Category Archives: ACT

Should I Clear the Calculator Memory Before the ACT

While many students get away with putting math formulas into their calculators, and many businesses market programs that enable students to download the math formulas that students need for the test, storing information on your calculator is prohibited on the ACT.  

With the test cheating scandals in recent years, the ACT is really cracking down on security procedures.  This test will lose its credibility if cheating is widespread, so the ACT is doing everything they can to stop it.  Instead of looking around for a way to put formulas into your calculator, have no worries by spending a few minutes memorizing what you need for test day.

Always Guess C?

“Always Guess C!”  I learned the hard way the reality of offering such advice. Some years ago, I was tutoring a young lady for the ACT.  I advised her to guess on quite a few questions because she had difficulty with time management.  On her math practice test, she guessed “C” on the last 20 questions.  Much to my surprise, she only got one of them correct!

After discovering this, I looked at every publicly available ACT test to see if there was a pattern on the last few questions of the Math test.  On every single one, I found that “C” or “H” (the middle choice of the 5 since the ACT alternates between ABCDE and FGHJK on the Math Questions) was used less frequently than the other choices.

I thought about it, and it made sense to me why this would be true.  1.  Most students don’t finish the ACT Math section.  2.  Most students guess “C” when they run out of time.

So, I figured that ACT realized that people guessing “C” quite a bit at the end must be blindly guessing rather than actually knowing the material.  I guessed that they were trying to punish these guessers by turning conventional wisdom on its head and penalizing those who followed the “Guess C!” rule of thumb.

I thought I was on to something – I advised my students prior to the next ACT to not guess C on the last 10-20 math questions.  I was really excited that I had discovered a hidden strategy that I hadn’t found stated elsewhere.

Then, I took the ACT in December and ordered the question/answer service so I could review my answers.  And guess what:  THEY USED “C” A LOT ON THE LAST FEW QUESTIONS OF THE MATH!  I had given my students terrible advice for that test date.  Fortunately, the rest of my advice was much more sound.

Lesson learned – one letter is as good as any other on major tests like the ACT or SAT.  If it were as easy as picking a particular letter, why on earth would colleges put any stock in these tests?

State Sponsored ACT in Ohio: Pros and Cons

Starting this year, the state of Ohio is paying for every Junior in high school to take the ACT. Most schools are requiring every eligible student to take the test during the school day sometime in the next month.  The ACT is now one of the simplest ways to complete testing requirements for graduation; one path to graduation involves receiving a 22 on the math, 21 on the reading, and 18 on the English. Free testing makes things very easy for the schools.  There is no longer any excuse for students not to have an ACT score for graduation or college applications! This is great for low income students who previously might not have been able to take the test due to cost! It is also great for students who have anxiety and want to take the test in a familiar environment. However, the way the state has set up the testing, along with the choices several districts have made, may actually have negative consequences on several different groups of students.

My biggest concern is that the state has chosen not to pay for students to take the writing portion of the test.  For students who cannot afford to pay for the ACT (the students who this is supposed to be helping) this is their only chance at this test. Many universities  require the writing portion, so these students will be cut off from applying! In addition, highly exclusive schools want to see a writing score for every test that their applicants take; students from Ohio may look bad to these schools because they were required to sit for an ACT without the writing portion.

Similarly, students who are very high achieving will most likely be applying to schools that require ALL test results be submitted. These schools generally don’t want to see students taking the test more than three or four times as it can begin to look desperate. These students will have to “waste” a test sitting on the in school test on which they may not do as well.

There are two main reasons that students may not do as well on the in-school tests as on regular Saturday tests.  First, students have been trained not to prepare for in-school standardized tests. Their teachers make them do small practice tests, but generally students do not study outside the classroom. Not many students took time out of their days to study for the old OGT or the more recent PARCC tests. The preparation given by the school was really all they did. However, students can benefit greatly by preparing for the ACT outside of school, they just may not think to do so if they see it as just the next in a long line of standardized tests they  have to take for graduation.

The secondary reason students may not do as well on the in-school tests is that many schools are only offering on screen ACTs.  Tests on computers have several setbacks. It is difficult to flip through the test, to go back and answer questions you chose to leave for the end.  It is impossible to write on the test; students will not be able to circle key words in questions or underline important parts of the reading comprehension test. In addition, computers have a myriad of problems associated with them, they can get unplugged, run out of battery, go offline, or crash. Finally, students will have to stare at a screen for four hours, straining their eyes and making them even more tired than they normally would be during this test. Schools choosing the computer option aren’t doing their students any favors.

