This is a guest post by Mark Skoskiewicz, founder and managing tutor of MyGuru.com. Based on his extensive experience preparing students for the ACT, Mark offers the following advise for students self-studying for the ACT.
Let’s face it – the ACT is an important test. If you’ve decided to take (or enroll your child in) a good ACT prep class or hire a good ACT tutor, you’ll hopefully have a solid study plan developed for you that will work well enough.
However, this post is for those of you who are planning on self-studying, and perhaps working with a tutor or taking a class only if you find you aren’t understanding key concepts or getting the scores on practice tests you are hoping for (and yes, you should be taking a lot of practice tests – see tip #5).
#1 – Use Official Study Materials from ACT.org
There are tons of ACT prep materials out there. But, we recommend using only official ACT prep material. We suggest building your plan around the Real ACT Prep Guide. It has official practice tests, official practice problems, and offers helpful strategies. Another option, again from the makers of the ACT, is their online prep tool, available at the link above.
With the practice test mentioned in the PDF in tip #2, the Real ACT Prep Guide, and the ACT Online Prep Tool, you’ll have 8 official practice tests, tons of explanations for each section, and tons of practice questions with which to develop a study plan. The online prep tool even has a personalized study plan suggestion tool
There are other tools and materials available, many of which are certainly helpful. Obviously, Kaplan, Princeton Review, Barron’s, etc. all have test prep materials online and in book form. Other interesting online test prep materials exist from companies like BenchPrep and ePrep – but again, only use these tools as supplements, the official materials above are where you should start.
#2 – Take and Score a Diagnostic ACT Practice Test First (before doing any studying)
You’ll want to have a performance baseline so that you a) know how much you’re trying to improve and b) know where to focus to improve. If your school automatically has you take the ACT, you can use the results of that test.? If you haven’t taken the ACT yet and need to find a practice test, here’s an official practice test from ACT.org.
Make sure you take the test under timed conditions, and take it seriously. Then, score yourself, taking note of your percentile score by section. If you are in the 40th percentile for Math but 90th for everything else, you’ll need to spend a bit more time on math as you study.
#3 – Write your study plan down on paper, and stick to it.
The next few tips provide ideas for how to actually develop this study plan (i.e., what to study and when). However, it’s important, regardless of how you put the plan together, to write it down and stick to it. Depending on the type of high school experience you’d had, studying for the ACT might be your first real introduction to the concept of time management.
You might think you manage your time just great – you play 2-3 sports, you’re in the band, you get good grades, etc. However, in all of these cases, structure is provided to you. You are given homework, and you do it.? Practice is at 4:00PM, so you show up then, etc. Studying for the ACT without taking a class and adhering to its schedule, means you need to find the time each week and proactively fit it into your own schedule. You create the schedule.
#4 – Allocate 4-5 hours per week for at least 8 weeks to ACT studying, planning out what you’ll study in each week
The minimum amount of hours we recommend allocating to studying is about 35 (8 weeks at 4-5 hours per week). We recommend setting up two regular times per week, say Saturday from 9-12 and a weeknight from 6:30 to 8:30. For the first 5 weeks, focus on one section of the test each week. This should be a mix of reading about the section and concepts tested, later you’ll begin to take and review frequent practice tests.
So, for each week, write down what section of the ACT you’ll be reviewing, and what practice problems you’ll be completing. To determine what materials you’ll use to develop the plan, just read tip #1 above. There is tons of guidance on what to study and many practice problems and tests embedded in the official ACT materials from ACT.org.
#5 – After 4-5 weeks, start taking a lot of practice tests
As mentioned earlier, before you even start studying, you should start by taking a practice test.
Let’s say you got a 22 on that test. After 5 weeks, you’ve spent 4-5 hours each week reviewing each section of the ACT: Math, English, Writing, Science, and Writing. So, in week 6, you should take another full length practice test. Hopefully, you’ve improved. Then, spend time reviewing each question you missed and ensuring you understand exactly why you missed it.
Obviously, if you are completely not understanding the problem or how to solve it, you need to either focus more on reviewing in that area, or consider working with a tutor or other expert who can explain the concept to you. From here on out, in weeks 7, 8, 9, leading up to your test, you should most likely be taking a practice test each week, with the most important part of the process being the time you spend review missed problems to strengthen your understanding.
#6 – Set a high bar for understanding any given concept
When you’re reviewing practice tests, the ability to learn from your mistakes is critical. Oftentimes, we see students nod their heads and say “stupid mistake,” implying that they understand the right way to answer the question, when they really don’t. If you’re by yourself studying, and you’re reviewing a problem you missed, ask yourself whether you’d be able to explain the problem and how to answer it to a friend who is also lost. If you think that would be tough, you probably don’t really understand the problem, and should consider asking someone for help, or just going back and re-learning whatever concept is being tested.
And again, if you really aren’t understanding major concepts or questions, seek help.
Good luck preparing for the ACT.? At the end of the day, most of the students we work with perform below their expectations primarily because they are nervous and less confident than they should be. They start second guessing themselves, and make silly errors. That’s another reason why developing and sticking to a study plan is critical. If you make a study plan and stick to it, you’ll have the confidence you’ve invested the time and effort and have earned the right to do well on the ACT. You’ll be more confident and collected on test day.
Mark Skoskiewicz is the founder of MyGuru, a boutique provider of online and in-person tutoring and test prep.