Ace the ACT with our 30-Day Plan

By: Amy Dulan

“Trying to understand is like straining through muddy water. Have the patience to wait! Be still and allow the mud to settle.” -Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Sound familiar? Preparing for the ACT can sometimes feel like you’re slogging through mud, uncertain of what lies before you. Achieving clarity is a challenge that often seems insurmountable. But fear not! There is hope, and if you take the time to understand the test and what is expected of you, the mud will settle.

The goals of your ACT preparation should be to learn about the test, acquire the knowledge and skills that are being measured by the test, and learn about yourself and how you respond to the different aspects of the exam. Ideally, you will begin your ACT prep several months in advance of the test. If you’re short on time – say you only have 30 days or so to get ready – make the most of that time by using the following study guidelines.


Set a reasonable goal: If you haven’t already done so, take a Diagnostic Test to determine your current readiness and identify your strengths and weaknesses. You can download a full-length actual ACT test here:


Take the test under timed conditions in a quiet area free from distractions. This will give you the most accurate picture of where you stand. Once you’ve scored your Diagnostic Test, determine a reasonable goal. If you need a composite score of 32, for example, and your Diagnostic Test score is a 27, you might want to consider waiting for the next test date and treating the upcoming test as another practice opportunity. If, however, three out of the four multiple choice test scores are within a point or two of your goal, you can spend most of the next 30 days focusing on the section that is your weakest.


Take an honest look at your schedule: Once you’ve determined your goal score, take control of your schedule and build in sufficient time to do some ACT prep. Generally, you cannot cram for the ACT – you must do enough practice to develop the test-taking skills rewarded by the ACT. Since you only have 30 days, we recommend devoting two to four hours per week to ACT prep, depending on the number of points you need.

As you practice, make a realistic assessment of the best use of your time and energy so that you are concentrating on the areas that will yield the highest score that you can achieve in the amount of time that you have remaining until the exam. This will result in a feeling of confidence on test day and allow you to clearly see the path to ACT success.

After two weeks of prep you should take a “Midterm” practice ACT to check on your progress. If you’re not seeing the improvement you were hoping for, consider working with your tutor and taking the ACT again at a later date.

Prepare with appropriate material: You should use practice material available on the ACT website or get a copy of “The Official ACT Prep Guide” online or at your local bookstore. Plan on taking at least one practice test section every other day and reviewing the answer explanations provided. There are many prep books available, but in this short time frame, working on actual ACT practice exams is in your best interest. You will quickly get a feel for the test and know exactly what to expect on test day. Don’t skip the section review chapters in the Official Guide. You can gain some great insights into the test and develop a better understanding of content areas and question types.



Following are some specific test-taking strategies that should help you approach the ACT with confidence.


  • Focus on the underlined portion, looking for errors in grammar and punctuation.
  • Predict an answer based on what you know about basic grammar and punctuation, and then look for your prediction among the answer choices.
  • Be careful not to introduce further grammatical errors; carefully read the   answer choices.
  • Read the answer choices into the sentence in place of the underlined portion, and pick the one that most clearly expresses the intended idea.
  • Remember that the best answer will fit within the context of the sentence, paragraph, or essay.


  • Draw pictures as necessary to help you visualize the problem.
  • Use logic and problem solving if the math fails you.
  • Estimate or “ball park” answers when you can to be more efficient.
  • Let the answer choices guide you as you solve the problem. You may not have to work through an entire calculation to arrive at the correct answer.
  • Do not try to do math in your head! The test contains “traps” for those students who rush through a problem, forget a negative sign, etc.


  • Read the question first. Answer the line reference questions right away, and remember to read a little before and after the line or lines that are referenced.
  • Simplify the question, and focus on key words and phrases to help you locate the area of the passage in which to find the answer.
  • Skim the passage for the key words and phrases in the question.
  • Predict an answer to the question based on the details found in the passage. Then look for your predicted answer among the choices.
  • Use the process of elimination if you cannot predict an answer. You are looking for the best choice, so getting rid of answer choices that are definitely NOT supported by details in the passage will leave you with the best possible answer.


  • Prioritize the passages. Start with the passages that you find easiest.
  • Put the questions in your own words so that you understand what is being asked.
  • Focus on the data and look for trends and relationships. Pay attention to whether numbers always go up, always go down, etc.
  • Don’t be scared by complex, scientific vocabulary. You do not have to know much, if anything, about most of the topics being tested.
  • The best answer choices will ALWAYS be supported by the data, so trust the information that you are given.


  • Use your time wisely, but remember that the essay readers are expecting a “rough draft.”
  • Stay focused on the prompt by referring to it while writing. An essay written off topic will receive a score of 0.
  • Use details and specific examples to support your position on the prompt. Don’t just say what you think; tell the reader why you think what you think.

We are happy to help pinpoint your ACT weaknesses and help you drill down to master each section of the test. With our 5 hour tutoring program you will tap into our expertise with each session and follow our customized plan to achieve your optimal ACT scores.

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