3 Tracks to ACT Success

by Zena Smith

ACT prepIf it seems that your student’s mind has been somewhere else since the dawn of the New Year, you aren’t alone. This is the time of year when high school juniors and seniors begin to feel the pressure—when going to college starts to feel less like a distant dream and more like a looming responsibility. Even if the letters of recommendation are written and the applications are filled out, many students are still asking themselves one big question: How can I get the ACT scores I need before it’s too late?

And that is a good question to ask. The truth is that many of the most competitive higher-ed programs in the country won’t budge on their ACT (or SAT) scoring requirements. Of course, that doesn’t have to be a problem. For most students, these scores can be quite attainable. What it takes is little effort and a big ACT Prep plan.

So what are the options? How my student put together an ACT Prep plan that works—one that is guaranteed to boost their scores and earn acceptance to the school of their dreams? That depends on how much time you have before the big moment.

The Slow Track

tortoiseIf your student is at the beginning of their college prep journey, the good news is they’ve plenty of time to create and execute an ACT Prep strategy. And the long haul has its benefits. Did you know that any student can take and retake the ACT up to 12 times? While trial-and-error is not the most efficient way to prep for the test, there is no arguing results. In 2015, 57% percent of students who retook the ACT increased their composite score on the second time. It makes sense. With each retake, the ACT becomes less of a mystery and more of a familiar experience. And that’s great for student confidence!

There are, however, certain downsides to taking and retaking the test. We call this the “slow track” because, well, it takes time. The ACT is only offered a few times a year, so retaking it often means waiting several months before receiving a second shot. Additionally, taking the test many times can become expensive.

It is important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of this ACT Prep track before committing to it. If time and money are not an issue, this method may work. For those on tighter budgets and schedules, however, there are other ACT Prep strategies to explore.

The Faster Track

hareFor students who want to prep quickly and on a budget, there may be no better method than self-prep. The beauty of the technological age in which we live is that there are an almost unlimited amount of ACT Prep resources online, so students can explore them at home, at school, or on the move.

Students who are committed to raising their ACT score and have the discipline to do it can create their own prep regimen. By logging onto the ACT website (or any other number of online prep resources), students can not only respond to real, ACT-style questions but also receive instant feedback on their right or wrong answers. With as little as 15 minutes or as much as an hour per night, students can get real practice and see real results, fast!

We recommend a level of self-prep for all of our students, particularly the truly independent and disciplined among them. The only drawback to this method is that, while students practice the materials alone, they lack the guidance of peers or instructors that can be invaluable in a formal prep environment. With self-prep, students must determine their own weak points and muddle their way through difficult problems on their own. And while that can be fruitful for some, it can feel directionless and frustrating for others.

The Fastest Track

cheetahfastWhen time is of the essence, there is truly no quicker way to get in test-taking shape than to enroll in a structured ACT Prep program. The benefits of these program often speak for themselves: Students receive one-on-one training with tutors who can identify students’ weak points and target teach the material to help them become more well-rounded test takers. Not just that, but these programs often have access to “retired” or “archived” ACT test questions—real questions that appeared on official ACT exams gone by and have been made available to prep programs for the benefit of future students. Finally, by taking practice tests in a classroom-like environment, students gain an additional level of experience in a simulated test environment. These experiences combined with the guidance of a personal, assigned tutor, makes for confident test takers and rapid improvement—again and again.

All this said, the perfect ACT Prep strategy for your student depends on, well, your student. Whether they are looking for long-term improvement through trial-and-error, wish for faster-paced improvement through self-prep, or want to boost their scores in the quickest way possible by enrolling in an ACT Prep program is up to them, their budget, and their personal goals. However, if they plan early and stick to it, they can expect nothing but the best when that admissions envelope arrives in the mail this spring.

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