How To Study For The ACT: Tips and Strategies for Success

06/03/202342 minute read
How To Study For The ACT: Tips and Strategies for Success

Studying for the ACT can be daunting, but with the right strategies and techniques, you can improve your scores and increase your chances of getting into your dream school. Whether you're taking the ACT for the first time or looking to improve your previous score, this guide will provide you with the tools and knowledge you need to succeed. So let's get started and help you prepare for one of the most important exams of your academic career!

Why take the ACT?

The ACT is a standardized exam that measures a student's readiness for college-level work in four subjects: English, Math, Reading, and Science Reasoning.

The test is essential for college admissions because colleges and universities use the ACT scores as part of their evaluation process to determine whether a student has the academic skills necessary to succeed in their programs.

Higher scores on the ACT can improve a student's chances of getting into the college or university of their choice and may also make them eligible for scholarships or other financial aid.

Should you take the ACT or SAT?

As for why someone should take the ACT as opposed to the SAT, it really depends on the student's strengths and preferences.

The ACT tends to focus more on content knowledge and has a science reasoning section, while the SAT has a greater emphasis on critical thinking skills and includes an optional essay section.

It's important for students to research both tests and take practice exams to determine which one they are more comfortable with and likely to perform better on. Ultimately, the goal is to take the test that showcases their strengths and helps them achieve their college admissions goals.

For more information on which test to take, check out our blog comparing the SAT and ACT tests!

How is the ACT formatted?

Before studying for the ACT, It is an essential first step to understanding the format and content of the test. The test has four compulsory multiple-choice sections:

  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science

Additionally, there is also an optional writing component.

The total test duration with the Writing component is 3 hours and 35 minutes or 2 hours and 55 minutes without.

The table below provides a breakdown of the respective components of the ACT test.

ACT Test Format
SectionDurationNumber of QuestionsTime per Question
English45 mins7536 secs
Math60 mins601 min
Reading35 mins4052 secs
Science35 mins4052 secs
Writing (Optional)40 mins140 mins

What topics do you need to study for the ACT?

English Test

In this component, you are given passages where you are either instructed to

  • Choose the correct form of a sentence within the passage or,
  • Answer general questions about the configuration of the passage.

Doing well will require a sound grasp of the English language's fundamental grammar and style rules.

To break it down, there are five main areas that are tested

  • Usage/Mechanics (40 qs): Tests knowledge of grammar and punctuation rules, including verb agreement and sentence structure
  • Sentence Structure (20 qs): Tests ability to identify and correct errors in sentence structure, such as sentence fragments
  • Rhetorical Skills (15 qs): Tests understanding of rhetorical strategies used in writing, such as organization and tone
  • Strategy (10 qs): Tests ability to read and interpret written passages, identify the main idea, and understand the author's purpose
  • Organization (10 qs): Tests ability to organize written passages effectively, using transitions and other techniques for coherence and clarity

Here are the skills tested under these main question types:


  • Subject-verb agreement
  • Pronoun usage
  • Adjective and adverb usage
  • Modifier placement
  • Sentence structure and formation
  • Punctuation, including commas, semicolons, and colons
  • Apostrophes and possessives

Sentence Structure

  • Fragments and run-ons
  • Coordination and subordination
  • Parallelism
  • Pronoun references and agreement
  • Comparison and clarity

Rhetorical Skills

  • Understanding author's purpose and point of view
  • Analyzing a writer's style, tone, and voice
  • Understanding organizational patterns in a passage
  • Understanding relationships between ideas in a passage
  • Identifying effective and ineffective language use


  • Understanding main idea and supporting details
  • Analyzing a passage's organization and structure
  • Identifying cause-and-effect relationships
  • Identifying sequence and progression
  • Understanding point of view and tone


  • Creating and using effective transitions
  • Creating and maintaining coherence and unity
  • Understanding the function of different sentence structures
  • Using appropriate sentence structures to convey meaning
  • Maintaining a consistent tone and style throughout a passage

Math Test

Questions in this component are generally arranged in ascending order of difficulty. The main topics tested are

  • Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra (14 qs): tests a student's knowledge of basic algebraic concepts, such as integers, factors, and operations with algebraic expressions.
  • Intermediate Algebra (10qs): Tests understanding of advanced algebraic concepts, such as quadratic equations, polynomials, and functions.
  • Coordinate Geometry (9 qs): Tests the ability to work with coordinate geometry, including graphing and identifying geometric shapes.
  • Plane Geometry (14 qs): Tests knowledge of geometric principles, such as lines, angles, triangles, circles, and other shapes.
  • Trigonometry (4 qs): Tests understanding of trigonometric concepts, such as sine, cosine, tangent, and the relationships between angles and sides of triangles.
  • Miscellaneous Topics (9 qs): Covers a variety of mathematical concepts, including basic statistics, probability, and logic.