While this in-school test may be a wonderful opportunity for many students, if it’s not good for you make sure you do something about it! If you think you may be adversely affected by these tests then talk to your guidance counselor! Explain your concerns and ask if you can be exempted from the test. If you have already taken the ACT they may be willing to allow it, especially if you have legitimate concerns which you explain respectfully. If your guidance counselor tells you that he or she “can’t make that call,” ask who can make the call and get in touch with them. Remember, you are the best advocate for yourself. Stand up for your rights and for what is best for you.


I hope you have found this blog informational! If you enjoyed it please consider sharing it with your colleagues or friends!

Michal Strawn

New ACT Accommodations for English Language Learners

The ACT has long been a test with which English Language Learners (ELLs) struggled. The test is based largely on the English language; even the math portion requires a thorough understanding of English. However, the ACT will soon allow for accommodations for students who are still learning English.  The ACT wants to ensure that the test accurately reflects the potential of the students who take it and so they will be allowing certain aids for students who are ELLs. These accommodations include

  • Up to time and a half on the test
  • A bilingual word to word glossary (not containing definitions)
  • Test instructions in the native language of the student (limited to certain languages)
  • Separate room testing

These accommodations will be available to students starting in the fall of 2017 to students who are enrolled in their school’s English learners program!

The July ACT

The ACT recently announced that they would be adding a new test date in 2018. The new date will be sometime in July. This is causing some students to ask “should I take important tests over the summer?” The answer to this question is multi-faceted.

Take a summer test if:

  1. You’re busy during the school year.

If your school year is packed full of activities, trips, homework, work, and other obligations you may not have time to properly prepare! If the summer is less stressful, the July test may be perfect for you! You would have all of June and at least part of July to prepare, free from the stress of school.

  1. You have definitive goals.

If you know exactly what score you want, then the July test might be a good idea, especially if you’re a rising senior. Rising seniors should have already taken the test once and know what score they’re shooting for. The July test allows these students an extra chance to reach those goals. Rising juniors probably don’t have to worry about these tests yet and can wait until the September or October tests to start.

  1. You are applying early action or early decision and want an extra chance.

If you will be a rising Senior next summer and you know that you’ll be applying early action or early decision you may want to take advantage of the July test as if gives you an extra opportunity to raise your scores. Before, you would have only had the September and possibly October test to reach those scores before applications were due. Now you have an extra opportunity.

Don’t take a summer test if:

  1. You tend to forget things.

If you’re a student who forgets what they studied as soon as a unit is over, this test may not be for you. The July test will take place at least a month after you’ve left school for the summer so your English and math scores may suffer if you have a “summer brain.”

  1. You aren’t self-motivated.

Yes, the July test gives you all of June and part of July to prepare. However, if you’re the type of person who can’t self-structure study time then this test might not be your best bet. During the school year, you have a definitive schedule into which you can work some ACT prep. However, during the summer you have all free time so you may not feel as motivated to get that work done! Unless you’re on top of things, leave test taking until the school year!

  1. You’re not a “morning person.”

The ACT is a morning test. This, in general, isn’t great for teenagers whose circadian rhythms make them “night owls.” However, during the school year most teens are used to getting up early, even if they don’t like it.  If, once summer rolls around, you revert to nocturnal ways, this test may not be for you. Wait until the school year when you’ll be used to waking up early. That way, your brain can be operating at full capacity.


I hope you have found this article to be helpful! If so, please share it with your friends!

Michal Strawn

ACT Science Content

Although many people claim that the ACT Science test does not require any background knowledge, they are incorrect.  If you examine several ACT tests, you will find that you must have basic knowledge from these two high school courses:

  • Physical Science
  • Biology

They require you to have this background knowledge because high school juniors across the country should have taken these two courses, no matter the rigor of their individual high schools.  Expect to see just a handful of questions that involve actual background knowledge from these two areas.

If you have taken advanced science, such as AP Chemistry or AP Physics, that certainly won’t hurt you.  It will help in the sense that your general ability to reason through scientific charts and graphs will be stronger, not because you need to have specific knowledge from any of those areas.

