Ultimate ACT Prep Guide 2018-ACT Dates, Best Books, Free Resources
Taking the ACT? Don’t worry- we’ve got you covered with our top guide. It features the best ACT Prep, online ACT prep, ACT prep classes, ACT prep books, and more. So, let’s get rollin’!
ACT Prep at a glance:
What it is: College admissions test
Price: $46 (or $62.50 including writing section)
Time to complete: 2h 55 minutes (3h 35 minutes with writing)
|Test Date||Normal Deadline||Late Registration||Online Score Release|
|December 9, 2017||November 3, 2017||November 4-26, 2017||December 30, 2017|
|February 10, 2018||January 12, 2018||January 13-19, 2018||March 3, 2018*|
|April 14, 2018||March 9, 2018||March 10-23, 2018||May 5, 2018|
|June 9, 2018||May 4, 2018||May 5-18, 2018||June 30, 2018|
|July 14, 2018||June 15, 2018||June 16-22, 2018||July 24 – August 27, 2018|
ACT International Dates:
|Test Date||Registration Deadline||Online Score Release|
|December 9, 2017||April 14, 2018||June 9, 2018|
|November 3, 2017||March 9, 2018||May 4, 2018|
|December 19, 2017 – February 2, 2018||April 24, 2018 – June 8, 2018||June 19, 2018 – August 3, 2018|
Why should I care about my score?
Many colleges use the ACT in combination with students’ GPAs to reach admission and scholarship decisions.
Colleges generally want applicants with high ACT scores because they believe it shows an applicants’ readiness for college classes. Also, colleges with high aggregate ACT scores reflect well in rankings. According to Fred Zhang, a top tutor, your SAT score affects 30 to 50% of your dream college’s admission’s decision. Since ACT and SAT are generally weighted equally in colleges’ eyes, you can expect the same statistics for ACT scores.
In my own experience, I have definitely benefited from a high ACT score. In high school, I was in the lower half of my class- my grades weren’t the best. That being said, I scored a 33 on my ACT in 2013, which put me in the top 2% of all ACT takers. Consequently, when I applied to universities, I was admitted into some selective technical schools. I was also offered scholarships by major universities equaling half my tuition every year. Not bad, right?
Also, the United States military offers scholarships with their ROTC program, which can depend to a degree on ACT scores. ROTC can pay for your college tuition if you decide to commit to serving in the military for a few years after graduation.
Air Force ROTC
So, to put it plainly, it is in YOUR best interest to score as highly as you can on the ACT. The remainder of this guide will teach you the best techniques to ACT prep.
To achieve your goal ACT score, you will need internal motivation. Internal motivation stems from a desire to achieve something for the rewarding feeling of having achieved it. The negative consequences of failure or immediate gratification don’t motivate internally motivate you. Think of it like a carrot danging at the end of a really long pole, not the stick whacking against the rabbit’s backside.
Here are the steps to get motivated:
Imagine the result.
Spend some time picturing in your head what achieving your goal ACT score will look and feel like. Close your eyes if it helps. Try to visualize this scenario: You log into the ACT website on the day the scores are released. You click with baited breath and open up your profile. Waiting for you is a score as good or better than you expected! Your brain explodes with dopamine as the implications of this high score surge through your head. Getting into that dream school looks attainable, no, likely now. You may even qualify for a fat scholarship. All your hard work has paid off.
Divide your end goal into smaller, SMART goals.
It would be foolish to attempt to run a marathon without training for it, little by little, every day for months. The same principle applies to any long-term goal or process, including ACT prep. Therefore, you want to break up your end goal into goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Focused, and Time-Bound. You may start by saying, “I want to score a 30 on the ACT.” To transform that statement into something you can act on, you might say, “In order to get a 30 on the ACT, I will study for 30 minutes, five times a week, until I get at least a 30 on two practice tests.”
Give yourself intelligent rewards after reaching goals.
Humans feel more motivated to complete goals when they are rewarded for their efforts. However, the only tangible rewards for doing well on the ACT are admission decisions and scholarships. This means you’ll want to reward yourself along the way. Choose a small pleasure you can allow yourself to have every time you complete some milestone in your ACT prep quest. For example, every week after you have studied for your goal number of hours for the ACT, you could go out and celebrate with friends. The key is that you want to make sure and save the pleasure for after the small goal, not during.
Whatever pleasurable activity you choose will activate the dopamine and serotonin receptors in your brain. This will train your brain to associate good feelings with the completion of your ACT study task. If you don’t wait until completion and decide to reward yourself early, you’ll risk short-circuiting your reward system and taking away motivation to finish a task. Also, beware of distractions like technology and TV. Keep in mind that sugar and alcohol have a negative effect on memory and cognition. You especially don’t want to consume them before you’ve finished your studying. In general, you want to stay away from these bad study habits that suck your productivity.
ACT Score Improvement
To get your mind in the right place for ACT prep, you must remember that the ACT is competitive. However, don’t get down on yourself if you’re scoring low because that will only depress your will to improve.