The specific skills required under each broad topic are provided as follows:

Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra

  • Basic operations with integers and rational numbers
  • Solving linear equations and inequalities
  • Working with algebraic expressions
  • Understanding ratios, proportions, and percentages
  • Solving word problems and applying basic mathematical concepts

Intermediate Algebra

  • Solving quadratic equations and inequalities
  • Working with functions and their properties
  • Understanding matrices and determinants
  • Solving systems of equations
  • Understanding complex numbers

Coordinate Geometry

  • Understanding properties of lines, angles, and planes
  • Graphing linear and quadratic equations
  • Understanding properties of circles and other geometric shapes in the coordinate plane
  • Solving problems involving distance, midpoint, and slope

Plane Geometry

  • Understanding properties of lines, angles, and triangles
  • Solving problems involving congruence and similarity
  • Understanding properties of circles, polygons, and other geometric shapes
  • Solving problems involving areas, volumes, and surface areas of geometric shapes


  • Understanding trigonometric functions and their properties
  • Solving problems involving triangles and trigonometric ratios
  • Understanding the relationships between angles and sides of triangles
  • Understanding inverse trigonometric functions

Miscellaneous Topics

  • Understanding basic statistical concepts, such as mean, median, and mode
  • Understanding probability and counting principles
  • Solving problems involving sequences and series
  • Understanding basic logic and set theory

Reading Test

The reading test is broken down into four components, each containing either a long passage or two short and paired passages. Each question will test your comprehension of the passages provided.

The test assesses a student's ability to comprehend, interpret, and analyze written information, including:

1. Main Idea & Supporting Details

  • Understanding the central point or purpose of a passage
  • Identifying specific details that support the main idea
  • Understanding how supporting details contribute to the meaning of the passage

2. Inferences and Interpretation

  • Making logical connections between information presented in a passage
  • Identifying implied meanings and drawing conclusions based on evidence
  • Understanding the relationships between different parts of a passage

3. Vocabulary and Word Choice

  • Understanding the meaning of words in context
  • Analyzing the impact of word choice on the meaning of a passage
  • Understanding the use of literary devices and figurative language

4. Tone & Style

  • Understanding the author's tone and how it affects the meaning of the passage
  • Analyzing the author's style and how it contributes to the meaning of the text

5. Point of View and Purpose

  • Understanding the author's point of view and how it shapes the meaning of the passage
  • Analyzing the author's purpose for writing the passage and what message they are trying to convey

6. Structure and Organization

  • Understanding the organization and structure of a passage and how it contributes to the meaning of the text
  • Analyzing the use of transitions and other devices to create coherence and unity

Science Test

This section requires you to interpret and analyze the information provided to you. The passages and data cover a range of scientific disciplines, including biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science. Here are the skills tested under each area of the ACT Science test:

1. Scientific Methodology

  • Understanding the scientific method and experimental design
  • Understanding how to formulate hypotheses and predictions based on scientific principles

2. Data Analysis

  • Analyzing and interpreting tables, graphs, and charts to extract information
  • Identifying trends and patterns in data
  • Understanding how to use data to draw conclusions

3. Evaluation of Experiments

  • Understanding the design of an experiment and the data collected
  • Analyzing experimental results to determine whether they support or contradict a hypothesis
  • Evaluating the reliability and validity of experimental results

4. Reasoning and Problem Solving

  • Using logic and critical thinking to draw conclusions and make predictions based on scientific information
  • Understanding cause-and-effect relationships in scientific data
  • Identifying errors and biases in scientific data

5. Scientific Vocabulary

  • Understanding scientific terminology, definitions, and concepts
  • Understanding how to use scientific vocabulary to communicate scientific ideas

6. Scientific Conclusions

  • Analyzing and interpreting experimental results to draw accurate conclusions
  • Understanding how to use scientific data to make predictions and inform decisions

7. Scientific Principles

  • Understanding basic scientific principles and concepts in the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science
  • Understanding how these principles are applied in real-world situations

Writing Test (Optional)

The ACT Writing test is an optional section of the ACT exam that measures a student's writing skills. The test consists of one essay prompt, and students have 40 minutes to write a well-organized and persuasive essay on the given topic.

