How do I improve my ACT score?
Many students who have just received their ACT scores immediately wonder how they will be able to increase their scores to get into their dream school and get the most scholarship money possible.
The great part about the ACT is that it is a very learn-able exam. The ACT is heavy on topics that you CAN study for in the English and Math sections. The English section tests the same grammar rules and punctuation rules every test. The Math section has up to 45 questions that can be easily answered if you remember what you have probably already learned in school and do not make simple mistakes. The Essay has a very predictable formula that gets you a high score. The Reading and Science sections are very much about familiarity and getting used to the timing constraints.
You need to have a plan. I have been working with high school students for more than a decade on test prep, and most of you do not know where to start because this is one of the first times where standardized testing will be used to determine much more than advancing to the next grade. Your scores on college entrance exams decide where you can go to college and how much money you can get to offset the ever-increasing costs of education. I will outline some of the steps that you should consider in crafting your plan to increase your ACT score.
“You need to have a plan.”
1. Buy the The Official ACT Prep Guide, 2016 – 2017 (“The Red Book”). This is sanctioned by the company that administers the ACT. No practice test created from any other company will ever be as close to what you will encounter on the real test. The information provided regarding strategies is not sufficient but is a great place to start. You’re really purchasing this for the practice tests that are in the book.
2. Take an initial diagnostic test from the Red Book if you’ve never taken the ACT before. Get up, get ready, eat breakfast, and be ready to start around 8:45-9:00 am. No phones. No distractions. Sit down and take the exam with a short (10 minute) break between the Math and Reading sections. Make sure to time yourself since timing is so important on the exam.
3. Accept where you are. Part of becoming an adult is accepting and dealing with the reality of your circumstances. Convincing yourself that you’re good to go on the ACT when you got 4-5 points lower than the average ACT score of your target school isn’t going to help you. Accept your starting score without shame and determine how much you need to increase. Students who work on the ACT by themselves (and with many competing test prep companies) typically only increase by 1-2 points. Raymond Advantage has an average score increase above 7 for students who did not start in the 95th+ percentile. ACT has done research that shows that our strategy of long-term, content-driven tutoring with one-on-one instruction is the best way to increase your ACT score. Quick tips and tricks and classroom lectures just aren’t as effective.
“ACT has done research that shows that our strategy of long-term, content-driven tutoring with one-on-one instruction is the best way to increase your ACT score.”
4. Plan your studying. If you make the smart decision to hire a tutor with experience and proven methods like one from Raymond Advantage, you should try to begin preparation THREE MONTHS before the exam you want to take. It’s best to start no later than the summer before your junior year. Look. You’re busy with sports and clubs and dance and everything else that you don’t want to give more than a few hours a week to test prep, so give yourself time.
If you do not choose a tutor to guide your preparation, you need to AT LEAST do all of the practice tests in the Red Book. I would not do more than one per week, so that’s at least 3 weeks before the exam. There are explanations in the back of the book that do a moderately decent job at helping you understand why certain answers are right and others are wrong. When you complete practice sections, make sure to mark answers differently if you are guessing. You could, for example, use an X in the bubble instead of fully bubbling it in to mark that you guessed. Revisiting these like revisiting missed questions is very important to solidify topics that you might be shakier on. Schedule your study sessions just like you’d schedule anything else in your life, and stick to it.
5. Give up on motivation but stay positive. Yeah, I said it. Not doing something that will benefit you greatly because “you don’t feel like it” is childish. You must rid yourself of the idea that you need to be motivated to start working on something. This plus a little bit of luck are the difference between struggling to pay your bills as an adult and achieving your goals. Your brains are very resilient when you are young, so learning the skill of oftentimes forcing yourself to engage in beneficial but otherwise unpleasant activities is much easier than when you’re days before finals in your first semester of college. Trust me.
This step feels so negative. But it really does not have to be. Approaching learning with a positive attitude can doubly make the experience help you achieve your goals and become even something you enjoy. Loving doing math problems or getting really excited about how to use punctuation marks allows you to enjoy what you should be doing anyway. If you have to do something, why not make the best of it?
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