Ideally, you want to start preparing for the ACT a couple years before you actually plan to take the exam. In other words, if you are in the US, start your ACT prep when you are a sophomore. If you are an international student and you graduate as an 11th grader, start in 9th grade. While you may be wondering "What would I do that long before the exam?", there’s actually a lot of ACT preparation you can do. And starting early will make your life better in multiple ways. You’ll get better test scores both for the ACT and for some other exams, like the SAT Subject Tests (given by the college board). You’ll get into better universities, and overall you’ll probably be a lot less stressed while doing so.
So without any further ado, here are a few long-term ACT prep best practices.
Focus on addressing broad subject areas of the exam.
When you only have a few weeks or months before the ACT, you need to spend a lot of time becoming familiar with format of the exam.
If you have had the foresight to start your preparation for the ACT a couple of years before you plan to take the exam, then your focus should be on addressing the broad subject areas of the ACT tests.
The ACT Writing Test is technically optional, but we recommend that students take it for a few different reasons. First, most universities require the Writing Test, even though the ACT allows you to skip it. Second, the Writing Test is an excellent medium to practice vocabulary and grammar which will benefit you on the English section. Third, preparing for the ACT Writing Test is a quick and easy way to prepare to write college application essays.
Reading and Science
The ACT Reading and Science Tests assess reading comprehension and data analysis skills. Consistently practicing these skills should be a major focus of your preparation. One way to do this is by reading different types of texts: essays and op-eds, science articles, fictional stories, and assorted non-fiction from the humanities and social sciences.
The best way to prepare for the Math portion of the test is to ensure you are familiar with all of the concepts that appear on the test, a list of which can be found on the ACT website here. Practice makes perfect, so be sure to set aside time to take math tests and watch explanatory videos of any questions you may be stuck on. (Your teachers can help explain these concepts too, and they'll probably appreciate you doing math work outside of the classroom!)
Advanced Placement Courses
If you have enough time in your schedule, AP exams are great to pursue. In most cases, the material on the AP exams does not overlap much with the ACT, but many of the skills do (data analysis and composition, for example). Students with a handful of AP scores are more likely to be admitted to better universities and/or receive advanced credit. These exams will also prepare you for any college entrance exam you may be required to take.
Periodically assess your progress.
One of the most important aspects of planning long term for the ACT is to periodically assess your progress. How close are you to your target ACT score? When you first begin studying for the exam, do a pre-test to determine your starting scores in each section. As you study, take a new ACT practice test every 4-6 weeks to measure improvement. This will help you determine which subjects require greater focus as you refine your preparation strategy. Taking regular practice tests also means you are training for the exam format itself. It might sound odd, but many students overlook this. They study math, English but forget to train themselves to take exam itself. To prepare for test day, take as many official ACT tests and practice questions as possible.
Long-term ACT prep takes a lot of organization, attention to detail, and foresight, but there are a number of benefits. You will:
- Do well on the ACT exam.
- Have a strong academic resume.
- Be prepared to write awesome college essays.
- Be ready for other standardized exams that will help you get into great universities.
So why don’t more students begin seriously thinking about the ACT as soon as they begin high school? Truth be told, it takes a lot of effort and a fair amount of time. This is one reason why students who do start preparing early for the ACT often do online prep or do so while working with a professional tutor . A high quality tutor can organize your long term strategy, take care of all the details, and help you map out your preparation over time so that you are well prepared for the ACT and everything else that goes with it. Here at Occam Education we have over a decade of experience in preparing students for the ACT, and we specialize in customized long-term tutoring programs. Contact us to discuss how we can help you on your ACT journey.
Read our Ultimate Guide to ACT Test Prep — it summarizes everything you’ll need to know, whether you are preparing to take the ACT next month or in a few years.
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