Taking the ACT is a defining moment in the lives of students as they begin the road to college. Everything from getting into the right school to financial aid often depends, at least in part, on your ACT score. A higher ACT score gives you an edge as college admission officials consider your overall qualifications and determine whether or not you have the ability to excel academically. With so much depending on a high score, preparation is key.

Students are often at a loss about how to prepare for the ACT. The ACT is different from the tests given in middle and high school. First time ACT takers often struggle with the unfamiliar format. The scoring system used on quizzes and tests in school and many of the strategies that work on these tests simply don’t apply to the ACT. Often a lower ACT score is an indication of the student’s struggle with the unfamiliar format and not just a lack of skills or knowledge. Fortunately, there are excellent ways to familiarize yourself with the ACT before taking the official exam.

Prepare With a “Retired” Test

There are lots of mock ACT tests and guides on the market. Taking a mock test won’t hurt, but because mock tests often differ greatly from the official ACT exam, they aren’t that helpful, either. The best way to prepare for the ACT is to practice using the real thing. Retired tests are official ACT exams given to students in the last few years. There are currently nine retired tests available. ACT, Inc., the organization responsible for administering and scoring the ACT, publishes “The Real ACT Prep Guide.” The current guide contains five retired ACT exams and offers explanations for each solution. In addition to the current publication, there are four previously released practice guides and each has a practice ACT. These four practice exams are accessible online.

Taking actual retired ACT tests is the best way to practice for the actual exam for a number of reasons. The practice tests give you a chance to familiarize yourself with the ACT in a stress-free, non-timed environment. You can take your time, learn how the test is structured and familiarize yourself with its format. Practice ACT tests give you the opportunity to discover weaknesses and give you time to address them before actually taking the test itself. To best prepare, take all nine practice tests and study the solution explanations. As you become more familiar with the ACT, you will discover consistent patterns that will help you tackle the real test when the time comes.

Make the Most of Your Study Time

To get the most out of your practice sessions, set aside time each day to study. Choose a quiet area where you won’t be interrupted. Take a break every hour. Stand up and take a short 10-minute walk before getting back to the practice session. An apple or banana keeps hunger at bay and the mind sharp.
A high ACT score is essential for opening more educational and financial doors. Even the most gifted students can stumble when it comes to taking the ACT. Preparing for the test and becoming familiar with the way it works is the best way to take the fear out of taking the ACT and getting the highest possible score.