How to Get A Perfect Score on the ACT
Hi, I’m Brooke Hanson, CEO of SupertutorTV and private tutor. I’ve scored perfectly on the ACT (36/36 composite). I have also coached a student to a 36/36 composite, and many others to 36/36 on every individual section of the test. Here I’m going to share with you my 10 top tips to get a perfect score on the ACT.
The best way to really know the test well is to practice as much as you can. There are quite a few resources out there for you to get a hold of real ACT tests. First, check out our links to several free ACT (and SAT) tests here: ACT / SAT Resources, then pick up a copy of The Real ACT Prep Guide 3rd Edition. With thorough explanations of why every answer choice is wrong, and questions by the official test makers, this book is the best source available for accurate test materials. Warning: the essay from this book is outdated. Do not use the essay portion of this book– instead see our blog on the new essay here: How to Write the New ACT Essay.
More real ACT tests are also available from websites online– though some are on the spamtastic side (Supertutor TV is not responsible for any dodgy files or websites!). If you Google “Real ACT Test . pdf” or “40 Real ACT tests” you should find a boat load of them.
More recent tests are the most accurate– they include only 6 science passages and a “dual passage” in the reading section. (Recent changes to the ACT).
2. Know what you are doing wrong.
After finishing those tests, you need to go over them, figuring out what you are doing wrong and how to get the questions right next time. If you are trying to convince yourself that you are right and the test is wrong, you are on a perpetual path of futility. You must learn to think how the test thinks. What are the rules it plays by? Go over the questions that you got wrong and ask “why is this one better than the one I chose?” Or “what is most important” when choosing the right answer?
3. Pace yourself.
You have to be aware of time on the ACT. Many students go over a few ACT questions, think the test “feels” easy, and then get majorly scorched by the time limit. To learn how to manage your time on the ACT:
Check out our video on How To Speed Read, which will help you learn how to read faster and be more strategic in the reading section.
Practice slow, then speed up.
If necessary break the test into timed segments, use a stopwatch and practice pacing yourself a few questions at a time.
Most people don’t run out of time during the English section, but that doesn’t mean they have the pacing down. Often people move TOO fast in this section and make mistakes because they haven’t spent enough time looking at the surrounding context of questions to get them right. Use most of your time to ensure the best score possible. Practice is the remedy!
In the science section, don’t read the passages first! Save time! I’ve said this in my ACT Science Secret Tip #1 video, reading the passage at first will definitely slows you down. Read when you need!
4. Know when to slow think and fast think.
Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman suggests that people have two modes of thinking: slow thinking and fast thinking. Part of the challenge of the ACT is knowing when to employ either system. You’ll need both– “slow thinking” your way through the exam will leave you with no time and unfinished questions. “Fast thinking” will leave you with too many errors.
Ultimately you’ll need to think fast to narrow your answer choices, and then think slowly to be sure that you haven’t chosen the wrong one. These are habits you need to build– going fast (and not slow) at first– but then getting careful and slowing down when necessary. This discrimination is particularly important in the reading and English sections, and somewhat important in the science section.
5. Make complex questions simpler.
Particularly in the science section, but even in math or grammar, questions can seem overwhelming. Break questions down into pieces and address one piece at a time.
On the science section, first orient yourself (according to figure 1– then find figure 1), and take each piece of information one or two at a time. Don’t try to read the whole question at once. Double check that you’ve taken EACH detail into account. Use the answer choices to target what information you’ll be looking for. If you have Yes / No questions, first look at the other piece of information and figure out which answer(s) are right, then figure out if the answer is Yes or No. Write down notes, trends, and shorthand so you don’t need to read anything in sentence form more than once.
This also applies to the English section– a Yes/No question can be made simpler by just focusing on one element at a time (i.e. the Yes/No or the explanation). On grammar questions, figure out what is being tested by looking at differences– there may be verb tense and preposition choice– if that’s the case make sure to check both– but not at the same time. First figure out the verb tense, then the correct preposition, etc. Simplify the process whenever possible.
On the math section, don’t worry about how to get to the answer if a path is not obvious. Instead think about how you can move forward. If you know what you know, what else do you know? Get from A to B, then worry about how to get from B to C.
In the reading section, figure out what makes the answer choices different from each other– then ask yourself is the passage more in line with A or is the passage more in line with B?
Break down the process and make a tough test simpler.
6. Read the question stems!
This is a tip for the English section. So many students get in “grammar” mode and fail to pay any heed to the question stems (AKA the part that asks a question before the answer choices). It may seem simple, but over and over I have seen this habit wreak havoc on scores of all levels. Focus solely on the information in the stem, and don’t fret about what sounds as if a fourth grader wrote it, or what grammar constructions feel a bit awkward. These questions are about the intentions asked for in the question stem above all else!
7. Pay attention to context!
This tip relates to the English and Reading sections.
If you’re not sure about an answer, then LOOK BACK to the passage and find more evidence for yourself. Read above and below the sentence. Consider information in front and after. I see many students miss English section questions on transitions, word placement, sentence placement, and verb tense because they don’t look at the sentences that surround the one they are working on. When they can’t figure things out from reading that one sentence they guess. Not a great strategy.
In the reading section, if something doesn’t’ make sense or you don’t know the answer, get a feel for the context. What is the vibe of the passage overall? The tone of the author? The idea in the surrounding sentences? Use context to help you understand what words and phrases mean.
8. Work on your writing skills.
True, the essay doesn’t count in your composite score. But it does count if you’re applying to a top school. The new essay is tough, and ignoring it won’t make it easier. Check out our blog on the new ACT essay here:How to Write the New ACT Essay.
9. Don’t guess!
If you want a perfect score, you’ll need to raise the bar. Getting a perfect means changing your habits. You aren’t going to score perfectly unless you have a 99% certainty that each answer is correct. To get to that point of certainty means that at times you’ll need to fight to find the answer. True, you may run out of time, but until you can put up that fight and still finish in time, you’re unlikely to score perfectly. Fighting to find the answer means looking for more evidence, using techniques and strategies to narrow answer choices, and thinking critically about what choices you have.
10. Study content.
When most students set out to study for a test like the ACT, they often make the mistake of thinking the only thing to study is content. It isn’t. In fact, for the majority of students scoring over a 32 on the exam, most don’t need much brush up on content. Still, it’s an area you want to address if necessary.
What do I mean by “content” —
In the English section, I mean you need to know every grammar rule — Subject / Verb Agreement, Noun Agreement, Pronoun Agreement, Idiomatic Usage, etc. If there’s a type of problem you have issues with, find some exercises and work on it.
In the Reading section, you need to be able to read and understand what you read in a reasonable amount of time– if you’re having trouble reading efficiently, check out our Speed Reading video. If your vocabulary is weak, you’ll need to improve it. (Check out our Mnemonics Video if you’re working on vocabulary!).
In the Math section, you’ll need to know all the basic elements being tested– from how to find the area of a circle, to the equation of a trigonometric function. Again, try to diagnose what elements you don’t know how to do, and then find worksheets, workbooks, or practice modules in these areas to help you.
In the Science section, you’ll need to know some outside information from science class. Unfortunately, trying to study for this information is nearly impossible– as it could be any random idea from any one of many science disciplines. As such, I recommend you take as many practice sections as possible and cross your fingers. At most you’ll need outside information on 2-3 questions.
Obviously reading this list isn’t going to get you 36 points on the ACT– but it’s a starting place for you to begin your journey of improvement. GOOD LUCK!
Now that you’ve mastered getting a perfect score on the ACT, want advice on How to Get a Perfect Score on the new SAT? Check out this post and read more!