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Credit: Isabel Gitten

Isabel Gitten and Janani Gandhi share their two experiences with studying for the ACT.

2 ways to study for the ACT

WSPN editors Isabel Gitten and Janani Gandhi describe their two different approaches to studying for the ACT and offer their best advice to the rising juniors. Good luck on all your exams!

ACT with tutor – Isabel
I could not imagine preparing for the ACT without having the one-on-one attention that my tutors provided. I began studying in July for the February ACT. I know this is very far in advance, but I wanted to begin my studying process without a lot of pressure by slowly easing into it. I had two tutors help me prepare for the ACT: one tutor for the math section and one tutor for the English and reading comprehension sections. I studied for the science section independently, because it is difficult to find an ACT science tutor. The science section was my weakest section, but I felt I was able to study on my own by using reading comprehension techniques I learned from the English tutor. Why is a tutor the best way to study? A tutor can cater to your specific needs and design a study plan specific to your learning style.

I met with my tutors around every other week for the first few months of my studying and then met with them more frequently as the test got closer. My tutors knew my learning style and strengths and weaknesses, so they were able to design a study plan specific to my needs. My tutors would give me a test or some practice problems to do before our next meeting. During the meeting, we would discuss and work through my wrong answers. Then, my tutor would keep track of the types of questions I got wrong and make sure we focused our sessions on my weaker topics. In a tutoring setting, I was able to ask all my questions easily, get specific practice questions to improve my weaknesses, and develop a personal test-taking strategy. I would recommend studying for the ACT with a tutor because of the one-on-one specific aid they can provide.

ACT with self-study – Janani
I would recommend self-studying to independent learners who are busy and want to study on their own time. I chose to study by myself because I trusted myself to stay focused and motivated while studying and because I wanted to study whenever and wherever I wanted to. I chose to study for the ACT in August so that I could take it in September and not have to worry about it during the school year. Nobody really wants to be meeting with tutors or teachers to study over the summer, and studying by myself meant that I could study outside and take breaks whenever I wanted to.

First, purchase a review book you like. I did a lot of research online before I ordered mine, and I finally settled on the ACT Black Book. I swear by it and I recommend it to anyone planning on taking the ACT (no, I was not paid to write this article.) The Black Book fully dissects the test and clearly outlines the different types of problems the ACT tends to reuse. It also walks you through every practice problem offered in the third edition of ACT’s prep guide, showing you how to recognize the specific tricks the ACT puts into specific problems. It is important to note that this book was written in 2011, which means that it was technically written about an older version of the ACT. However, the main difference between the older ACT and the current ACT is the essay format, which means that the vast majority of this book is still useful. Strategy-wise, this book really offers everything you need to know to get the highest score you can achieve. I purchased the third edition of the official ACT test guide to use alongside the Black Book and the most recent edition to take full-length practice tests. I found that the two biggest drawbacks to self-studying were waning motivation and difficulty preparing for the essay. After taking endless practice sections and full-length tests, there came a point where I would have taken the test right then and there if it meant I never had to look at another ACT problem again. Without a tutor or a class, there is nobody there to force you to study, unless your parents are watching like hawks over your shoulder. You have to be able to recognize the difference between when you really do need a break and when you’re just procrastinating. Studying for the essay was also very difficult, as there is nobody there to grade your essay and give you feedback. The Black Book’s strategies on the essay are also outdated, as the test uses a different format now. I asked for the help of an English teacher, but writing essays on standardized tests are very different than writing for English class, and I still didn’t do as well on the essay as I did on the multiple choice.