The ABCs of the ACT

June 06, 2018

When you’re starting your ACT prep, sifting through test materials can be overwhelming. There’s a lot of information, both helpful and unhelpful, about the exam out there. So how do you know where to begin? 

In this post, we’ll take a look at ACT basics: from how to start your studies to what to do when you finish a section on test day. By getting a solid background on the A, B, Cs of the ACT, you’ll set yourself up for even greater success on the official exam!

A: Address your weaknesses

More specifically, figure out what your weaknesses are and then address them. How? Start out by taking a practice test. Make sure you take it under test-like conditions: all in one go, with scheduled breaks, in a quiet environment (and no flipping back and forth between sections once time is up). After scoring the exam, spend a couple hours—that’s right, a couple hours!—going over your results. Don’t just look at your overall (composite) score or even your in-section scores, though those are helpful. Instead, start keeping an “error log,” in which you write down the questions you got wrong, classifying the question types, then writing out the correct answer and how to get there. Most practice tests will have explanations to help you with this last part. Keep updating this error log throughout your ACT prep—you’ll be amazed at how far you come.

B: Be prepared

Even if you’re taking the exam tomorrow, there are a few things you can still do to help your score, and they all come down to preparation. Confronting the unknown on the official exam can not only increase any test anxiety, but it can also have a huge (and hugely negative) impact on your score. Here’s a quick rundown of ACT basics.

Test Format: The ACT is a multiple-choice test, with an optional essay.

Test Sections: The ACT is broken down into four or five sections (known as “tests”—I know, it’s confusing), depending on whether you’re taking the Writing test. In order, these are:

Test Timing: How long is the ACT? Again, it all depends on that essay. Without it, the ACT takes 2 hours and 55 minutes; with it, the exam takes 3 hours and 35 minutes.

  • English

  • Math

  • Reading

  • Science

  • Writing (optional)

C: Constantly evaluate your work

That goes for both your ACT prep and the work you do on the official exam. During your prep, the error log is a great place to start. Which question types do you consistently miss? Do you often make avoidable mistakes like dropping a negative sign when you shouldn’t have? Then, in the week leading up to test day, go over that error log and identify which patterns you can see in your most recent 2-3 tests. During the actual exam, make sure that you leave around five minutes at the end of each section to go back and double-check your work on those question types.

Applying to college?
View the app files and essays of accepted students.
LEARN MORE

At the end of the day, a little information goes a long way. On the other hand, a lot of information goes a lot farther! If your test date is fast approaching, this might mean retaking the ACT, but it’ll be worth it in the study time you’ll gain. The more time you have to prepare, practice, and evaluate your work, the better chance you’ll have of hitting that dream score—and getting into your dream school.

Studying for the SAT or ACT? Get 10% off AdmitSee’s recommended test prep, Magoosh, with the promo code AdmitSee10.

About The Author

Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel Kapelke-Dale is a test prep expert at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years.




Browse Successful Application Files

hannah626
Duke ‘18


Accepted to UGA

I am a current junior at Duke studying biology, marine science, and markets and management studies
lamborghinibea…
USC ‘19


Accepted to UC Davis, UCLA, UCSD, USC, Emory, UMich, UNC, Pepperdine

Although very hardworking, I love to socialize with friends and make time to just relax. Also, I've always been interested in cars and working in the business aspect of the automotive industry.
yuzhushi
UMD ‘20


Accepted to UMD, JHU, Duke, Case, Swarthmore, Penn State

I am a recent high school grad about to enter my first year of college at the University of Maryland: College Park with a full Banneker/Key scholarship.
cjjo96
Barnard ‘18


Accepted to Barnard

Barnard '18 | My passions lie in education, psychology, and human rights, all from the lens of an African Studies major. My transcript and application were far from conventional, but neither am I.

New Posts

Dartmouth College 2018-2019 Supplemental Essay Prompts
Dartmouth College 2018-2019 Supplemental Essay Prompts
September 17, 2018

Drafted your personal statement and ready to get started on your supplemental essays? Here are the supplemental essay prompts for Dartmouth College.Dartmouth College requires two additional pieces of writing on top of the Common...

What You Need to Know about Athletic Scholarships
What You Need to Know about Athletic Scholarships
September 14, 2018

For many families, the only way to afford a college education is for their student to receive some financial aid. An athletic scholarship is one way that can help lower the price. Here’s what...

Still Figuring Out What School to Apply To?
Still Figuring Out What School to Apply To?
September 12, 2018

The school year is already in full swing. What if you’re a senior who hasn’t yet decided on a final college list? Don’t panic. Let’s get started. If you’re a...

Freshman Year: My First Weeks at Cornell University
Freshman Year: My First Weeks at Cornell University
September 03, 2018

As many of your are settling into your first weeks at college, we thought we’d ask our College Admits how their first weeks at college were. Here’s a reflection from JerBear, a Cornell...

Load More Posts