Tips for taking the ACT

Tips for taking the ACT

Some advice on getting ready for the ACT:

Practice: Take a practice test ahead of time, either in school or on your own, so you're accustomed to the test environment.

Read, read, read: Especially nonfiction. Most of the test involves reading, and the faster you can read and process information, the more time you'll have to answer questions.

Mind your zzzs: Get a good night's rest the night before. This is not the time to party with friends until 3 a.m. (Yes, it's been done, by a student who missed a scholarship to North Carolina as a result).

Give yourself plenty of time: Tests rarely get canceled because of the weather.

Be prepared: Get your photo ID, pencils, admission ticket and other items ready the night before so you're not hunting for your driver's license the morning of the test.

Eat breakfast: Yes, you may have butterflies, but your body needs fuel. Calm them with some Wheaties.

Take a calculator: Make sure it works, and change the batteries the night before. Some types aren't allowed, so check the list at

Take a snack: You need to eat during the break. Cold veggies and fruits are best, as they break down quickly and contain natural sugars. Bring a water bottle so you're not waiting in long lines at the water fountain.

Pace yourself: Be aware of how long you're taking for each question. Time management is essential.

Watch the clock: You have to turn off your cell phone, so bring a watch to keep track of the time. Make sure it doesn't have a beeper, as you can be kicked out for any distraction.

Regarding cell phones: Some advise leaving them in the car. One student who forgot to turn off his phone was dismissed with just 3 minutes left because his mom called him. His test was nullified.

Keep moving: Don't fret endlessly over a question. If you're stumped, mark it and come back to it later. Focus on the answers you know.

Ignore the jargon: Don't get frazzled by technical descriptions in the science section. Even if you don't understand some terms, you can pull the data out of the charts and figure it out. And don't forget to read the passages in italics.

When in doubt, guess: ACT doesn't take off points for incorrect answers, so it pays to guess. (The SAT, by contrast, subtracts a quarter-point for a wrong answer, so skip questions you don't know.)

Use your best strategies: Everybody is different. For some students, reading questions ahead of time helps; others argue there's no time for that because of the way the ACT is structured.

Most important: Stay calm. Stress is not your friend.

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