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High ACT Scores: Need-to-Know Tips and Strategies

By Ryan Hickey updated on Thursday, March 20, 2014

General tips for the ACT

Relax the night before the test
Don't cram. You are being tested on knowledge that you have accumulated over the course of the year. And over the past few months especially, you've been taking ACT prep. Studying at the last minute will only stress you out for very limited gain. Go to a movie or hang out with a friend -- anything to get your mind off of the test!

Rely on the strategies you've learned through ACT test prep
The ACT help you've gotten over the past few months has included a number of specific strategies that are guaranteed to increase your score during ACT testing. Don't let them slip your mind. Follow the advice and strategies that you've picked up during preparation. If you need a quick refresher, try running through the free ACT practice test available here at Peterson's, keeping those strategies in mind as you go -- but be sure not to stress yourself out by doing this (see the above tip)!

Test Specific tips for high ACT scores

English
When searching for sentence errors, start by reading the sentence or paragraph carefully, listening in your head; usually the word or phrase that contains an error will sound wrong. If no errors pop up, look for the four most common types of errors:

  • Errors in the relationship between the verb and its subject
  • Pronoun errors
  • Sentence structure errors
  • Awkwardness, verbosity, and incorrect use of idioms

Mathematics
As soon as you find the right answer, mark it and move on -- there are no ''degrees of rightness'' to be considered. Marking up diagrams or sketching simple drawings when none are available can help you ''see''  the answers. The questions generally focus on mathematical reasoning, not your ability to perform calculations; if you find yourself spending too much time figuring the problem out, then you've probably overlooked a simple shortcut.

Math: Multiple-Choice Questions
As you work through the multiple-choice math questions, you'll be given reference information (formulas and facts), but you'll need to know how to use them. You're allowed to use a calculator, but, again, it won't help you unless you know how to approach the problems. If you're stuck, try substituting numbers for variables. You can also try plugging in numbers from the answer choices. Start with the middle number. That way, if it doesn't work, you can strategically choose one that's higher or lower.

Reading
Use the three-stage method (previewing, reading, and reviewing) to get the most out of each reading passage. Focus on the big ideas in each passage, not the small details. Look for connections among ideas in each passage. To help you find answers quickly, take notes as you read, marking the main ideas or connections with your pencil.

Science Reasoning
Use the same three-stage method (previewing, reading, reviewing) for each science reasoning passage. In data representation passages, focus on what is being measured, relationships among variables, and trends in data. Don't be confused by irrelevant information or technical terminology -- most science reasoning passages have them, and they can almost always be ignored.

Writing (Optional)
Essays are scored holistically, which means that the final score is based on an overall impression. To make that overall impression a good one, be sure to organize your ideas into a standard essay format. A well-organized essay consists of four to five paragraphs, including an introduction, supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. Aim to have at least two body paragraphs to develop and support your ideas.

About the Author

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson's and an expert in college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in admissions for nearly a decade writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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