I am proud of all my students who work hard to do well on these difficult tests, but I am especially happy when I learn that one of my students has gotten a perfect score. It really makes my day – and week! It’s hard to be perfect at anything, let alone a test that is designed to include at least a few questions that almost no one can answer. Through their very hard work, great attitudes, and developed skills, they have done just that or have written perfect essays. And they’ve managed to have at least a little fun while doing so. I know, I know, practically no one takes these tests for fun, but my students who have scored 800s or 36s have called upon their love for learning and overcoming obstacles in order to do their absolute best – and that is one of the very best kinds of fun.
All right, enough of what I have to say about this. I have asked some of my perfect scorers to explain a little of what they did in order to ace their tests so that their advice might help others to do the same. This is what they have to share.
When I first looked towards the ACT, I was in a pretty good place score-wise but not quite where I wanted to be. Through taking multiple practice tests, both online and physical, I was able to bump my score up a little, but not a significant amount. However, I found that going to regular study lessons helped me improve far more than I ever could on my own. Going over the little details of what was tripping me up in each section, from decreasing the number of avoidable mistakes to paying close attention to questions I simply didn’t understand, helped me prepare significantly, and I feel that was a large part of the reason I was able to improve overall. On test day, I simply came prepared to decrease my own stress. Along with the positive mental attitude the study lessons had given me, that allowed me to excel at the ACT.
As a current college student who is three years removed from the college application process, I can still vividly remember the countless sacrifices I made during my high school career for the sake of “beating the curve” and scoring a few points higher than my peers. I realize that they fell prey to the unnecessary stresses of standardized testing. As a student who strives for perfection, I still face this challenge to this day. What I’ve come to realize is that no matter how many hours you dedicate to studying, it is inevitable to feel some degree of anxiety before a big test. The ACT and SAT are certainly no exceptions. If you are like me, you are probably nervous, but you don’t have to be. There are things you can do:
Don’t delay–get started now: Give yourself plenty of time for test prep and studying. Set aside time to take real, full-length practice tests that have published from previous years. I found it especially helpful to use a timer to pace myself and get acquainted with the time limits to ensure I had ample time. Be sure to give your mind a break during this process: take breaks as you study, eat well, and get plenty of sleep.
Develop your time management skills: to maximize the productivity of your test prep, break up large tasks into manageable blocks that are spaced out by short breaks. The idea is to work in short, 25-minute “sprints” that maximize productivity, and then recover with regular, 5-minute breaks to mitigate burnout.
While these study tips won’t guarantee you perfect scores, they are the strategies I employed to mitigate my stress and give me confidence.
In beginning my ACT test preparation, my greatest barrier was the rigorous timing of the exam. I focused heavily on increasing my exposure by taking many practice exams, and I really honed-in on the format of the test. This helped significantly cut down on the time it took me to complete each section. My weakest sections were science and reading; by practicing these sections repeatedly, I realized that these both were quite similar and that I could implement the strategies I learned for one section in the other section, and vice versa. My study plan consisted of taking at least one or two full-length practice exams every week for a few months leading up to my exam date. I also made sure to correct my exams and review my wrong answers to ensure I wouldn’t repeat those mistakes in the following attempts. In addition to completing practice exams, I reviewed concepts I would need to memorize, such as grammar rules, math equations, and formulas. The greatest benefit I experienced from taking such a large number of practice exams was my confidence going in to the exam. I was sure I had seen almost every concept and type of question, and I was equipped with strategies to tackle each problem. I was also well prepared in terms of timing, and I knew how to pace myself well. Having this confidence going in to the test had to be the biggest contribution to my perfect score!
The ACT, at the end of the day, is just like any other test, and the “secret” to success is all of the study habits that you’ve probably already been taught. First, practice like you play, so to speak. Do full-length practice tests, time yourself, and try to make your studying environment as close as possible to the actual testing environment. Taking any sort of shortcuts while studying will only act as a detriment later on. Next, review your practice tests! There is only so much you can learn by taking the tests. Sitting down and making a conscious effort to review and correct your mistakes will make your score that much better. Finally, put a little bit of stress on yourself. The ACT is an important test, and as odd as it seems, a little bit of stress can actually make you perform better. Diamonds are made under pressure, after all. Overall, if you put the time in and approach the ACT as just another (albeit important) test, you will get the results you want.
I did the practice tests in the prep books to study, and would review the answers I got wrong, both with David and sometimes on my own. In terms of attitude toward the test, I treated it as something that I didn’t have to do well on. These tests only measure what you can do on one specific day, and they don’t show what you’re worth, so I kept that in mind while studying and while taking the test.