Are you taking the ACT this coming Saturday? Do you need a little last-minute advice? Here’s my last-minute advice to you:
First, you should plan on taking the ACT with Essay, since almost all good colleges and universities require applicants to take the ACT with essay, and almost all of the good colleges and universities that don’t require it strongly recommend it. You can ignore this advice if you’re sure the college of your dreams doesn’t require it, but plans have a way of changing, and you may find you want (or have) to attend a school that does require it. Our friends at PrepScholar have prepared a helpful list of colleges that require and don’t require the ACT essay. Find it here: http://blog.prepscholar.com/complete-list-which-colleges-require-act-writing-all-schools .
This leads us neatly into my next piece of advice, namely, to take a timed ACT, including the essay, before you take the real ACT. Here’s a link to a .pdf of an ACT you can use, in case you don’t have an ACT prep book (or already have done all the tests, but without timing yourself) and can’t get one from the public library or a bookstore. http://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/360031/ACT-2015-16.pdf?t=1459898803062 There are many more you can find, simply by trying “Free online ACT practice test” into a search engine.
I realize that the test date is this coming Saturday, so you have about 3 days to do that, but if you haven’t done it yet, do so immediately. DVR your TV shows; cancel your plans with friends; your date can wait. Other than your schoolwork, nothing else should come before taking a timed practice ACT. You really want to test your endurance, your pacing, and all the things you don’t exercise when you’re just working on ACT problems or the essay at your own pace, which is how most people study for the ACT (It’s also how I tutor – I teach the techniques; it’s up to the student to improve his or her speed.) You especially want to make sure that you can write an essay after a few hours of multiple-choice questions. You don’t want your first experience with writing an essay after doing hours of ACT multiple choice questions to be when you’re taking the actual ACT. When you write the essay, stay calm, paraphrase the perspectives, and think of examples that support or undermine their points. Develop your own viewpoint, using those examples. See my earlier blog on the ACT essay for (much) more detail.
Make sure you check the answer explanations when you score your practice ACT. Make sure you understand the mathematical principles and the “tricks” underlying the problems you either got wrong or only got right by guessing blindly. If you simply can’t understand the explanation to a math problem, you can look up the principle online (I suggest purplemath.com, mathisfun.com, or regentsprep.org ). If that doesn’t help, then just note the kind of problem it is, and know you should just guess and move on when you take the real ACT. If you can even just remember things like “Areas can’t be negative,” you can eliminate some stupid wrong answers.
Make sure you understand the English problems you got wrong. If two answers look the same, look for a subtle difference in punctuation (if your eyesight’s not great, bring reading glasses)… Make sure you know the punctuation rules applying to the questions you got wrong. Google is a great resource for finding pages about grammar and usage, if you can’t understand the explanation the book gives you.
If two choices in the phrasing of a sentence or part of a sentence seem equally good, pick the shorter one, and don’t be afraid to choose “OMIT the underlined portion.” Many ACT English questions have underlined phrases that are redundant (i.e., repeat the same information) or digressive (i.e. that wanders away from the point being made). Eliminate them. On the ACT and the SAT, shorter is better.
When it comes to questions of idiom or usage (e.g. we “talk to” people rather than “talk at” people), pick the one that sounds right to you – it’s almost always the right choice. If the answer choice sounds weird in your head (DO NOT read out loud to yourself; you don’t want to be expelled from the testing room and/or accused of cheating), it’s almost always wrong. A few notable exceptions are that “It is I,” “Was it she?” “Is it he?” are all correct, even though almost any native English speaker would say “It’s me,” “Was it her?” and “Is it him?” Also, “they” is still not a gender-neutral singular pronoun in Standard American English, as tested on the ACT and SAT. If you don’t know or don’t care about the gender of a person, use “he or she” and “him or her” as the pronouns.
As far as the reading test is concerned, make sure you find actual evidence for your answer choices in the passage you just read. Actually look for it; don’t rely on your memory. Test makers are very good at making answers that look right, but aren’t – all they have to do is use a word or phrase from the passage, then add a “not” or similar word that makes what would be a correct answer an incorrect answer. Skim the passage first, just noting the main points of the passage, then read the questions, then scan the passage for supporting evidence. If you can’t find evidence to support your answer choice, it’s not the right answer.
On the science test, I recommend you read the questions first, then look at the passage to find evidence for your answer choices. If you understand the scientific principles being discussed, you may be able to answer some questions without even reading the passage.
Make sure you are looking at the correct table, figure, chart, etc. when asked to interpret a chart. If you don’t understand a term, look at the introduction to the passage to find a definition of the term – it’s often there. The ACT people aren’t lying when they tell you that you don’t need to have any knowledge of the science in the passages, but you do need to know how to interpret a graph, chart, or data table. I have believed, since the first time I saw it, that the ACT Science Test should be called the “ACT Data Interpretation Test.” There are many online resources that will show you how to interpret graphs, charts, tables, and other representations of data. Simply input “How to interpret a graph” into Google, or read my blog entry on how to prepare for the new SAT’s reading sections.
Finally, my general advice for the days leading to the ACT, or any other standardized test, remain the same. Borrow or buy a cheap watch or small timer for the ACT. You want to be able to track your time on the ACT, leaving enough room to guess at any questions you don’t have time, or don’t know how, to answer. There’s no penalty for guessing incorrectly on the ACT, so you don’t lose anything by guessing when time’s tight and you’re too far behind to answer the questions without random guessing.
Leave your phone at home; there’s no point in bringing something you can’t use on the test. All it can do is get you in trouble if it goes off during the test, or you take it out to check the time or use it as a calculator. And who knows if you’ll ever see it again if an exam proctor takes it away from you?
The same advice applies to any reference books, test books, ACT prep books, and so on – you won’t have time to study, and all the books can do is cause problems.
Make sure you have a scientific calculator that is ACT-approved, and bring extra batteries for it. For information on what calculators are and are not allowed for the ACT, see http://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/the-act/help.html . Scroll down to “Can I Use a Calculator?” and click on the caret/downward arrow symbol to expand that section.
Make sure you know where the test is being given, what time you have to be there (probably 30 minutes before the test starts), and plan to get there 15 to 30 minutes before that, for a total of 45 minutes to an hour before the test. Make sure you know how to get there on public transit if you can’t drive or get a ride to the site. Arrange for a backup ride with a friend if you can. Cars and other machines have a funny way of breaking down when you need them most – it’s often called “the perversity of inanimate objects.” As the cliché goes: “People don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.”
Finally, take good care of yourself! The Friday night before the ACT or SAT is not a party night for you if you care about your score (and if you don’t, why are you taking it?). It’s not a night to binge-watch your favorite series or play online games all night. It’s not the night to eat radically different food that leaves your stomach upset, or work out so hard that you can barely move the next day. It also shouldn’t be a cram-study night. If you didn’t bother to start your test prep until this week, trying to cram the night before won’t teach you enough to do much good for your score, but will make you tired, cranky, and distracted when it’s time to take the test, which will definitely hurt your score.
I’ve rambled on long enough – please see my earlier blog entries for more hints. Thanks for reading this, and good luck!
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.