8 months ago
Admissions Advice

What do you wish you knew when studying for the ACT/SAT? Tips?


I am a junior and for the past year, I have been practicing for the SAT but not that seriously. I kept telling myself I would try an ACT practice test but I brushed it off since the SAT is so encouraged in my area that they make the ACT seem hard. So a few weeks ago my best friend encouraged me to take it and I scored better and liked it more than the SAT. So now I'm properly motivated to study because I felt like the SAT was imposed on me but the ACT is my own will (if that makes sense? lol).

So I completed it while following the time guidelines and got my score, but I also went overtime and calculated what my score would be if I didn't abide by the timing rules. Without time I got a 26, and with time I got a 31. So my plan is to first go over my test answers in-depth and find out what I did wrong and where I doubted myself and why.

Then I want to work on my speed (I don't think fixing my speed will be a problem because I had the same problem with the PSAT but I was able to fix it myself). Then I will work on the section I did the worst in (I'll study all the sections but I'll focus on each section for a bit more than a month). I looked into some self-prep books and found these to be the best rated:

ACT Premium Study Guide with 6 Practice Tests (Barron's Test Prep) Third or Fourth Edition

ACT English, Reading, and Writing Workbook (Barron's Test Prep) Third Edition

THE MASTER KEY TO ACT SCIENCE: A crystal-clear roadmap to achieving your top ACT science score

The Best ACT Math Books Ever, Book 1: Algebra

The Best ACT Math Books Ever, Book 2: Numbers, Stats, Trig and Geometry

I plan on buying/borrowing some of these books since they seemed to have helped people the most, if you have any suggestions please let me know!

I plan on taking my first real ACT in person on either June 12 or July 17, so I have just over four or five months of studying before my first ACT. From online research, I've seen that the most improvement a person typically makes is 25% of their baseline score, so if I take my score of 26 my goal would be 32, but if I take my untimed score of 31 my goal score would be a full 36 (which is why first I'm prioritizing increasing my speed without reducing accuracy).

My weakest to strongest sections are Reading, Math, Science, then English, so I will focus on them in that order.

Sorry, I got carried away with the details of my plan, but basically, I'm trying self-help stuff because I had PrepScholar for a year and it has great content but because it was online I couldn't focus. Pretty much all programs are online now, so no matter how good they are, I get restless staring at a screen all day, especially since it's easier to give in the urge to switch tabs.

So basically what I am saying is please let me know if you have any tips, secrets, or just what you think was the most effective in your study plan. If you see something off in my plan or unrealistic, let me know! And please, please, please suggest good study books. I especially would like books with realistic ACT questions that aren't taken from an actual official ACT or ACT practice test as I would like to take those so if the questions were word for word it would be unfair to my score.

Anyways, any help is appreciated!


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Accepted Answer
8 months ago[edited]

Like you, I struggled to master the SAT, and in my practice tests and actual tests got 99% and 98% percentile scores. I never made it to 1500+. After the urging of my dad to take the ACT, I was able to get 33s and 34s on practice tests. I studied for my 2 tests using the Official ACT Guide from ACT.org with the practice tests (both 2019/2020 and 2020/2021). I also used Erica Meltzer's ACT Reading book and the College Panda Series. On the first 2 real attempts, I got a 32 composite and a 33 composite. English and Reading were always better than Math and Science. Mind you I got a 750 on the SAT Math, so I didn't understand but now clearly know that there are more advanced topics on the ACT math section like Statistics math and Probability math that I never learned in HS.

But I wasn't happy with my score so I focused on my weakest link which was science and ordered For the Love of ACT Science by Micheal Cerro. And being more of a "watch and learn" type of learner vs. "a read and learn", my dad suggested I try SuperTutorTV ACT Prep Course which is online. You watch video lessons and get tested on the individual parts. It's very user-friendly and Beth Pfohl breaks everything down so you get it on the first or second viewing.

My 3rd ACT test was a triumph and I got straight 35s and that is the test score I submitted that helped get me into Columbia University ED.

In my opinion, if I just used the Offical ACT book, the ACT Science book, and the SupertutorTV ACT course, that would have been enough. I feel I didn't gain very much from the other books. Some people can self-study a Calculus book and get a 5 on their AP Calc., that is not me. Also, I really despised those youtube videos where nerdy kids flex and say they improved their score 300 points in 6 weeks. That's not realistic for 99% of HS students. And what you will notice is that even with 1530+ SAT or 35+ ACT they often do not get into Ivys or Stanford. Test scores are just something that means you have evidence of hitting some institutional threshold. The other parts of your application are more important.

Also, I did something similar after the 2 attempts, whenever I took practice tests, I would never time them. I didn't feel comfortable walking into the test until I had 36s under my belt in the untimed version. Once I got a 36 untimed, I would look at the time differential between my time and the test time and try to close the gap. So if a section took me 70 min instead of 45, the next time I would put a timer on it for 60, then 55, then 50. I treated it like trying to master a piece of music. When you first play a piece, it might take 3 times as long to get the notes and fingering and be aware of all the specialty notes, etc. Then you try again, and again and again, etc until you are playing it at the right tempo.





(Supertutortv has a free trial version that gives you access to like one topic so you can see if you like it).

Hope that is helpful.


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