Each section of the ACT requires a unique set knowledge and test-taking strategies. Here are some tried-and-true tips for creating a strategy to do your best on the math, English, science and reading sections of the ACT.
Versions of this article originally appeared on the ACT website: Math, English, Science, Reading.
The ACT math test covers skills students have typically acquired in courses taken up to the beginning of 12th grade. Scores are based on specific knowledge and skills, including number and quantity, algebra, functions, geometry, statistics and probability, modeling, and integrating essential skills (the ability to apply your understanding and skills to solve more complex problems).
Test- Day Tips for the ACT Math Section:
- If you use a calculator, use it wisely. All of the problems can be solved without a calculator. It's important to use good judgement as to when to use a calculator in order to make the best use of your time.
- Use scratch paper. Once you've solved the problem, look for your answer among the choices. If your answer isn't included, reread the problem and try again.
- Make sure you answer the question. Many questions on the test involve several steps. Make sure your answer accounts for all the necessary steps. Many times, there is an option to select an answer that is part of the process, but not the final result.
- Make sure your answer is reasonable. Sometimes an error in computation will result in an answer that is not practical for the situation described.
- Check your answers. If there is time remaining before the end of the math test, it is important that you reread the questions and check your answers.
The ACT English test consists of five passages, each followed by a set of multiple-choice test questions. This test puts you in the position of the writer who makes decisions to revise and edit a passage. You will be asked questions regarding selected sections of the passage. Sometimes the question will be focused on a specific selection that will be underlined. Other questions will refer to the entire passage.
Scores are based on specific knowledge and skills including: production of writing (the ability to apply your understanding of the purpose and focus of a piece of writing); knowledge and language (ability to demonstrate effective language use); and conventions of Standard English (ability to use correct grammar, usage, and mechanics to revise and edit text).
Test-Day Tips for the ACT English Section:
- Be aware of the writing style used in each passage. When responding to a question, be sure to understand the context of the question. Consider how the sentence containing an underlined portion fits in with the surrounding sentences and into the passage.
- Examine the underlined portions of the passage. Consider the elements of writing included in each underlined portion.
- Note the questions with no underlined portions. Some questions will refer to the whole passage, so make sure you are paying attention to the overall message and writing style.
- Reread the sentence, using the answer you selected. Does the answer you selected make the most sense within the context of the passage?
The ACT science test measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences. The test presents several scientific scenarios, each followed by a number of multiple-choice test questions.
Content includes biology, chemistry, Earth/space sciences, and physics. You don't need to have advanced knowledge in these areas, but background knowledge learned in your school science courses may be needed to correctly answer some questions. Scientific information is presented in one of three formats: data representation (tables and graphs), research summaries (descriptions of one or more related experiments), and conflicting viewpoints (two or more differing explanations for the same scientific occurrences).
Scores are based on specific knowledge and skills, including interpretation of data, scientific investigation, and evaluation of models, inferences, and experimental results.
Test-Day Tips for the ACT Science Section:
- Read each passage carefully. Before you begin answering a question, read the scientific material provided. It's important to read the entire text and examine any tables, graphs, or figures associated with the question. You may want to make notes about important ideas in your test booklet.
- Consider the experimental design. Some of the information sets will describe experiments. You should consider the experimental design, including the controls and variables, because questions are likely to address this component of scientific research.
- Note the different viewpoints in passages. Some material will present conflicting viewpoints, and the questions will ask you to distinguish among them. It may be helpful for you to make notes summarizing each viewpoint next to that section in the test booklet.
The ACT reading test consists of four sections, three of which contain one long passage and one that contains two shorter passages. Each section has a set of multiple-choice test questions that measure your ability to read closely, reason logically, and use information from multiple sources.
Scores are based on specific knowledge and skills based on three reporting categories:
- Key Ideas and Details: The ability to determine central themes, accurately summarize information, and understand relationships.
- Craft and Structure: The ability to determine word and phrase meaning, analyze word choice and text structure, understand the author's purpose and perspective, and interpret a character's point of view.
- Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: The ability to understand the author's claims, differentiate between facts and opinions, and use evidence to make connections between different texts that are related by topic.
Tips for the ACT Reading Section:
- Before you begin answering a question, read the entire passage carefully. Be conscious of relationships between or among ideas. You may make notes in the test booklet about important ideas in the passages.
- Refer to the passages when answering the questions. Answers to some of the questions will be found by referring to what is plainly stated in the text of the passages. Other questions will require you to determine suggested meanings and draw conclusions, comparisons, and generalizations. Consider the text before you answer a question.
Looking for more useful tips and information? Explore College & Career Planning Resources from ACT