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12 Best ACT Test Hacks in 2021

The highest possible ACT score is 36. Unfortunately, that’s extremely hard to come by. As a matter of fact, only 0.334% of all ACT test-takers in 2018 got a perfect score. No matter if your goal is to get a 36 or a score just high enough to gain admission into your dream college, there are hacks you may incorporate into your ACT preparation.

In general, any test including ACT tests your ability to take it more than actual knowledge. Knowing what to expect increases the score more than any other technique. Since ACT tests usually happen on Saturdays, taking practice ACT tests each Saturday is one of the best-known hacks.

Whether you are about to take the ACT for the first time or the nth time, continue reading. Below, we will discuss some of the best ACT test hacks in 2021 that every test-taker needs to know about.

Weeks Before the ACT

The best time to start preparing for the ACT is from one month to six months before the grand day arrives.

Studying less than one month before the standardized test takes place can keep you from learning everything you need to learn to get your target ACT score. On the other hand, studying more than six months prior to the ACT can cause you to forget the majority of the things you have learned before you take the standardized test.

And this takes us to our very first ACT test hack…

#1: Take the Practice Tests

ACT test
Image credit: Canva

Yearly, the ACT offers a practice test. There are a couple of nice things about this practice test:

  • You can download it free of charge.
  • It gives you a similar experience to the real deal.

Because of these reasons, it’s a wonderful idea to grab the opportunity to take the cost-free and full-length ACT practice test, which you can easily get in cyberspace. To date, there are six ACT practice tests available. You can take the latest one (ACT practice test 2018 to 2019) simply by clicking here.

As a general rule of thumb, you should take the ACT practice test at least twice — several days before the ACT and a few days before the ACT. This is because the initial ACT practice test will allow you to get a starting or base ACT score, which can help you determine how many points you will need to attain your target ACT score.

This is why this next hack is of utmost importance…

#2: Studying for 80 Hours Boost ACT score by 6 pts

You can take the ACT practice test as many times as you like. On the other hand, you can take the actual ACT only up to 12 times. Many students take the ACT two to three times before applying to their preferred schools.

However, it doesn’t mean that you will have to take the ACT many times just to get your target ACT score. By taking the ACT practice test, you can determine how many hours a month or week you will need to devote to studying to increase your ACT score by your desired number of points.

The following table will give you an idea of the relationship between point increase and study plan:

ACT SCORE IMPROVEMENTHOURS A MONTHHOURS A WEEK
Up to 1 point102.5
Up to 2 points205
Up to 4 points4010
Up to 6 points8020

The Day Before the ACT

Studying 24 hours before the ACT takes place is pointless. That’s because it will have very little to no effect on your ACT score.

Due to this, you should instead spend the day before the ACT relaxing — because you have worked hard for the past few weeks, it’s about time that you give yourself a much-needed break.

You need to do only one thing the day before the ACT, and it’s none other than…

#3: Act Like There’s no ACT a Day Before

If your goal is to get your target ACT score the following day, give your brain plenty of time to rest and recuperate. You can do this by engaging in all kinds of activities that you find relaxing and enjoyable.

Anything from hanging out with your best friends to shooting down aliens and hunting down zombies on a video game is a wonderful way to gear up for the ACT one day before it happens. You may also visit a day spa to get a body scrub or read a book, except one that has something to do with the ACT!

Knowing that the ACT will be tomorrow can make you a nervous wreck, which is why you should unwind.

As much as possible, steer clear of anything that can leave your mind exhausted — you will need all the brainpower you can get the next day. Besides partaking in undertakings that allow you to de-stress, you should also eat healthy foods. We will talk more about this matter in a few, so don’t stop reading now.

Studying for the ACT is a complete no-no!

But if you insist on studying a day before the ACT, such as memorizing a few equations because the Math section of the ACT does not provide a list of formulas, keep it below 30 minutes.

Read more about last minute tactics here.

Nothing can leave you more shaken than knowing that you will be taking the ACT when you wake up the next morning.

It’s because of this why you may have a hard time getting some much-needed sleep the night before the standardized exam, which is a bad thing because it can have an unfavorable effect on your test-taking performance.

Before you try to get some sleep, check that you carry out this hack…

#4: Prepare All ACT Essentials

You have all the correct answers to all the ACT questions. But if you don’t have all the ACT test-taking must-haves, it doesn’t matter if you are 100% confident that you can get a perfect 36 on the standardized test.

To make sure that you won’t forget anything you will need for the ACT, gather and organize everything the night before the grand day. Place them where you can easily see and grab them before you head out the following morning. Better yet, stash all the ACT essentials in the bag you will bring to the test center before you hop into bed.

Here are the ACT test-taking essentials to prepare:

  • ACT admission ticket. Without it, the proctors won’t let you in.
  • Photo ID. Check that your name on your photo ID matches the name on your ACT admission ticket. Also, the photo must be obviously you.
  • #2 pencils. Bring at least two #2 pencils, although you can bring as many as you like. It’s also a good idea to sharpen your #2 pencils beforehand so that you don’t have to while taking the ACT. Mechanical pencils, ballpoint pens, markers, highlighters and other writing instruments are not allowed.
  • Eraser. Sometimes, #2 pencils have bad erasers that can damage the answer sheet. If the erasers at the end of your #2 pencils are rock-hard, bring a separate eraser.
  • Calculator. Check that the model is ACT-approved — bring extra batteries, too.
  • Watch. If you would like to pace yourself to ensure that you will finish the ACT on time, feel free to bring and use a watch. Just see to it that it doesn’t have an alarm. Otherwise, if it sounds during the ACT, you will be asked by the proctor to leave the test room, and your test, of course, will not be checked and scored.
  • Water and snacks. You only have one ten-minute break during the ACT, so use it wisely, such as by drinking water to stay hydrated and having a healthy snack to keep your brain flexing.
  • Sweater. Test rooms are notorious for being chilly. A sweater is an ACT must-have — you wouldn’t want the cold to keep you from analyzing the questions very well.

Earlier, while we were talking about hacks for the day before the ACT, it was mentioned that you should relax and act as if there is no ACT exam that you will have to take the following day.

Keeping your mind and body as calm as you possibly can is important to pull off the next hack…

#5: Spend Several Hours in Dreamland

It’s of utmost importance that you get seven to nine hours of sleep the night before the ACT. This will allow your brain to get some much-needed rest and recuperation, allowing it to fully function the next morning.

With your brain in an optimum state, you will find it easier to answer even the hardest ACT questions!

According to a 2006 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, over 87% of high school students in the US are deprived of sleep. It doesn’t come as a surprise since there are a lot of school-related things that can leave them stressed and anxious, both of which can cause insomnia, and preparing for and taking the ACT is one example.

Because it’s completely normal for any ACT test-taker to have difficulty falling asleep the night before the test, spending the entire day not worrying about the ACT is highly recommended.

Engaging in your favorite activities a day before the ACT is a wonderful idea. However, you should avoid taking several naps at all costs. Otherwise, you may fail to get enough sleep the night before the ACT. Lots of naps throughout the day and ACT-related anxiety are not a good mix.

The Day of the ACT

Nothing can be more exciting, stressful and nerve-racking than the arrival of the day high school students who are about to go to college have been preparing for: the ACT test day! Still, It’s a must that you maintain mental and physical relaxation — as if you are not about to take an important exam.

Starting the day is best done by doing this hack…

#6: Take a Quick Shower

shower
Image credit: Canva

It’s a wonderful idea to step foot inside the test center feeling clean and fresh, which can help you think clearly and breeze through the five sections (or four, minus the optional Writing section). This is why you should hit the shower as soon as the alarm goes off in the morning.

Scientists say that it can take your brain anywhere from 15 minutes to four hours to fully wake up in the morning.

Because it’s the day of the ACT, having a still snoozing brain is the last thing that you would want. Fret not because taking a shower before anything else can jolt your brain into full wakefulness.

To keep your brain from going back to sleep after a quick shower, remember the following…

#7: Have a Healthy Breakfast

Having breakfast is a definite must before you head to the ACT test center. But don’t just have any breakfast — go for a breakfast that consists of foods packed with complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fat. A nutrient-dense breakfast will give your brain the nutrients it needs to work like a well-oiled machine.

Some of the breakfast staples perfect for any ACT test-taker are:

  • Oatmeal
  • Porridge
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Whole-grain breakfast cereals
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Cottage cheese
  • Greek yogurt
  • Milk

Refrain from overeating at all costs.

Otherwise, you might end up having your attention divided between the ACT test questions and an achy stomach. By the way, too much breakfast can also cause sleepiness!

After enjoying your healthy breakfast, make sure that you follow this hack…

#8: Get to Test Center in Advance

Being late for the ACT is not an option. If you arrive at the test center late and everybody else is already taking the ACT, you will be turned away by the proctor. Needless to say, you will have to take the ACT another time.

It’s because of this why you should report to your designated test center by the reporting time printed on your ACT admission ticket, usually 8:00 AM. However, it’s a good idea to get there earlier than 8:00 AM. As a general rule of thumb, you should arrive at your assigned test center between 7:30 AM and 7:45 AM.

When you get to the test center, it’s very much likely for a line of students to be waiting outside.

A lot of things will take place between arriving at the venue and taking the ACT. Your ACT admission ticket and photo ID will be checked. You will be directed to your test room. You will be asked to store your belongings somewhere outside the test room. You will be directed to your designated seat.

Once you are at your assigned seat, all you have to do is wait for the ACT to commence.

During the ACT

The moment you have broken the seal on your test booklet, there is no turning back. You can no longer request for a test date change, even if you do not answer any of the questions or complete the ACT.

Well, there is nothing else to do but to go through one ACT section after the other, giving each one of them your best shot. Including breaks, the ACT takes three hours and 30 minutes to complete. But if the optional Writing section is included, the exam takes a little over four hours to complete, including breaks.

Here’s a barrage of the best ACT test hacks in 2021 that can help you ace the standardized test…

#9: Stay Calm at All Costs During ACT Test

You may find it somewhat easy to stay relaxed before the ACT. However, taking the ACT itself can cause you to go from being cool, calm and collected to being fazed, frantic and flustered in an instant. This is especially true when you realize that you don’t know the correct answer to the very first question!

Unfortunately, being stressed and nervous can quickly flush your intensive ACT preparation down the drain.

Because of this, keeping your stress and anxiety to a bare minimum throughout the ACT is of utmost importance. But, alas, while seated in the test room, you cannot have a soothing bath, take a whiff of lavender or chamomile essential oil, watch funny cat videos on YouTube or listen to relaxing tunes.

The good news is that there are some things that you may do to remain calm while taking the ACT:

  • Don’t observe other test-takers. Not only will taking a look at everyone take up your time but also leave you feeling more anxious, especially if some of them seem to be enjoying answering the questions.
  • Laugh in your mind. A little humor can help ease your tension big time. While answering questions, imagine your fellow test-takers naked. You may also imagine the proctor observing everyone in the room while wearing his or her bathrobe and has a mudpack on the face.
  • Pretend it’s just the ACT practice test. Earlier, it was mentioned that a good ACT test hack is taking the ACT practice test. During the ACT itself, you may pretend that it’s just one more ACT practice test that you are taking. Because you have tried taking the ACT practice test a few times before, you will feel less pressured.
  • Take slow, deep breaths. An effective way to tell your nervous system to calm down is by lowering your respiratory rate and breathing deeply using your abdominal muscles rather than your chest muscles.
  • Think positively. Last but not least, you should maintain a positive mindset throughout the ACT. Keep in mind that you prepared well for this momentous time of your academic life, which is why there’s no need to worry about getting a crappy ACT score that can keep you from going to your dream school.

#10: Write All Over the Test Booklet

During the ACT, no scratch papers are allowed in the test room. The good news is that you can use your test booklet itself as your scratch paper — you will not be penalized for writing on any of its pages.

Writing on the test booklet can help you answer questions, especially tricky ones. So go ahead and encircle important words, underline critical sentences and jot down notes on free spaces. However, it’s a completely different matter when it comes to the answer sheet, as you will have to keep it neat and clean.

#11: Take a Wild Guess

Guess what?

It’s perfectly fine to guess on the ACT!

ACT test-takers will not be penalized for guessing.

However, if you make a wrong guess, you will get zero points — it’s the worst thing that could happen to you if you guess because you don’t know the answer.

On the other hand, if you make a right guess, you will get one point, which will take you one point closer to your target ACT score.

#12: Look for the Wrong Answers First

But don’t just guess on the ACT. It’s a good idea to use the process of elimination before you guess.

Unlike the rest of the sections, with the exception of the Writing section, the Math section has five answer options. If you will be able to eliminate one wrong answer, you will have a 25% chance of guessing the right answer. If you will be able to get rid of three wrong answers, you will have a 50% chance of guessing the correct answer.

The English, Reading and Science sections of the ACT have four answer options each. If you will be able to scrap one wrong answer, you will have a 33.33% chance of guessing the right answer. Ditch two wrong answers, and you will have a 50% chance of guessing the right answer.

Just Before You Take the ACT

There is no such thing as a failing grade on the ACT.

The lowest score you can get on the standardized test is a 1, which is better than zero but still not good enough to get you admitted into a good school, especially a selective one. Therefore, when preparing for the ACT, your goal should be to reach the score that your dream school accepts.

Above, we talked about some of the best ACT test hacks in 2021. Apply them from the time you start studying for the exam to the moment you are seated in the test room, and you will find it so much easier to ace the ACT.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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