There are Two More Weekends Before the ACT – Now What?


“Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” – Robert H. Schuller

“There is no short cut to achievement. Life requires thorough preparation – veneer isn’t worth anything.” – George Washington Carver

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How to Make the Most of a Full-Length Practice ACT

The October 28 ACT is just around the corner. Your studying might be well underway, or maybe you’re just getting started. No matter what kind of studying you’ve been doing, there’s one thing that will take your your preparation to the next level: taking a full-length practice test.

Being familiar with the unique testing structure and environment of the ACT is essential. You might have every subject and skill down pat, but the ACT isn’t just about what you know. It’s also a performance. Just as an actor goes through a full dress rehearsal and a sports team runs game situations in a scrimmage, it’s essential to simulate actual testing conditions for “game day” on the ACT. Read on to learn how to make the most of your practice tests.

Simulate actual testing conditions

The three most important aspects of test day that you want to recreate while in your practice tests are the environment, the timing, and the exact procedures you’ll follow on test day.

Environment: This one is pretty straightforward. You’ll be in an extremely quiet environment on test day, so you don’t take your practice test in any loud, busy, or crowded spaces. Avoid any place where you’ll have to contend with outside noise or distractions. That means no music, food (except on breaks), or chatty friends! It’s also essential that you go uninterrupted for the duration of the test. You want to maintain your focus and being pulled out of your testing simulation will break your concentration

Other environmental factors to consider are time of day and seating. All ACT tests are held on Saturday mornings, so you need to be ready to perform early in the day. That can take stamina, so be sure to incorporate this element into your practice tests. As for seating, choose something hard and with a straight back. You might be tempted to make yourself comfortable in your favorite recliner, but it’ll reduce your concentration – if it doesn’t put you to sleep first!

Timing: The practice test is the best time to gauge your pacing. Don’t skip sections, return to other sections, or in any other way tinker with the timed structure of the test. Don’t leave the test, except for ten minutes between the Math and Reading sections. It’s hard, but taking the full three hours to exactly simulate the test will build your endurance. Use any remaining time in each section to check your work.

In addition, don’t use your phone to time yourself. Use a watch instead in order to limit distractions.

Procedures: You want to simulate the testing environment, so follow the same process and directions you’ll encounter on test day. That means using an authorized calculator (again, not your phone), a number 2 pencil, and bubble sheets (if possible). Follow the test booklet instructions exactly.

After the full-length practice test

What you do after the test is just as important as the practice you gained by taking it! This means scoring the test, correcting your wrong answers, and reflecting on your experience.

You should grade your test the day you take it, if not immediately after. The questions and your reasoning will be fresh in your head, which will make it easier to understand and fix your wrong answers. It’s very important to rework your wrong answers (do the problem over again) so that you can learn to do the problem correctly. You’ll be able to identify precisely where you went wrong in your reasoning behind each incorrect answer. Once you identify your problem areas, you can start working on solutions and narrowing your study focus. Adjust your studying  for the final two weeks accordingly.

It’s also important to reflect on your experience. What surprised you the most? Pay attention to how you felt during the test. You might have been hungry, tired, thirsty, cramped, or a million other things that you weren’t expecting. However, now you know that you should bring a water bottle, eat a bigger breakfast, and so on. If the practice test is like a scrimmage, then your reflection is the team meeting that follows each practice. Ask yourself what went wrong, what went right, and changes you need to make

As you reflect, pay special attention to your timing. Identify the sections which you had the most trouble finishing in time and begin improving your timing in those sections by doing “time trials”. For example, the English section asks you to answer 75 questions in 45 minutes. That means you have approximately 36 seconds for each question. Rather than subjecting yourself to 45-minute study sessions over and over again, limit yourself to completing 15 questions in 9 minutes. These short “sprints” are an effective way to prepare for the full test.

Now, it’s time to congratulate yourself. You’ve earned some rest and relaxation after working so hard and for so long taking this full-length practice test. Remember, taking practice tests and utilizing tutoring services is the best way to prepare for the actual test. Without a doubt, you have taken your studying to the next level and with it, your chances of success.

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