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ACT Hacks

Here’s something you probably haven’t heard of: ACT “hacks".

We’ve all heard of the ACT. In short, it’s a standardized test often used as a determining factor for college admissions and scholarship consideration. Here’s something you probably haven’t heard of: ACT “hacks”. They’re strategies to help decrease your stress and increase your scores.

There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is, ACT hacks usually will not result in large test score leaps. The good news? These simple tools can lead to incremental score increases, and every little bit helps!

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Hack #1: Come Back to Hard Questions. The ACT is a timed test that is designed to be fast-paced. You really can’t afford to linger on the hard questions. When you encounter a tough question, skip it and move on to the rest of the questions. If there’s time left over in the section, head back to those skipped questions and give them a shot. When you skip a question in the test booklet, make sure you also skip that response number on the bubble answer sheet. Having your answer sheet off by a question would be a disaster!

Hack #2: Use the Process of Elimination. The ACT allows you to write in the test book. When you first look at the answer choices for a question, try to decide which answer choices are definitely incorrect, and cross them out. Eliminating incorrect answers means you have a higher chance of choosing the correct answer.

Hack #3: Answer Every Question. The ACT has no guessing penalty. What does that mean for you? You need to fill in a bubble for every question in each section. Per section, as time draws to a close, if you haven’t answered all questions, start randomly filling in bubbles to complete the answer sheet for that section. It sounds a little crazy, but who knows? Maybe you’ll get lucky and guess a few right answers. The bottom line: Leave no bubble unfilled.

Hack #4: Know the Structure of the Test. The ACT is a standardized test, meaning it has the same basic format for all test dates. To cut down on any surprises, familiarize yourself with the skills tested, number of questions, and length of each section. Research the ACT test structure and attempt a few timed practice tests prior to taking the official ACT. Try using a bubble sheet during practice tests to simulate real test conditions.

Hack #5: Prepare the Day Before. Rushing and disorganization equals stress. Stress equals lower test performance. Yikes! Here are a few tips for decreasing test day anxiety:

  • Get plenty of sleep the night before.
  • Eat a well-balanced breakfast.
  • Dress in layers—you never know what the temperature is going to be like in your test room.

Bring this stuff to the test:

  • Test ticket printed from your ACT web account
  • Photo identification
  • Several No. 2 pencils with erasers
  • Watch (No smart watches or fitness bands!)
  • Approved calculator
  • Snack and water for break time
  • Extra sweater or jacket
  • Don’t bring your phone or purse!

Knowing (and using) these handy ACT hacks can help you increase your test scores by a few points. Remember: A point or two can make or break your chance for certain opportunities! Your score increase may be small, but every point helps both for admissions and for scholarship consideration.

June Garzon is an associate member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).

June Garzon is an associate member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).

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