How To Squeeze The Most Value Out Of An ACT Practice Test

As a tutor, I have many students who take lots of ACT practice tests before they take the real ACT. That, of course, is a good thing. The more experience a student has with official ACT practice tests, the more familiar many of the questions will look on the real test.

However, I don’t think most students are really getting all the value that they can from each practice test. Typically, after taking a test, a student will correct it and try to understand the questions that he missed or had trouble with. In addition to this, though, it’s important that serious students go a little further.

The main principle is this: a student should be able to explain a question to another person. This goes a step beyond being able to get a question right. In fact, many of my students get questions right but still don’t really understand what the question is testing, or how to defend their answer to it.

In light of this, I have some specific advice for each section of the ACT:

English: Students should be going through EVERY question and identifying what concept the question is testing. Certain questions will test grammar or punctuation; others will test rhetorical skills. Additionally, students should look at the wrong answers for a question to see WHY they’re wrong. I know that this process takes a long time, but it will pay off very well on future English sections.

When students come across concepts with which they’re unfamiliar or concepts they’re consistently having trouble with, they should practice the concept several times in a row.

Math: Students should revisit questions to identify the most EFFICIENT way of doing the question. Sometimes, students will find a way of completing an ACT math question, but often, there is a faster or easier way of doing it. Students should be redoing any questions they miss until they can answer them easily.

Like the English section, conceptual knowledge is key for the Math section. When students find concepts they’re having trouble with, these concepts should be practiced until they’re easier.

Reading: In the Reading section, it is all about students being able to JUSTIFY their answers. It’s important to be able to precisely identify WHY the right answer choice is right, and which part of the passage supports it. Similarly, students should think about why answer choices are wrong. Additionally, students need to think about what skill is required for the question: understanding a paragraph? locating a detail?

Science: Like the Reading section, students should spend time thinking about the path to the answer. They should retrace their steps, thinking about what each question is testing their ability to do, and what the best path is to the answer. Sometimes, it can be better to work backwards from the choices; other times, reading the passage is essential. By analyzing questions in this way, students will better be able to handle new questions when they encounter them.

Overall, students should generally spend at least as much time reviewing a section as they spend taking one. Students with the discipline and patience to do this will improve at the ACT much more quickly and efficiently.

Vince Kotchian

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