Students’ scores on the ACT follow the Normal Distribution. This is a concept from statistics meaning that 68% of scores lie within one standard deviation from the mean. So in the case of the ACT, about 68% of students score between a 15 and a 27. The median score is about a 20 to a 21. Here is a table of ACT score percentiles in 2016.
Of course, part of your ACT score will definitely improve with hours of studying. But much of it is a result of the education you have received in school. The ACT covers a wide range of topics, not all of which you may have been taught well. Many U.S. high schools struggle with even basic measures of achievement like having a good graduation rate, so it’s no surprise that the teaching may be subpar. To do well on the ACT, you’re expected to know high-level grammar, rhetorical techniques, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, working with data, understanding experiments, and more. The key to doing well on the ACT is to identify what topics you’re weak in, and practice those.
Of course, you need to be willing to put in the time to improve. Here are some estimates of what it will take:
0-1 ACT Composite Point Improvement: 10 hours
1-2 ACT Point Improvement: 20 hours
2-4 ACT Point Improvement: 40 hours
4-6 ACT Point Improvement: 80 hours
6-9 ACT Point Improvement: 150 hours+
ACT Study Schedules and Q&A
Your ACT score improvement will depend on how much time you have, and how much time you want to invest. We’ve made some study schedules to help you get organized. Click Here for Study Schedules
Q: How much should I study per day?
Study enough that it’s challenging, but don’t burn yourself out. Also, study often and for shorter time spans rather than studying infrequently for long chunks of time. The reason for this is that repeated practice every day builds stronger myelin sheaths around the neurons in your brain, making you better at the ACT prep you’re doing. For more about this, read Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code.
Q: How do I know what to study?
First, take practice tests to find out what areas you’re weak in. Here are five official ACT practice tests:
More practice test and ACT prep resources will be covered next in our guide. Some of these resources will help you identify your weaknesses and then give you the opportunity to practice in those areas. PowerScore Skills Assessment.
Q: What are some tools I can use to study more effectively?
Productivity tools like a calendar and a water bottle will greatly help you prepare for the ACT. For a full list, click here.
Q: Can you give me some study strategies?
1. Space out your Studying
2. Divide up your Studying Between Subjects
3. Give yourself Tests
4. Answer “Why?”
You can visit this link for more info.
Q: Where should I study?
Noise, music, lighting, nature, and scents are all among the list of factors that add up to a productivity level in a study environment. For more info, you can read this guide.
Free ACT Prep Resources
You don’t need to spend a fortune to improve your ACT score- in fact, there are several resources you can use for free.
1. Lists of Topics Covered on the ACT
Many free resources aren’t necessarily designed to be used for ACT studying. However, if you know what topics you will be tested on, you can look up and study those topics. Use these lists to know what topics will be covered on the ACT.
2. Khan Academy
Because the SAT has been redesigned to be more similar to the ACT, the topics you study for the SAT will transfer to the ACT. Khan Academy has thousands of prep questions and many, many resources for SAT prep so you will benefit from it even if you’re studying for the ACT. Here is a guide for using Khan Academy for the ACT.
This website offers practice tests, flashcards and study guides for the ACT, similar to what they offer for the SAT.
Sometimes, videos are more digestible for learning something quickly. These videos cover a few topics and teach tips and tricks for the ACT that you can watch and learn.
5. EnglishGrammar and GrammarBytes
These two sites can aid you in the English section of the ACT. GrammarBytes’s site design is just hilarious, but EnglishGrammar will do the job too.
Paid ACT Prep Resources
Money can’t buy a high ACT score directly, but it can buy you ACT Prep resources that will help improve your score. Here are some below.
Kaplan offers the complete package for the ACT with 8 practice exams, targeted areas for improvement analysis, videos, and over 1000 practice questions for $899. You can choose Prep Course Plus to add on 6 three hour sessions of live instruction, 3 hours of private coaching, and access to SAT resources.
Price: $299 or $849
Pay $299 and you get a self-paced online course. This offers 140+ video lessons, 9 practice tests, a recommendation engine that personalizes your studying to help you focus on weaknesses, 137 online drills to practice skills, and 3 hours of on demand help from an instructor.
Pay $849 to unlock the classroom experience. With this, you get everything in the online course, plus 25 hours of live instruction from an expert, 4 scheduled, proctored practice tests, and additional practice tests.
Price: $400-600 depending on location
PrepScholar is an online program that learns what areas you need to focus on and helps you get better at them. It boasts thousands of practice questions, written by people who scored in the top 1% of the ACT and some who got perfect scores, along with graduates from top universities.
Tips and tricks like those found in the Veritas videos mentioned in the Free Resources section can help students improve their score by about two points, without any extra studying. If you’re a student who has ambitions to improve your score any further, one of your best options is investing in ACT Prep books, which compile useful information all in one place.
The first book you should buy is The Official ACT Prep Guide. The 2018 edition, linked above, has three practice tests, while the third edition released in 2011 has five practice tests. This book also has answer explanations accompanying the questions.
