How to Approach the ACT (part I)

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When you’re starting to prepare for the ACT, it can seem like there are a million “tips and tricks” out there that promise you a perfect score by tomorrow. Too good to be true, right? Right. The ACT is a standardized test, which means that it’s learnable and that you can master it, but there’s no fast-forward button for test prep.

With that said, there are a few things you can change about how you approach the ACT to maximize your chances of success, and make your preparation more efficient in the process.

Mindset

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You’ve probably heard the phrase 'it’s a marathon, not a sprint' before. This is true for the ACT, but it’s even better if you can think of the test as a process, rather than an event. To get your score as high as possible on the ACT, it’s important to put in time and effort to master the materials. Once you’ve done that, test day becomes just a chance to put your newly honed skills to work.

Timeframe

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One of the biggest questions future test-takers have: “When should I start preparing for the ACT?” The answer depends on you (your schedule, your commitment, whether you choose to study on your own, with a class, with a tutor), but it also depends on external factors.

For example, you may be a sophomore with a chance to take the PreACT. By all means, take it! (If you don’t know what the PreACT is, don’t worry, it’s relatively new. Just check out a guide to the PreACT to get you grounded!) This starts your ACT prep early and gives you a sense of what content you’ll see on the test, as well as an abbreviated version of the test format a year before you’ll take the official ACT.

On the other end of the spectrum, you may be a senior or rising senior trying to get your ducks in a row at the last minute. Most college application deadlines are at the end (or very beginning) of the year, which means that your prep time may necessarily be limited. If that’s the case, it’s okay! Just be honest with yourself about your goals, how much time you can give to the ACT prep process, and your other commitments between now and test day.

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