The prompt presents a topic related to a contemporary issue and asks students to develop an argument in response to the issue. Students must analyze the issue, develop their position, and use evidence to support their idea. The essay is scored on a scale of 1 to 12 by two independent evaluators who assess the essay based on four criteria:

  • Development and Support: The essay should demonstrate a clear and focused perspective, develop ideas logically and coherently, and provide appropriate evidence to support the argument.
  • Organization: The essay should be well-organized, with a clear introduction, body paragraphs that develop the argument, and a conclusion that summarizes the main points.
  • Language Use: The essay should demonstrate effective use of language, including appropriate word choice, varied sentence structure, and effective transitions.
  • Conventions: The essay should demonstrate appropriate grammar, usage, punctuation, and spelling.

6 Tips to help you study for the ACT

1. Creating a study schedule and sticking to it

As the all-too-familiar adage goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Construct a well-defined study timetable. This ensures that the preparation is sufficient and progressive, preventing the needless stress associated with hasty or last minute preparation.

There is no one template nor a good or bad study plan. Allow yourself the flexibility that best accommodates your needs and spend more time on your weak areas. To pinpoint exactly where these strengths or weaknesses are, you could take a practice test first.

Prior to the actual test day, you should ideally have completed several timed ACT practice tests, along with any additional preparation required for tricky concepts or problems.

ACT 6 Week Study Plan
WeekTopic SectionTask
1EnglishTake a full-length practice test to establish a baseline score and identify areas for improvement. Review grammar rules and practice editing sentences and passages.
MathReview basic concepts, such as arithmetic operations and algebraic expressions. Practice solving problems and use online resources to identify areas of weakness.
ReadingPractice reading comprehension skills by reading passages and answering questions. Focus on identifying main ideas, supporting details, and inferences.
SciencePractice data interpretation skills by analyzing graphs, charts, and tables. Practice evaluating experiments and identifying patterns and relationships in scientific data.
WritingStudy the prompt structure and practice organizing an argument in response to a given topic. Review grammar and usage rules and practice writing clear and coherent sentences.
2EnglishPractice identifying errors in grammar, punctuation, and usage. Review more advanced concepts, such as parallel structure and modifier placement.
MathReview intermediate algebra concepts, such as factoring and quadratic equations. Practice solving word problems and multi-step equations.
ReadingPractice time management skills by reading passages and answering questions within the allotted time. Focus on identifying the main purpose of each passage and supporting details.
SciencePractice identifying trends and patterns in scientific data. Review more advanced concepts, such as chemistry formulas and physics principles.
WritingReview sample essays and practice organizing and developing an argument in response to a given prompt.
3EnglishPractice sentence structure and organization by revising and editing paragraphs and short essays. Review rhetorical devices, such as metaphor and allusion, and practice identifying them in passages.
MathReview coordinate geometry concepts, such as graphing lines and circles. Practice solving problems involving trigonometric functions and angles.
ReadingPractice reading passages and answering questions more quickly and accurately. Focus on developing a reading strategy that works best for you.
SciencePractice using scientific vocabulary and understanding the relationships between different scientific principles.
WritingWrite a full-length practice essay and have it evaluated by a teacher or tutor. Review feedback and make revisions.
4EnglishReview tone and style in writing and practice identifying the author's voice and purpose in passages. Review the organization and structure of paragraphs and essays.
MathReview plane geometry concepts, such as angles and triangles. Practice solving problems involving area, volume, and surface area of shapes.
ReadingReview test-taking strategies and take more full-length practice tests to build speed and accuracy.
SciencePractice identifying errors and biases in scientific data and understanding the scientific method.
WritingWrite another full-length practice essay and review feedback to identify areas for improvement.
5EnglishPractice vocabulary by reviewing commonly tested words and using flashcards or online resources to learn definitions. Practice identifying context clues and understanding connotations.
MathReview miscellaneous topics, such as basic statistics and probability. Practice using logic and critical thinking to solve problems.
ReadingPractice reading passages from different fields and become comfortable with unfamiliar topics.
ScienceTake a full-length practice test to gauge progress and identify any remaining areas of weakness.
WritingWrite a final full-length practice essay and review feedback to make any final revisions.
6EnglishReview all test-taking strategies and practice pacing and time management skills. Take a final full-length practice test to prepare for the exam.
MathReview all concepts and problem types that have been identified as areas of weakness. Practice the most challenging concepts until they become comfortable.
ReadingPractice staying focused and alert during long reading sections. Review test-taking strategies and develop a plan for each passage.
SciencePractice analyzing and interpreting scientific data quickly and accurately. Review concepts that have been identified as areas of weakness.
WritingReview all sample essays and feedback to identify areas for improvement.

