Everything ACT: 5 Tips Every Aspiring College Student Needs to Know About the Test

By David Recine

The key to ACT success is to devour all things ACT. To get a top score, you have to be hungry for knowledge of every aspect of the exam. Today, I’m here to serve you the appetizers for your ACT meal: 5 tips every aspiring college student should know about this exam.

Tip # 1: ACT English Is Not just a “Proofreading” Test

The ACT English Section has a somewhat inaccurate reputation for being a test of written grammar and punctuation. Don’t get me wrong; grammar and punctuation are important components of this section of the ACT. But it’s a mistake to think of ACT Writing as mere proofreading for small errors. It’s more apt to say that ACT English tests a range of editing and writing skills.

In this section of the test, you’ll be asked to make decisions about which ideas to include or remove from a passage. You’ll also need to choose words based not just on their grammar, but also on their definitions and connotations. So be prepared to think like a writer on the ACT, rather than simply working as a proofreader.

Tip # 2: ACT Math Covers a Limited, Specific Range of Math Skills

You learn so many different types of math in high school. Algebra, trigonometry, geometry, stats, etc. Mastering every single type of math you’ve studied can seem overwhelming.

Fortunately, on the ACT test, you don’t have to do this. ACT Math is not meant to be a comprehensive assessment of every kind of high school and college math. Instead, it touches on a few especially common types of math related to pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry. Check out the Magoosh High School Blog for a quick primer on common ACT math topics. Knowing what to expect on the exam can really help you get a top ACT math score.

Tip # 3: Don’t Forget to Study Storytelling Techniques

Oftentimes, books and online guides to college reading forget one important thing: fiction reading is college reading.

You were asked to read novels and short stories in elementary, middle, and high school. That trend continues on the ACT, and it will continue in college. Be prepared to read one fiction passage in ACT Reading, and then get ready to answer questions about plot, character, foreshadowing, and other techniques used by fiction authors.

Tip # 4: ACT Science has a Lot More Math and Reading than Science

I often joke with my students that when you prep for ACT Science, the one thing you don’t need to study is science. I say this as a joke, because you do need some prior science knowledge for the ACT, but not much. You only need to know some very basic science terms like “chlorophyll,” “decay,” “natural selection,” or “respiration.”

You certainly don’t need to memorize tons of science facts. Instead, ACT Science focuses on your ability to read and comprehend science graphs, charts, and tables. It also tests your ability to do math operations with given science data. Think of ACT Science as reading and math for science purposes, and prepare accordingly.

Tip # 5: In your ACT Essay, Touch on All 3 Perspectives

As you probably know, the ACT Essay got a pretty big overhaul in 2015. Before then, all you had to do was read a brief blurb about an important issue, and then write your own opinion on the matter. Now you’re presented with an issue and 3 opinions on the issue. Make sure that you analyze all three perspectives when you write your ACT essay. It’s pretty much impossible to get a top score if you cover only two of the three perspectives.


For nearly ten years, David Recine has been teaching students ranging from K-12 to university grads. He is a test prep expert; writing articles for Magoosh that cover everything from tricky SAT vocab words to complex ACT math problems. You can read more of David’s awesome blog posts on the Magoosh High School Blog.

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