What I Learned from Taking the ACT - Twice
Keep in mind that answering questions quickly and feeling familiar with the testing material will not happen overnight.
November 16, 2015
The ACT exam can be the most frustrating and intimidating part to the college application process.
For me, the ACT test was an uphill battle that just kept getting steeper and more difficult to tackle. However, now that I’ve been on the flip side of this test twice, I can share my advice as you embark on this slippery slope.
Everything I did to prepare for the test the second time around coupled with my efforts relax and not stress out on the testing day brought my score on the ACT up by four points!
Looking back, there are a lot of things I wish I would have known before I took the ACT for the first time. Surely, that would have saved me a lot of time and effort.
Before I took the ACT test, I was extremely confused as to which study tactics were the most effective and why the ACT was so intimidating. I asked everyone I knew who had taken it what worked for them, but I was never able to put their advice in practice.
During my first test, I completely psyched myself out with all the pressure. I stressed out so much that I made a lot of mistakes on the test, including leaving twelve questions blank in my best subject. (Curse you, time limits!)
When the scores finally came out, I was discouraged and frustrated because I knew that I could have done better. That day, I made a promise to myself that I would take the test more seriously and dedicate more time and effort into making sure I was fully prepared for the next test.
The thing that was the most important to me in my preparation was making sure I felt ready. Achieving that feeling of confidence before the test date became my new goal. In order not to stress out so much, I knew that I needed to make myself comfortable with my test-taking abilities long before I walked into the testing center.
The most crucial element of effective studying is making sure you give yourself enough time. Answering questions quickly and feeling familiar with the testing material will not happen overnight.
Set a studying schedule at least two months in advance so you have enough time to study all four sections (or five if you decide to take the writing section) thoroughly.
Reading books written specifically to help understand how the ACT test is written helped me the most. I obtained three books, two of which were guidelines and advice from previous test takers who scored a perfect 36 on their ACT tests, and the other was a ginormous five pound monstrosity of nothing but practice questions and explanations of the correct answers. Studying for the ACT isn’t so much about learning that material that will be tested, but rather learning about the tricky writing, which can complicate simple questions.
Trial and error was another really effective way that improved my scores. Taking the time to understand why I got certain questions wrong helped me prevent those same mistakes in the future.
Practice tests, whether online or in a book, are perfect for this study tactic. Analyzing the correct answers on my practice tests was crucial to remembering what I struggled with and what I needed to do differently to get it right.
Studying with friends can be a good idea, too. I’ve always imagined studying as being an independent endeavor, but studying with a friend or two can open your eyes to a new way of studying. A friend might be able to explain a concept to you in ways that a book can’t, or could motivate you to keep going and provide a little friendly competition. On test day, there were specific things that helped me relax and get ready to go. These tips really helped me focus, and played a big part in the increase of my score. Having a game plan decreased my stress and made me feel like I was ready to tackle the task ahead.
Some of the things I suggest you do the day before and the day of the test are as follows:
• Don’t study the day before. At all. Cramming as a last ditch effort will only stress you out, and chances are you won’t remember everything you try to shove into your brain.
• Make sure everything is packed up and ready to go the night before the exam. You don’t want to have to worry about making sure you have everything you need five minutes before you have to leave to get to the testing center. Lay out everything so that you won’t forget it and know exactly what you need to do when you get up.
This includes knowing what you are going to wear. I would recommend layering: something along the lines of t-shirt with a sweater or jacket, long pants, socks, and comfortable shoes so you aren’t too hot or too cold.
• Your top priority is to get a good night’s rest. Even if you have to lie in bed for a while, do whatever you can to fall asleep at a decent time.
• Take a shower before you leave for the exam. Showering will wake you up, calm your nerves and it give you some time to clear your mind so you will be able to focus on the test later.
• Eat a healthy breakfast. Eat enough that you will be full, but don’t eat so much that you feel stuffed. You want to eliminate anything that will distract you as much as possible.
• Double and triple check that you have everything you need. The last thing you want is to get to the testing center and realize you forgot to grab your admissions ticket or your photo ID. Don’t forget to read your ticket: oftentimes it will have instructions on parking or which building to go to that is specific to your test center.
• Leave early. You want to leave plenty of time to get to the testing center in case there is any traffic or you get lost.
• Pro tip: if there is something that you know relieves your stress, like certain music or using a stress ball; don’t hesitate to do that before the test. I listened to classical piano music while driving to the testing center, and it really helped calm me down and focus on the test.
While the ACT seems really scary and intimidating at first, don’t lose faith in yourself. You can do it! Remember that you can take the test as many times as you need to keep improving your scores, and only your best score will appear on your college applications.
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