One of the biggest mistakes parents and students make regarding their approach to the ACT is assuming that success in school equates to success on the ACT. In a word… “NO.” By no means is this an indictment of high schools or teachers (my wife teaches high school), but the content and format of the ACT do not mimic what most high school students do in school. The ACT is a test that you absolutely can and need to prepare for in a systematic way to maximize your highest potential score.
The single most common phone call or email I receive from parents involves their disbelief of their student’s score on the ACT. Typically, the next line that follows is some version of, “Dr. Carlin, my son/daughter does SO WELL in school, I don’t understand how he/she could receive that score on the ACT.” High School grades are important in the college application process, no doubt. However, at the same time, grades in school do not equate to an ACT skill set or knowledge base. The ACT website uses language to make students/parents believe that it should be a direct correlation. However, if that were the case, every perfect 4.0 student should score well into the 30s on the ACT (which is far from the case).
Myth #2 - Do Not Guess
Even students who have taken both the SAT and ACT multiple times have trouble keeping this straight. On the SAT, there is a penalty for wrong answers, as the College Board takes a quarter (-1/4) of a point off for any question answered incorrectly. Right answers on the SAT and PSAT count as a “+1” and answers left blank count for “0.” Therefore, on the SAT, it is not in a student’s best interest to randomly guess on questions they do not know (as they have only a 1/5 chance of guessing correctly).
That being said, however, on the ACT students should NEVER leave a question blank. The ACT only scores by counting CORRECT answers (each worth a “+1”) and everything else (whether wrong or left blank) count the same (“0”). Even if you are running out of time with no chance to read the question, you should still put an answer down. On the ACT, you have a 1 out of 4 chance of answering correctly (except for the Math Test, which is 1 out of 5), so there is always a chance of banking one more (+1) with no penalty.
So, by the end of the test, never leave anything blank. One more right answer can mean an entire ACT section point (sometimes two points) higher on a given section of the test.
Myth #3 - ACT Science Test Is All About Science
I would argue that one could re-write 2/3 of the ACT Science test about something other than science and still create the same graphs and tables and test the same skills. Of the Seven Question Types found on the ACT Science Test, only two are truly Science specific. We could re-write the tables, charts, and graphs using data about stock market trends, fantasy football statistics, or former Oscar winners and still not change the format of questions or skills tested.
Instead, much of the Science Test is about maximizing efficiency and understanding crucial interpretive skills such as understanding correlation, reading X/Y axis graphs, understanding tables and using deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. Do not get me wrong, science knowledge can certainly help students on the ACT Science, but it is not a straight test of how much Biology, Physics, Environmental Science and Chemistry (science studied in high school) a student knows.
Myth #4 - Great Readers Will Crush the ACT Reading Test
Unfortunately, reading the greatest 100 novels ever written in English (or any language actually) will not necessarily better prepare a student for the ACT Reading Test. Actually, they should call this test, “Passage Hunt” as it is more a representation of finding specific answers within a written passage than necessarily maximizing one’s understanding of a passage in its entirety. Granted, the best high school readers can read a passage and fully understand most of what they read. However, they still may have difficulty against the clock because they are busy trying to soak up every detail of the passage (as good readers should), when there are only 10 things that are absolutely crucial to the passage. ACT Reading is more about finding evidence to support 10 correct answers before 8 min and 45 seconds on the clock tick away. Knowing how the ACT structures its reading questions and understanding the different question types found on the Reading Test can make all the difference. That knowledge combined with understanding how to optimize a student’s reading time/efficiency are the keys to unlocking a high ACT Reading score.
Myth #5 - You Cannot Practice for the ACT
Whether it was in the classroom preparing for a speech or debate or on the tennis courts preparing for a match, Coach Bender always preached to us “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.”
These proverbial “5 Ps” could really be boiled down to just one--PRACTICE.
The critical component in improving ACT scores is familiarity with the test on the individual question level. That only comes through PRACTICE. Regardless of popular opinion, just "being in school" does not provide the practice necessary to really improve an ACT performance.
The best practice comes by doing live time, ACT tests with a professional instructor who can break down the test on a section by section, question by question basis. This includes merging CONTENT with STRATEGY and using them as a foundation to attack each question with a specific game plan in hand.
According to the ACT's statistics (ACT.org) 57% of last year's students improved their composite score (overall score) the second time they took the ACT.
By comparison, over the past four years, greater than 97% of students who have worked consistently with Dr. Carlin (individually) on the ACT have improved their scores. There is no substitution for improving at the ACT than working at the test specifically in live time with someone who truly knows the ins and outs of the test on every level.
Prepare Properly and Prevent a Poor Performance the second time around on the ACT. So, In a word…PRACTICE.
For more information about Dr. Carlin’s new ACT Workshop Webinar Series, see drcarlinstestprep.com
For more information about In Person ACT Prep Courses in your area, see michianatestprep.com
If you have additional questions, you can always contact Dr. Carlin at 517-803-5037 or email firstname.lastname@example.org