How to Study the Week Before the ACT

It’s the week before the ACT, and you might feel like your study time is running out. There’s no need to panic, but it’s important to take advantage of every day you have left.

The Week Before the ACT

Familiarize yourself with the test directions.

Review the test maker’s official guide to read the directions for the test several times. Make sure you know where and how to fill in the bubbles and understand the answer choice letter pattern. This way, you won’t have to waste precious time reading the directions or getting used to the format during the test.

Take a full-length ACT practice test.

Take your last practice test a week before the ACT. Gather everything you plan to have on hand for the official test—your test, your answer grid, a timer, pencils, erasers, a calculator, backup batteries, water, a snack—and complete the entire test, following official test timing, including breaks. Pay attention to your pacing and energy levels. Remember to triage the test and answer questions efficiently, using strategic shortcuts when you can.
When you finish the test, have someone else compare your answers to the answer key while you give yourself a break. Wait to review your mistakes until after you feel recharged (usually, the next day), and be sure to review every question, whether you got it correct or not.
If you answered the question correctly . . .

  • Read the explanation, when available, to reinforce your understanding of both content and process.
  • Compare your approach to the one given in the explanation. You might discover a more efficient way to arrive at the answer.
  • Do the question again if you learn a quicker way to get to the correct answer. Even though you are working with new information, you are applying it to a question you are already familiar with, so you can master this new material.

If you answered the question incorrectly . . .

  • Use the explanation, when available, to figure out where you went wrong.
  • Try the question again to see if you can arrive at the correct answer.
  • Go back to the explanation after you’ve completed your second pass and walk yourself through the problem.
  • Remember, you shouldn’t be focusing on any new topics this week. If you just didn’t know what to do with the question, put this question type in the “skip” column. If you see a similar question on test day, bubble in your “letter of the day” and move on.

Focus on practice and review, not new topics.

Try to spend an hour or 2 each day practicing and reviewing some English, Math, Reading, and Science questions, but don’t overdo it. If you start to panic and worry that you’re not doing enough, make a list of your next steps and work through them one by one. Lists can help when you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the things you feel you need to be doing.
English Tips
The English Test assesses both grammar and non-grammar skills. Some students prefer grammar-based questions, such as those about punctuation, while other students prefer non-grammar based questions, such as those about organization. If you haven’t yet identified your strengths for this section, make time to do so by Thursday at the latest.
Reading Tips
The ACT doesn’t ask you to read passages the way you probably read textbooks or test passages in school, to memorize facts or to learn new ideas. Instead, ACT Reading passages and questions require a strategic approach to reading that notes main ideas, author opinions, and passage structure. By this point in your preparation, the genre and structure of ACT Reading passages should be familiar. Your time this week should focus on practicing a few passages and their associated questions to make sure you are mapping passages correctly and not falling for common incorrect answer types.
Math Tips
If there is math content you haven’t yet mastered, don’t try to learn it this week. Instead, focus on making sure you are comfortable with what you have already practiced. Here is a list of math facts and tips to have fresh in your mind:

  • Common “word to symbol” translations used to translate word problems into algebraic equations.
  • Geometry rules for lines, angles, circles, and polygons.
  • Number property rules (positive/negative numbers, odd/even numbers, divisibility).
  • Fraction, exponent, and radical rules.
  • Percent and percent change formulas.
  • Strategies for solving for missing values in fractional proportions.
  • Strategies for multiplying binomials and factoring quadratics.
  • Strategies for solving systems of linear equations.

Science Tips
The ACT Science Test assesses your ability to interpret data, analyze experimental design and think like a scientist; it does not require you to memorize a lot of scientific facts. That means there’s no reason to spend this week reviewing your science class notes or textbooks.  On test day, you won’t have time to read the passages in depth, so instead, refine your analysis skills this week by reviewing some science passages, looking for the following key elements:

  • Independent and dependent variables.
  • Purpose of the experiment or study.
  • Control group (if present).
  • Hypotheses (when provided).

Get into a routine.

Try and get into some sort of routine at least 4 days before the ACT. Here is one possible routine:

  1. Review some math formulas before you finish your studying for the evening.
  2. Get the right amount of sleep for you.
  3. Wake up around the same time each morning, and review your math formulas again at breakfast.
  4. If you have time, review word patterns and key transitional words and phrases.

By getting into a routine ahead of time, you’ll be ready to wake up early on Saturday and  approach the test confidently.

The Day Before the ACT

Complete one final review.

At this point, you’re done studying. If you haven’t yet, confirm your test center location and make a plan for getting there early—there might be fewer train or bus routes available or weekend construction you didn’t expect. Review your Kaplan strategy and Method notes, grammar and math rules, and general examples you’ve prepped for the Writing Test (if you’re taking it), and stop studying by dinnertime.
Before you go to bed, gather everything you will bring to the testing center, including specified identification and comfortable clothes. Set your alarm so you have enough time to get ready, eat breakfast, gather any final items, and leave for the test center with time to spare.

ACT Test Day

Be strategic both before and during the test.

Wake up an hour or two before you need to leave, and eat breakfast (but don’t vary from your usual routine and eat much more or much less than usual). Before the test begins, do a quick review of your math and grammar rules and spend some time reading a difficult article, such as an editorial or a newspaper article so the first thing you read that day isn’t something that affects your final score. During the test, remember to use your Kaplan strategies and Methods, and after the test, record your immediate reaction to the test to facilitate your future in-depth analysis.