Adam Groden By: Adam Groden
How to Study for the ACT

Learning how to study for the ACT is an important skill. Scoring high on this important exam helps you get into good colleges and can even qualify you for amazing scholarship programs. 

This guide will walk you through the steps you can take when studying for the ACT.

You can use the steps below as guidelines when preparing for your exam. Feel free to tweak or alter some of the steps to best fit your specific needs.

Summary: Review the steps below when preparing for the ACT. If you want to invest some prep materials, consider the best ACT prep courses.

Studying for the ACT can be very stressful. However, you can break it down into steps to make the task more manageable and keep yourself sane.

Our team has listed some of the best ways to study for the ACT below.

1. Register for the ACT

The first step you should take is to register for the exam. Registering will allow you to know your study timeline as well as “fully commit” to taking the exam.

You can register on the official website. The ACT is given numerous times throughout the year. You can review ACT test dates for more information on when the exam is given.

2. Set a Score Goal

It is important to set goals, especially when studying for the ACT. A goal will give you something to work towards and help you stay motivated while grinding through your studies.

What is a good ACT score? Read our guide to learn more about this.

3. Determine Amount of Time You Can Dedicate to Studying

After you register for the exam, you will have a better idea of how much time you have until the exam. You should determine the amount of time you can dedicate to studying for the ACT in this step.

Some different methods could include:

  • Certain number of hours per day
  • Certain number of hours per week
  • Certain number of hours per weekend
  • Certain number of hours per month

Everyone has different needs and obligations. Some students may be busy and only able to study on the weekends. Other students may not be able to commit to studying every day – if this is you, try to set a goal for the number of hours you will study per week or month.

The biggest thing is mapping out how much time you have and setting a plan in place.

4. Choose Your Study Resources

Choosing your study resources should be done after determining how much time you are able to dedicate to studying. We recommend this because the amount of time you have will play a role in which resources you use.

Some common resources students use to study for the ACT include:

Many students will use a combination of the above resources. If you are pressed for time, a prep course may be your best option. A prep course will have everything you need in 1 place. This will save you time and help you study more efficiently.

If you have a lot of time to study, and want to save some time, you can self-study with textbooks and free practice tests.

Everyone has their own preferences. The key factor is determining which route you will take.

5. Take a Practice Exam

The first thing you do when beginning your ACT studies is to take an ACT practice exam. Taking a practice exam will help you get a baseline. A baseline is important because it will:

  • Help you track progress as you learn more and improve
  • Help you become more familiar with the exam (formatting and timing)
  • Help you pinpoint struggle areas

A diagnostic exam to begin your studies is very important. It should be the first thing you do when starting your studies. Do not be afraid of doing poorly on your first attempt – it is very common to score low on your first practice attempt.

6. Determine Difficult Subjects

After taking your practice exam, you should have a better idea of which areas you struggled with. It is important to be honest with yourself in this step.

If you scored a 29 in math but a 21 in reading, you should be spending more time in reading when studying for the ACT.

Determining the subjects that gave you the most trouble will help you study more efficiently. Studying more efficiently may mean spending less total time preparing, which is a good thing!

7. Dive Into a Specific Subject

After determining which subjects are most challenging for you, dive into one of them. Use the resources you gathered in step 3.

If you are studying with a prep course, start working your way through the specific section. You will most likely find video lectures as well as practice questions and flashcards.

If you are studying with a prep book, you will most likely find chapters that touch on topics and concepts that you need to learn.

8. Take Subject Specific Practice Test

Once you feel comfortable with your studies on the specific subject you focused on in step 6, take a subject specific practice exam.

Taking a subject specific practice exam will allow you to focus solely on that subject and aspects like timing, specific concepts, and specific questions.

Make sure you review your answers at the end of the exam. This will help you learn from your mistakes and increase your ACT scores.

9. Take Another Practice Exam

After diving into a specific subject and taking a subject specific practice exam, take another full-length practice exam.

This will help you become more comfortable with the exam, specifically the timing aspect.

Review your answers at the end and the explanations as well. This will help you learn from your mistakes.

Compare your results to the first practice exam you took and the subject specific practice exam you took. Did you scores increase? Did they stay the same? Did the scores for the subject you studied increase?

Complete an honest evaluation of your second exam and see where you need to focus your studies from here. Some students may be all set. Other students may need to dive into another subject. Some students may need to revisit the subject they already studied.

Everyone is different, and this is completely fine.

10. Rinse and Repeat Steps 7-9

One of the best ways to study for the ACT is by diving into specific subjects, taking subject specific exams, and taking full-length exams.

This may sound repetitive, but it is a tried-and-true way to do well on this exam.

Being consistent is a huge factor when preparing for the ACT. If you can buckle down and have consistent study habits, you will do great.

How many practice exams should I take?

This number of ACT practice tests will vary from person to person. We recommend taking at least 2 full-length exams.

The first exam will be a baseline exam to give you an idea of where you stand. The second exam will be a progress check. If you reach your target score on your second practice exam, you could determine you are ready and stop your studies.

Everyone is different and this comes down to personal preference and how you progress throughout your studies.

Is a prep course or prep book better when preparing for the ACT?

This will come down to personal preference. If you want to study in the most efficient way possible, we recommend one of the best ACT prep courses.

A prep course will save you time by including everything you need in 1 place. You will also have access to all the resources you need including practice exams, lecture materials, practice questions, and flashcards.

However, there is nothing wrong with using an ACT prep book and self-studying. This is a more affordable option and many students have had success using this method.