Besides the official ACT prep guide, Princeton Review offers their own similar product, Cracking the ACT. It has seven practice tests, content review, and techniques for success.
Also, another essential resource is the ACT Prep Black Book. It contains advanced test-taking strategies and gives insight on how the ACT is designed.
For ACT English, knowing and practicing grammar rules is key. So pick up a copy of The Complete Guide to ACT English to train on those specific skills.
Richard F. Corn’s Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT is a solid choice for math learning and review, as it goes over each sub-topic of math covered on the ACT and has advanced prep skills training.
Erica L. Meltzer’s The Complete Guide to ACT Reading will drill questions in all the different skill categories to teach fundamental patterns on the ACT Reading.
ACT Science is much like ACT Reading in that it asks test-takers to reason out answers from passages, rather than calling forth memorized knowledge. To improve your score in this area, consider For the Love of ACT Science, a highly-rated ACT prep book on Amazon.
ACT Tips and Tricks
Tricks, tips and test-taking techniques will most benefit low-scorers who want an easy boost on the ACT. Higher scorers will need to focus on mastery of the material, but that being said, almost anyone can benefit on some level from the following procedures.
1. Process of Elimination
A time-honored strategy, process of elimination works wonders on questions you’re not really sure about. Cross out the most absurd or clearly wrong answers and you’re left with answers more likely to be the correct choice.
2. If it’s too hard, move ahead
The ACT will have questions of varying difficulty scattered throughout it. If you get caught up trying to solve a really tough question for over 10 minutes, you may not have enough time to spend on the easier questions that will raise your score. So if you find yourself spinning in circles on a particular question, just move ahead, and if you have time at the end of the test, come back to that question and try again.
3. ACT English- First, read the paragraph
By reading the paragraph with the sentence you must edit before looking at the answer choices, you get better context for those choices and an improved grasp of what needs revision in the sentence structure.
4. ACT Math-Substitute in the Answers
“Given an equation, find x.” Instead of actually solving the equation, you can simply substitute in the answer choices for x and see which answer choice satisfies the equation. This may be faster than solving for x in some, but not all cases.
You have all the resources and tools you need to tackle the ACT. Now here’s what to watch out for.
1. Cramming and Not Enough Sleep
You realize in a flash that the ACT is tomorrow and you feel unprepared, so you study all night to try and get a better score. Wrong move. A UCLA study showed that the sleep deprivation associated with cramming cancelled out the positive effects of studying for tests. This is especially true with the ACT, because: a. The breadth of knowledge required to improve your score is too huge to be covered in a few hours and b. This test requires intense concentration and focus. So for the ACT, like other things, slow and steady progress trumps bursts of effort.
2. Too Much Caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant, and is one of the most widely used drugs in the world. However, it comes with the costs of addiction and side-effects. An addiction to caffeine can result in headaches and sluggishness if there is caffeine withdrawal. Side effects of excessive caffeine include restlessness, and most critically, anxiety. The worst thing you can do for the ACT is increase your anxiety, because it elevates your stress-linked hormones. It can also cause you to lose sleep, or even avoid studying for the test.
3. Poor Nutrition
Sugar unfortunately undermines learning and memory. Sugar’s immediate gratification effect can temporarily ease you while you study for a test, but at the cost of impairing brain function. Instead of sugar, try eating diets high in protein and beneficial fats. Protein aids the functioning of dopamine and serotonin, which contributes to better learning and better mental health overall. Omega-3 fatty acids work wonders for the brain.
The 12 Hours Before Taking the ACT
Try to get close to nine hours of sleep the night before the exam and eat a high-protein, low-sugar breakfast that morning.
Example of a good breakfast:
A slice of honeydew melon
Breakfast tacos with eggs, potatoes and salsa
A glass of milk and a cup of tea
Example of a bad breakfast:
Pop tarts and a sugar-filled latte
Most people are aware that exercise is good for them. But did you know that even just walking for 20 minutes before a test can improve your score? Additionally, running or heavy workouts are even better as they release more chemicals that increase focus and optimism.
Another good practice is to meditate. It’s best to practice meditation over time, for months or even years. However, even a little bit of meditation can help you calm down and clear your mind before a stressful event.
What do you do after taking the ACT?
You could take it again, but that’s optimal only if you have time to review and study before the next test. Otherwise, a good goal is to start focusing on college and scholarship applications. You may want to start writing your college application essay.
Remember that your ACT score is only one (albeit important) factor in your college admissions and scholarship process. Colleges and scholarship committees also take into account your GPA, your extra-curricular activities and achievements, your application essay, and also your volunteering experience. Some colleges are also test-optional, meaning you don’t have to send your test scores to them, which can help.
You can be less self-critical. Self-criticism leads to negative feelings or feed depression, which both lower mental output in comparison to happy, healthy thought patterns. Learn to accept your mistakes and tirelessly forge a brave path for yourself- you’ll do much better.