A Beginner’s Guide to Self-Studying the ACT

(中文) Everyone who wants to attend a great school in the United States knows that doing well on the ACT is essential. But what if there was a way to self-study yet still have the high quality and personalization of an elite private tutor? It can feel very overwhelming since there are literally millions of resources to choose from. Where do you even begin? This post is to help you take the first step, but stay tuned for more articles that will dive deeper into specific areas of the ACT.

Before diving in though, we want to stress one very important fact. Start Early. The ACT is designed to test aptitude, which is difficult to grow in a short amount of time. We recommend that students start as early as 9th grade.

The second big recommendation we want to emphasize is that to be successful, students need a plan of some sort. It’s a long process and most fail, not because the material is too difficult, but because they give up along the way. A plan keeps students keeps students motivated by clearly laying out the road ahead and showing them their progress along the way. A great plan also has accountability, whether it’s through another person or something else, being accountable prevents students from moving too slowly or giving up altogether.

There are three essential building blocks to any ACT prep plan:

  1. Review the Content. The ACT’s content material isn’t designed to be overly difficult because it’s not a subject test. However, for international students, the English and Reading sections may contain content that needs to be learned or relearned.
  2. Learn the Strategy. This involves learning the various tricks to dissecting the passages and questions but also includes understanding what the test is looking for in each of the main sections.
  3. Practice the Problems. Familiarity with the test itself counts a lot when it comes to the ACT, a test that’s designed to measure speed.

Learn or Relearn the Content.

For international students whose first language is not English, grammar, vocabulary, and reading passages can sometimes feel like an extension of the TOEFL exam. In particular, a great way to figure out where to start with learning or relearning the content is by taking a diagnostic test. A diagnostic test is like a practice test, but it offers a much more detailed itemized breakdown of the results based on skills and content. For example, how many comma questions did you miss? What types of reading passages gave you the most trouble? After you figure out what types of questions are your weakest, then use that information to focus your studies in a more targeted way on those skills groups. All tutoring programs start with a diagnostic test so you should to!

Uni Prep offers a full ACT diagnostic exam that can be taken remotely or proctored at our site in Taipei. Our ACT exam is part of a free Diagnostic Report that we prepare for students as a way to give them an idea of how likely they are to get into a top US college. Students can sign up here to get started on the free diagnostic test.

Learn the Strategy.

What is the English section really testing? What about the math or reading? Check out these free articles about the English, Reading, Math and Science sections. When you don’t know the answer to a question, should you guess? The ACT does not penalize students for wrong answers, so you should always guess, but here are some quick strategies for guessing well.

Practice the Problems.

There are numerous free practice resources online. One of our favorites is crackACT.com, which has a massive database of every single test going back two decades. There are also lots of resources right on the ACT website, which includes a Question of the Day and a sample test that’s made by the test-makers themselves.

When practicing, there are a few important things to keep in mind.

  1. The purpose of taking practice tests is to familiarize yourself with timing and pacing. This means you should time yourself and try to simulate a test-taking scenario as closely as possible. Don’t be distracted by other people or tasks while you’re practicing.
  2. Review your mistakes afterwards with an emphasis on learning where the holes are. For example, did you miss the question because you didn’t know the content? Were you unsure of what the question was asking? Did you run out of time? Avoid brushing off mistakes as just “careless errors.” Here are some strategies for how to review mistakes.

In addition to crackACT.com,. here are some other great online practice tools. These tools vary in terms of cost but all have some kind of a free feature to get you started.

Shmoop is a massive online test prep tool that contains practice tests, drills, and even lessons. This site allows students to track their progress and even allows students to link their student account to a teacher account for accountability or support purposes.

Power Score has four official ACT practice tests and answer keys that can be downloaded and printed. This will allow students to practice with real testing conditions, time management, and question structure. There are no answer explanations for these tests though, so students will have to analyze the mistakes themselves.

Varsity Tutors has online tests (similar to Shmoop) so students can practice the concepts and content knowledge. Along with the practice test, Varsity Tutors also sells remote tutoring from their team of private tutors.

Time to start!

  1. Pick the colleges you want to apply for. Each school has different requirements, so it’s important to know what you’re aiming for. As a part of Uni Prep’s six month program, we do a systematic college selection process that picks schools based on your interests and learning preferences.
  2. Decide when you want to take the test. This should include at least one “practice” before you take it for the last time. It’s okay to take the test a few times, especially since more and more schools are doing super scoring.
  3. Identify where your strengths and weaknesses are. Click here to register for our free diagnostic. As a part of this diagnostic, the full ACT exam includes an itemized analysis of your skills and knowledge as well as a detailed explanation of the written section.
  4. Find accountability. This process is long and it’s not easy, so it’s important to have accountability along the way. Look for other students who are also preparing for the ACT.
  5. Gather your materials. Try out some of the resources we posted in this article and also look for some of your own. You’ll want a mixture of online and printed resources. Online is better for learning concepts and content but printed is better for simulating the actual test taking process.
  6. Get started! Even the longest journey begins with a single step.
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