Whether you look at your ACT score online or wait to get it in the mail, the biggest number on the page is always the composite. While admissions officers will certainly see the individual scores of all five tests — and their subscores — schools will use the composite to evaluate your application, and that's why it's the only one that matters in the end.
The composite is an average: Let the full weight of that sink in. With an average, do you need to bring up all four scores equally to raise it? Do you need to be a superstar in all four tests? Should you focus more on your weaknesses than your strengths? The answers: No, no, and definitely no.
You don't need to be a rock star on all four tests. Identify two tests (maybe three) and focus on raising those scores as much as you can. Doing so will in turn raise your composite. In short, if you have only one hour to devote to practice the week before the ACT, use that hour to maximize your score on your best subjects. If you still have time, identify strategies that you can employ to keep your weakest scores from pulling you down.
However prepared you feel you are for the ACT, however well you may have performed in equivalent high school courses, you won't know your strengths until you take a practice test. The material you've covered until now in class, in homework, or on tests, may be different from how you'll see it on the ACT, and the testing conditions and time constraints are likely to be new to you. Above all, a practice test gives you instant feedback: You can check the questions you got wrong and see your rough scores for each section. Doing all of this makes it a lot easier to personalize the prep that you'll need for the score you want.
Once you've identified where you excel on the test, it's time to start your prep. And remember, since this is an average, if there's room to improve your best subjects, this can help just as much as improving your worst subjects.
In other words, it's not just about what questions you're getting wrong, but why you're getting them wrong. If you lost points in both Math and Science, but the points you lost in Math were because of time-management issues, you'll want to focus on Math, as it's easier to prep for points in a subject you already know well than it is to learn a whole subject from scratch. Scoring well on the ACT relies heavily on strategy, so whenever possible — especially if a lack of time forces you to choose between two sections — look to improve what you're already good at.
If you've already squeezed as many extra points as you can out of your best subjects, it's time to shore up those you find the toughest. It's in your best interest to focus your most intensive prep on the subjects you already know well, but there are still basic approaches you can utilize on each sectionto help snag points you'd otherwise miss. Use strategies such as better pacing, POE (Process of Elimination), and POOD (Personal Order of Difficulty) to help with this. To learn how to use those most efficiently, check out our book ACT Prep.
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