2. Utilize Practice Materials

Practice makes perfect. Make use of official ACT study guides and practice exams that are accessible online - both on official sites and on sites like Khan Academy. To swiftly pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses, taking a first sample exam can be helpful. Subsequently, adjust your study strategy accordingly.

Review your responses after each practice test - find out why and how to avoid similar errors. Aimlessly going through tests without looking at your mistakes will waste time!

3. Developing Effective Test-Taking Strategies

Follow the time allotted for each question as closely as possible. While it is acceptable to finish on time initially, leaving some time for checking is ideal.

When it comes to more complex questions, cross out incorrect answers. There may be more than one choice that sounds plausible, but first, cross off any options that seem absurd or inaccurate to begin the process of elimination. If you must guess, this can help raise your odds of getting the correct response via likelihood.

If you cannot eliminate any option, it may be best to leave it for later. Make a mental note of it, and return to it when you are done with other questions - do not dwell on any one question for too long!

4. Targeted Practice: Improving Specific Areas

Work hard, but work wise as well. As you practice more, quickly identify the section(s) you are weaker in and the question types you struggle with.

For instance, if you work with trigonometry questions under the Math segment of the ACT, you could attempt more similar trigonometry questions found in general maths practice books beyond the ACTs. If your problem is with reading comprehension, spend more time exposing yourself to the language and learning how to tackle different question types that call for other comprehension skills.

5. Manage Stress and Stay Motivated

We feel stressed whenever we are under pressure or threatened. Stress is not a problem, it can be beneficial, pushing us to work diligently and stay disciplined.

Instead, the problem lies with excessive stress, which becomes counterproductive to your preparation and performance.

How do we manage stress? There are different strokes for different people, but some healthy ways of self-care include an exercise routine and meditation. It could be any activity that makes you feel happier and provides an outlet from the stress of ACT preparation. It can also be helpful on test day or before each practice test to affirm yourself through positive self-talk.

Besides stress, staying motivated is also a struggle for many. Perhaps you are practicing daily and not seeing giant leaps in your scores anymore, or you are just tired from waking up every day to the same study routine. The key to staying driven will be to remind yourself of the purpose behind the ACT - whether it is going to your dream college or future career aspirations.

While seemingly contradictory, motivation seems more of a myth than an essential ingredient to success. Ultimately, discipline keeps us on the right trajectory no matter how we feel, allowing us to work towards our desired goal instead of focusing on instant gratification.

Sometimes, you must grit your teeth and remind yourself of the higher purpose behind your preparation for the ACT. Start building that discipline muscle today!

6. Get Help Online

The ACT preparation process can be lonely but it does not have to be. Studying for it with a group of friends may be a lot more enjoyable since you can exchange study techniques and find accountability partners.

If you're looking for one, you can easily find study groups online with communities on platforms like Discord. If you need further support, look for ACT tutoring services in your region and online; choose one that best suits your requirements and budget.

Do your best to get in touch with your seniors or friends who have previously taken the ACT; they will be able to provide you with tips while leaving your wallet intact!

Final Thoughts

Studying for the ACT can be a challenging but rewarding journey, and with the proper guidance and support, students can achieve their dream scores.

If you're looking for expert advice and personalized guidance to help you prepare for the ACT, consider booking a free consultation with Crimson Education. Our team of experienced college admissions consultants can help you develop a customized study plan, provide test-taking strategies, and offer feedback on your essays to maximize your chances of success on test day. With Crimson's support, you can feel confident and prepared for the ACT exam and achieve your academic and career goals. Book your free consultation today and start your journey to success!

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