Simple ways to ace the ACT

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Matthew Pietrafetta, founder of Academic Approach, gave some simple tips for students ahead of the ACT.

  • Math Section: This section is 60 questions in 60 minutes. If you focus on the first 40 questions, you will maximize your time as they go in order of increasing difficulty. You can use your calculator for all items, but certain calculators are banned, like the TI Inspire with CAS, which many students use in school. Be careful to bring a calculator, with fresh batteries, that is permitted.
  • English section: This section is 45 minutes and covers 75 questions. It is broken down in 5 passages, each with 15 questions, which need to be completed in 45 minutes. That’s 9 minutes per passage. Use a silent wristwatch to pace yourself.  English does not go in order of increasing difficulty, so you want to finish it all. #75 could be the easiest!   Eliminating redundancy is one of the high-impact skills tested. Be clearBe concise.  If you can express a thought in fewer words, do so.  Students tend to pad their writing with irrelevancy and redundancy; over 10% of ACT English items test against this tendency, placing a premium on concise expression.
  • The Reading Section: On a standardized test of reading all answers exist in the passage, so this is a test of your ability to find evidence in a text.  Don’t go from imagination, outside knowledge, or gut.  If you can’t link it to the passage, you can’t think it.  Evidence is central to any answer you select.  Prove it.
  • The Science Section: This whole section will test students’ ability to interpret charts, tables, and graphs, analyze and evaluate data. Tough part is that it’s the last multiple-choice section before the essay, so students are tired.  Working on endurance and speed is key to success on this section, so practice with a stopwatch: 35 minutes, 40 questions. That’s fast.
  • The Essay: This sections is an optional 40-minute exercise. What matters most here?  Structure and evidence. If you can break your argument down to 4-5 paragraphs, this structure shows logic and development in your thinking. What’s ‘more, if you can provide detail, real compelling evidence to support your claim, then you are providing proof to persuade your audience.  Use structure and as much evidence as possible to show you understand the necessary skills for writing effectively and persuasively.