. Breeze over the passages initially to get the gist, then read the questions carefully to know where to go back and focus your language detective skills.
At the end of ACT Reading, you are 3/4 done with the test! Hooray! Just a little longer to go. Pat yourself on the back and keep that energy up - you've got this!
This would be a great time to do some ACT Reading practice questions if you haven’t already. Then be sure to come back here for more ACT tips and tricks!
ACT Science Tips
ACT Science is a slippery little minx. It’s the least familiar section for most students, shows up as the final multiple-choice section when you’re as tired as possible, and it’s time-crunched to boot. It’s hard to improve your ACT Science score without getting underneath how the section is formatted and what to expect before you tackle it on test day. These ACT Science tips will give you the edge you need to finish strong and get your highest possible ACT score.
Know what’s being tested on ACT Science and how it’s being tested.
This section looks at your comprehension of data and trends, how you connect, evaluate, and extrapolate information. It can include passages about:
Again, similar to ACT Reading, it’s less about your memorized science knowledge and more about how you interpret the given figures and passages. There may be a couple of general knowledge questions, but really, understanding the framework is half the battle in ACT Science.
Q&As - be quick with the questions and attempt the answers.
Work faster and smarter in this section by:
- Skimming the questions first
- Reading the passage carefully
- Answering every science question for yourself before checking the answer options
While it’s important to answer questions for yourself in every section, it’s even more important as you become more tired at the end of the exam.
Don’t forget: ACT, Inc. is sneaky. The more you answer questions for yourself, the more resistant you are to falling for the tricks and traps of incorrect (albeit attractive) answer choices.
Save the Conflicting Viewpoints passage for the end.
The single Conflicting Viewpoints passage on any ACT Science test stands out from the others as it’s almost entirely text-based. Since this part of ACT Science is all about reading lots of words that compare and contrast different scientists’ viewpoints, it can be a bit more time-intensive. This can be troublesome as you get tired and it can lead to brain drain.
Attempt passages with pictorial representations of data (think: graphs and charts) before diving into this text-heavy passage. You will answer more questions and your tired brain will thank you.
Stick to What ACT Gives You
Remember that the whole ACT Science section is more focused on testing your logic and interpretation skills rather than seeing how much scientific information you’ve memorized.
The graphs and diagrams are your friends here as you aren’t expected to bring outside knowledge into the exam beyond how the Scientific Method works and the occasional general scientific principle (1 per test max).
ACT Science is an open book test, so stick with what’s presented to you and leverage that information to answer all questions.
Want to try your hand at some free ACT Science questions? Fantastic. We’ve got a few ready for you.
Overarching ACT Tips And Tricks
- Make like a master bassoon player and practice, practice… yup, you guessed it- PRACTICE!
Investigate questions that you miss on your practice tests to see if patterns emerge that can tell you where to focus your studies.
Treat every practice test like it’s the real thing to build up those testing muscles. You could even play unpleasant noises in the background to strengthen your ability to focus no matter what else might be going on.
- Make like the Hulk and smash through as much reading as you can to become mentally stronger.
If you’re looking to train your reading skills for any ACT section, seek out boring reading material to practice absorbing concepts or facts, regardless of whether or not it's pleasurable to read.
- Make like a Marvel Time Lord and use this time-saving trick:
There are two major strategies most often used for test answering: either go back and forth between your test booklet and the scantron- filling in all answers as you go- or write all your answers on your test booklet and fill the scantron bubbles in at the end.
Neither of these is ideal.
The first one takes longer, and the second one can lose you points if you have trouble finishing in time to fill out your answers.
The best way is a hybrid of these two approaches: circle the correct selection on your booklet, then fill in your bubbles a page at a time (or in the cases of ACT Reading and ACT Science, one passage at a time). This way you can save a little time by focusing entirely on a longer stretch of problems, but you also ensure that you’ll get the proper credit for all of your correct answers and hard work
*But be warned: this tip changes in the last 5 minutes of a test. As the time for the section runs out, shift to a one-to-one approach. Rather than bubbling a full passage at one time, bubble each answer as you find it to make sure all of your correct answers are accounted for.
Remember: bubbling after time is called is cheating, so stay ahead of the time and don’t leave correct answers in your booklet!
- Make like an upcycling rockstar and use everything given to you.
Accuracy is more important than speed, so don’t ignore something that the test maker gave you. Read all instructions and the whole passage. Look at all the diagrams.
Sure, the test makers are tricky with the answer options. However, in the passages there isn’t extraneous information designed deliberately to mislead, so not looking at them doesn’t help you. Much of it does come into play in some fashion. So pay attention to it and don’t leave points on the table.
- Make like an Olympic Gold-Medalist and keep a strong and positive mindset.
As Teddy Roosevelt said, “believe you can and you’re halfway there.”
- Make like a sketch artist and trace to the finish line.
Use your finger to guide along as you read articles or passages to help with pacing, comprehension, and continued engagement.
- Make like a toddler with crayons and write all over your test booklet.
You cannot have any other scratch paper, so the booklet it is!
Set a marking system for yourself so you have a shorthand you can follow and write, write, write all over the test.
Whenever you get stuck, note or eliminate any wrong answers to increase the likelihood of picking up an extra point or two when coming back later to try again.
The more you write and notate, the less information you store in your head, so the more accurate and less fatigued you will be on test day!
- At the very end, make like you’re playing Whack-A-Mole and quickly hit one bubble per question before the time is up.
There is no penalty for a wrong answer, so make sure you have at least one bubble filled out for each answer line.
Remember that this list of ACT tips is by no means exhaustive. There is a lot more you can do to tailor solid prep work to your individual needs, even if you are pressed for time.
If you don’t have a lot of room in your schedule or the ACT is coming soon to a Saturday near you, you can be ready to go in four hours for less than $200 with our exclusive Quick Prep ACT course.Or, if you have a little more time to prepare, we also offer an on-demand ACT Complete Package Course, which you can finish over 8-12 weeks whenever it fits your schedule!