The material they present on the passages can come from all sorts of general scientific areas:  physics, chemistry, biology, botany, zoology, astronomy, geology, and so forth.

The ACT Science Section has 3 types of passages:

  • Data Representation (38%). There are three of this type of passage, and each passage has 5 questions.  You will need to evaluate information presented in graphs, tables and figures.
  • Research Summaries (45%). There are three of this type of passage, and each passage has 6 questions.  You will need to analyze 2 or more experimental summaries, thinking about the results and the experimental design.
  • Conflicting Viewpoints (17%). You will only have 1 passage of this type, and it has seven questions.  It will present viewpoints from anywhere from 2 up to several scientists.  You will need to read a good bit here, although sometimes there is a graph or two given as well.  You will need to sharpen your ability to compare and contrast differing scientific explanations.

The passages are in a random order of difficulty, so just be on your toes to think critically at any point.

I hope you found this article helpful!  If you did, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

Reading Test Content and Material

The Reading Test always have the same four types of reading passages, and they will  always be in the same order:

  1. Prose Fiction–a short story or an excerpt from a longer fiction story.  Something you would typically find in your English class.
  2. Social Sciencesomething that a teacher from Social Studies would instruct, including history, economics, psychology and more.  This is basically, any non-fiction area that is not a “hard” science like physics, chemistry, etc.
  3. Humanities – This is about art, music, films, and other creations.  You’ll find first-person and third-person accounts of human creative tasks.
  4. Natural Science – Could be anything from the sciences, such as astronomy, geology, or physics.  You won’t have to have any specialized scientific knowledge – it will be material you can understand simply based on the passage.

Each passage is approximately 700-800 words, and has 10 questions that follow.  You will have two subscores: The Social Studies/Sciences subscore is based the Social Science and Natural Science passages, and the Arts/Literature subscore is based on your performance on the Prose Fiction and Humanities passages.

This is the one section of the ACT where no background knowledge is required, other than having the skill of knowing how to read.

This test is extremely quick; if you want to finish the whole thing you must be a fast reader. You can improve your overall reading speed and comprehension by reading high quality books and magazines.

Hope you found this article helpful!  If you did, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

ACT Math Test Content

Before you take the ACT make sure you read the information they give you on each of the sections! Here is what the ACT tells us about the math, “translated” into normal English.

The ACT will always allot the Math questions the same way, with each type of math content having the same percentage of questions from test to test.  If you have taken Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2, you should be in good shape.  They do have some topics that are occasionally covered in pre-calculus, so you may want to wait to take the ACT until you have covered all the material.  No need to worry about calculus – that won’t be on the ACT.

Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra

  • Pre-Algebra (23%)
  1. Number Basics:  Fractions, decimals, integers
  2. Scientific Notation
  3. Square Roots
  4. Exponents
  5. Factors of numbers and expressions
  6. Ratios and proportions
  7. Percentage calculations
  8. One variable equations
  9. Absolute Value
  10. Simple statistics (mean, median, mode)
  11. Simple probability (dependent and independent variable problems)
  12. Simple interpretations of data graphs


  • Elementary Algebra (17%)
  1. Properties of Exponents and Square Roots (multiplying, dividing, adding, subtracting, etc.)
  2. Solving equations using substitution
  3. 2 variable equations
  4. Order of operations (Parentheses/Exponents, Multiplication/Division, Addition/Subtraction)
  5. Factoring of equations


Intermediate Algebra/Coordinate Geometry

  • Intermediate Algebra (15%)
  1. Quadratic Formula
  2. Equations and expressions involving radicals and roots
  3. Equations with Absolute Value
  4. Inequalities
  5. Sequences and Patterns (Geometric and Arithmetic)
  6. More complex systems of equations (usually no more than 2 variables)
  7. More complex functions
  8. Turning word problems into algebraic models
  9. Matrices (addition, subtraction, multiplication)
  10. Complex numbers
  11. Once in a long while – synthetic division, standard deviation


  • Coordinate Geometry (15%)
  1. Be able to graph equations in the x-y coordinate plane, including lines and parabolas.  (Don’t need to worry about Hyperbolas or Ellipses).
  2. Be able to graph a circle in the x-y coordinate plane.
  3. Be able to graph inequalities.
  4. Slope formula
  5. Slope-Intercept form
  6. Parallel and perpendicular line rules
  7. Distance Formula
  8. Midpoint Formula


