How to Defeat the ACT
The ACT is taken by millions of students each year. They study, they take the test, they get their results...but what really happens? After years of experiencing the ACT firsthand, Method Test Prep's Vice President, Evan Wessler, shares his reflections of the experience and discusses the speed and strategy necessary for excelling on the ACT.
So what are the requisite skills students need to defeat the ACT?
1. First And Foremost Is Familiarity.
Recognizing the mere appearance of a math problem or the very wording of the answer choices in an English question can make all the difference between hesitation and action, and thus between getting left in the dust and finishing. Familiarity means consistent, diligent, timed practice with authentic ACT material. Without that triumvirate—consistency, diligence, and timing—a student's path toward meeting his or her ACT potential is a lost cause.
Most students know they have weaknesses, but aren't aware of what those weaknesses are, exactly. One thing we can always bet on is the standardized part of "standardized test": because the ACT needs to test the same fundamental skills each time it is administered, the exam must present the same question types and roughly the same content every time. Recognizing particular weaknesses and aggressively smoothing them out is the only way to make sure students don't repeatedly fall prey to the same mistakes and misunderstandings.
3. Willingness To Compromise.
For many students, finishing all or even one of the ACT sections within the allotted time is a nearly impossible feat. That's okay. With proper guidance and practice, students can learn to pick their battles and sacrifice some questions for the greater good of their scores.
It continues to surprise me how much of the ACT is simply about careful reading and foresight. This is what I call conscious test-taking. When students think passively—that is, when they read the text of a passage or question and expect an epiphany to arise automatically—they invariably fail to take advantage of a complete skill set that resides in all students' brains. Much of a student's potential to improve his or her ACT score depends on using the one-two punch of previous knowledge and anticipation to maximum effect. For example, spotting punctuation in the English section should raise certain cognitive red flags; observing particular ratios in triangles in the Mathematics section should raise others. The more alert and proactive a student is with questions, the more likely it is that he or she will get more of them correct.
All of this, of course, is contingent upon one thing: perseverance. Yes, the ACT, to some extent, does test many facets of a student's cognitive capability: reasoning, absorption, recall, comprehension, and the like. But does this mean that students are stuck to their initial scores? Hardly. As difficult as the ACT may seem, there is one way to break it down: hard work.