Successful ACT Prep Starts With a Plan

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by Zena Smith

With the holidays behind us, test prep season is here once again. Year in and year out, the months leading up to the ACT test day prove to be some of the most uncertain, stressful, and confusing for our parents and students alike.

With so much on the line, it’s no wonder that our parents come to us with questions about the process. The ACT is one of the biggest milestones, challenges, and opportunities our students will encounter during their high school careers, and a competitive score can open doors to college admissions, scholarship opportunities, even job offers if the number is right!

It’s not always clear where to begin preparing for such a big day, but as we’ve said on the EduBlog countless times before, the key is to have a plan and start early. We understand that there are a lot of paths to take as you put together an ACT Prep plan that works, and we’re here to give our best advice on how to do it right.

Know What to Expect

The first step of ACT Prep is knowing exactly what you’re preparing for. ACT does not keep the format or content of their test a secret, so use that to your advantage. By familiarizing yourself with details of the test—how it’s segmented, how long you’ll spend on each section, and the order in which they’ll appear—you can be sure to avoid surprises and unwelcome stress on the big day.

SECTION # OF QUESTIONS  LENGTH  TEST CONTENT
English 75 45 minutes English and rhetorical skills.
Math 60 60 minutes Measures mathematical skills students have typically acquired in courses taken up to the beginning of grade 12.
Reading 40 35 minutes Reading comprehension.
Science 40 35 minutes Interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills essential to the natural sciences.
Writing Test*
(*Optional)
1 prompt 30 minutes Writing skills emphasized in high school English classes and in entry-level college composition courses.

Practice for FREE

There’s a bigger benefit to ACT’s making their test materials widely available. Not only can you get acquainted with the kinds of questions you’ll see on the test, but you can practice answering them early on and from the comfort of your home. Better yet, you can do it for FREE! There are a plethora of online resources that allow you to practice real, ACT-style questions section-by-section or one-by-one.

If you’ve got the time (and if you start early, you should!), you can take complete ACT practice tests through websites like Princeton Review or McGraw-Hill. Once you see how you perform in practice situations, you’ll have a better sense of where to devote your study and prep efforts going forward.

As the day of the test draws nearer, or on your busiest days in between, you may find that you don’t have time to take entire practice tests from beginning to end. And that’s okay, too. You can still test your skills and test prep status by spending a minute on ACT’s Question of the Day.

Again, the more time you spend getting used to the kinds of the material you’ll see on the test, the more comfortable you’ll be when they count!

Set Relevant Goals

If you’re taking the ACT, you are probably intent on getting into college in general or one in particular. Be aware of the admissions standards for any school(s) of choice, and set your test score goals accordingly. Most schools will advertise their expectations on their Admissions pages, so be willing to get online and investigate. If you do not have internet access at home, your guidance counselor may be able to help you find this information. Just ask!

Once you know what it will take to get in, develop a plan to meet that goal. What score will you need on each section of the test in order to get the anticipated cumulative total? If you take the test once and fall drastically short of your goal, consider what you might do to make up the difference. Even if it does not seem attainable at first, you don’t need to give up, but you may consider exploring new attendance options, changing up your test prep routine, or hiring a tutor to help you make up the difference.

Here is an old MASTERs Plus EduBlog post that may help you develop an ACT scoring goal by explaining a bit more about what scores are considered competitive by a number of colleges and universities.

 Plan to Test More Than Once

Planning for the ACT isn’t just getting ready for the questions they’ll throw at you on test day. More broadly than that, the goal is to make sure your test gives you the best chance possible at getting into your college of choice. And that means registering for the earliest possible test date. Why? Because if things don’t go as planned—and it’s quite common that they don’t—you’ll still have time to re-register, take the test again, and boost your performance to achieve your target score.

Remember, you only need to submit your best scores to the school you wish to attend, so keep at it until you get a score that will make them say “WOW!”

Here are a few important dates to know if you plan on taking the test this winter/spring. 

Test Date Registration Deadline (Late Fee Required)
September 13, 2014 August 8, 2014 August 9–22, 2014
October 25, 2014 September 19, 2014 September 20–October 3, 2014
December 13, 2014 November 7, 2014 November 8–21, 2014
February 7, 2015* January 9, 2015 January 10–16, 2015
April 18, 2015 March 13, 2015 March 14–27, 2015
June 13, 2015 May 8, 2015 May 9–22, 2015

To learn more, visit www.actstudent.org.

Avoid Comparing Scores With Peers

Once you receive the score from your initial attempt at the ACT, do your best to keep it between you, your family, your guidance counselor, and your school(s) of interest. You have little to gain by sharing your score with your friends, and potentially a lot to lose. If your score is better than theirs, you risk alienating your friends and affecting their self-confidence on subsequent attempts at the test. On the other hand, if your score is worse, it can leave a sour taste in your mouth and similarly affect your esteem going forward. It’s fine to let them know if you’re satisfied with your score, but if possible, leave it there.

Prep With MASTERs Plus

Everyone can use a little extra help now and again. If you’re at the end of your test prep rope and you still don’t feel confident that you can get that target score, MASTERs Plus can help.

Our certified tutors are trained to assist with ACT test prep and well-versed in walking students through the kinds and quality of questions they’ll see on the test. Whether your student is struggling with a particular test section—from Math to Reading or the essay mechanics they’ll need to use on the Writing test—or simply cannot find the right rhythm for completing the questions in a timely manner, we will help build their skills, develop strategies, and provide the supervised practice to help them tackle their ACT goals.

Students who prep for the ACT with MASTERs Plus demonstrate an average score increase of 4 test score points following enrollment in our program, and we believe that your student can too.

To learn more about our ACT prep services, visit our test prep page or give us a call at our South Suburbs tutoring center.

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