Plane Geometry/Trigonometry

  • Plane Geometry (23%)
  1. Vertical Angles
  2. Supplementary Angles
  3. Complementary Angles
  4. Alternate Interior Angles
  5. Area and Circumference of a Circle
  6. Perimeter of Shapes
  7. Area of Square and Rectangle
  8. Area of Triangle
  9. Area of Parallelogram
  10. Area of Trapezoid
  11. Basics of Proofs
  12. Cylinder Volume
  13. Box Volume


  • Trigonometry (7%)
  1. Sin
  2. Cos
  3. Tan
  4. Secant
  5. Cosecant
  6. Cotangent
  7. Basic Trigonometric Identities
  8. Graph of Sin and Cos
  9. Basics of Unit Circle (i.e. knowing quadrants)
  10. Radian/Degree Conversion

The ACT English Section

So what is on the ACT English? The ACT provides great information on what is on their test; that information is often hard to understand. I’ve broken it down for you here!

Usage/Mechanics – Half of the ACT English Test

  • Punctuation (13%).  Primarily you need to know commas.  Also, review usage of semicolons, colons, and dashes.  It is critical that you don’t just know simple punctuation rules but that you also know how proper punctuation affects the meaning of sentences.
  • Grammar and Usage (16%).  Look at subject verb agreement – words that need to agree with one another will often be separated, so you’ll really have to pay close attention to context.  Watch out for vague pronouns, idioms, and proper adjective and adverb usage.  Basically, make sure that the intended meaning matches up with the actual meaning.
  • Sentence Structure (24%).  You have to be more than a proofreader – you need to be an editor.  Be certain that individual words and longer clauses are placed in a logical order.

Rhetorical Skills – The Other Half of the ACT English Test

  • Strategy (16%). You will need to examine the intent of the author, and pick answers that do what the author actually intended to do.  You will also need to see if phrases and sentences are relevant, or if they can be removed.
  • Organization (15%).  You need to know where sentences and phrases should be placed – rearrange things until they make sense.  Also, you need to connect paragraphs, sentences and phrases with logical transitional words, like “but”, “also”, or “because”, as demanded by the situation.  You’ll  need to be able to see what a sensible introduction or a conclusion would be based on the context.
  • Style (16%). This is big picture stuff. How do you make an individual sentence have the same tone as the rest of an essay?  Depending on what the goal of the author is, how do you pick the best wording to express what is wanted?  How can you be clear with pronouns?  How can you prevent needless repetition and wordiness?

Check out our full length practice test and see how you do!

What to expect on the ACT: Timing


If you’re taking the ACT, you’re in for a long morning.  You should arrive at the test center before 8 AM in order to find your room and check in.  You will then have a roughly 4 hour test in front of you.

The ACT is broken up into four sections with an optional fifth section:  English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing.  To remember the order in which the test sections fall, simply remember that they go in alphabetical order!  

Here is the breakdown for timing of the test, and how you should pace yourself on the ACT:

English Test – 45 minutes, 75 questions, 5 passages.  You should take about 9 minutes per passage.

Math Test – 60 minutes, 60 questions.  Questions increase in difficulty so start out quickly and then slow down about half way through.

You then have a 10 minute break when you should have a snack!  Bring it yourself. 

Reading Tests – 35 minutes, 40 questions, 4 passages.  Take about 9 minutes per passage.

Science Test – 35 minutes, 40 questions, 6-7 passages.  Take about 5 minutes per passage.

If you are sticking around for the writing, you have a 5 minute break.  If you are not doing the ACT Writing, you can go home at this time. 

Optional ACT Essay – 40 minutes.  Spend about 5 minutes prewriting, and 30 minutes writing and 5 minutes editing.  They typically give you 4-5 pages on which to write.


As the tests go on, they become more difficult for most students to finish.  English is very easy to complete, and Science is quite tough.  Practice ahead of time so that you have a good internal feel for the pace at which you should go.  Also, by practicing, you will have a good idea of whether it makes sense to skip and guess on some questions.  Remember, there is no penalty for guessing on the ACT, so if you don’t complete all the questions, be sure to at least bubble something in for each question.

I hope you found this article helpful!  If you did, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart