The ACT: Tips for a Thirty-Six

Testing 1, 2, 3: From choosing which test is right for you to aiming for your perfect score, in this three-part series, Shipley students give the inside scoop on college admissions exams. In this week's post, Eliza Green ‘18 and Natalie Shah ‘18 break down the ACT section by section to give insight into boosting your score.


It is important to know what kind of question is being asked. The types of questions range from grammar to passage summary and analysis. Revisiting middle school comma rules will definitely help! Also, read every sentence completely, even if only one word is underlined, because the ACT will try to trick you. Sometimes it will feel like multiple answers fit, so try to narrow your options down to two and choose which one you think is better. There is no penalty for choosing the wrong answer so always pick one.


Refresh your memory on topics such as geometry, quadratics, trigonometry and any other fundamentals or rules that are easy to forget. Most questions on the math section are simply applications of rules. Typically, the section begins with easier material and becomes more difficult around the last ten questions. The key with the math section is to make as few ‘stupid’ mistakes as possible so that you have a little leeway on the harder ones. Also, since you only have sixty minutes to complete the section, not devoting a lot of time to a single question is important as well.


Know that the answer is in the passage. You should definitely read the questions first, so if you decide to read the entire passage, you at least know what to look for. However, reading the whole passage is sometimes a waste of time. Write notes describing what each paragraph is about, so when the question asks about a specific detail, you know where to look. By skimming the passage for key ideas, keeping in mind what the questions are asking, you can save a lot of time.


The key is understanding the strategy rather than the material. The section features graphs of lab results with paragraphs describing the data below. Do not read the passages because it will take too much time, and you will not need all of the information anyway; instead, look at what the questions ask before reading anything. Another important thing is noticing the changes between various graphs, since there will always be a question comparing two or more graphs. There is only thirty-five minutes to answer forty questions during the science section, so it is usually the most difficult time-wise. One strategy for tackling the portion of the section without graphs is to save it for the end since it takes extra time to read. One way to skim the information is to read just the thesis of the section and the first sentence of each paragraph before delving into details.

This post originally appeared in the October 2016  issue of the Shipley Beacon.

About the Author

Eliza Green and Natalie Shah

Eliza Green and Natalie Shah are Class of 2018 students at The Shipley School.