Have you signed up for the ACT yet? If not, take a look at the ACT testing dates this year and sign up for one that works with your college admissions timeline. If so, congratulations! You are one of the roughly 1.3 million students nationwide who take the standardized test. Now that you have a definite date that you are taking the ACT, it is time to create a study plan to best prepare you for that date. The ACT is like any other test – studying and practice is the key to doing well. One crucial factor that students often overlook as a key to success is also timing. You need enough time to prepare for the test and making a study plan is the best way to make the most efficient use of the time you have.
Read on to learn how to make a study plan for the ACT. I will also provide a sample study plan if you have 3 months to prepare, as well as a week-by-week breakdown. I’ve also made study plans if you have 1 month of 6 months to prepare, and you can check them out here.
Why Do You Need A Study Plan For ACT
As mentioned before, timing is just as important as studying and practicing in order to successfully prepare for the ACT. Cramming is one of the biggest, if not the most common, mistake students make when preparing to take the test. Not only is it stressful, but it is scientifically proven that understanding and learning topics is best over time. That way, new information can sink in and embed itself into your long-term memory. Furthermore, the ACT is a timed test. Learning topics over a longer period time allows them to become second-nature to you, so that when you’re taking the test, recalling them is fast and natural.
That said, make sure you have adequate time to prepare for the ACT. Students are recommended to have at least 3 months before their test date to prepare, but you can also start earlier, if needed (ie. you have a busy weekly schedule or you want to study at a slower pace).
Creating a study plan is the crucial next step. Many students overlook this part, but making a plan for yourself has several incredibly helpful benefits. A study plan will allow you to:
- Help you build study habits.
Say you have three months before your test date. Knowing that you have plenty of time, you tell yourself you’re going to start studying tomorrow. Tomorrow comes, however, and your friends ask to go to the mall. You think to yourself, moving studying back one day won’t hurt. This goes on until it’s the week before the test, and you haven’t started studying at all! Making a study plan can help keep you responsible and accountable throughout your months of studying. Knowing that you have to accomplish a certain number of tasks within a week will prevent you from moving them back each week, until it is too late!
- Allocate your time efficiently.
The ACT covers so many topics and there are so many resources and skills to practice that it’s easy to get caught up studying either the wrong thing or aspects that are not super helpful to you. When you make a study plan, you know which topics are most important for you to cover. You can prioritize certain skills, types of questions, and sections to best suit your needs. Studying efficiently is of the essence, and a study plan is essential to making that happen.
- Organize your college application process.
Making a study plan can also help organize your college application process. You can incorporate other parts into the plan – for example, after one hour of studying, you can add one hour of working on your supplemental essays, or researching information about different schools. Thinking ahead and being organized are two essential skills to navigating the overwhelming and long college application process.
- Feel less overwhelmed.
Speaking of feeling overwhelmed by the college process, making a study plan can help you manage that. The ACT may look like a huge behemoth to tackle, but breaking down what you are going to study and accomplish each week will make it look more doable. Studying one or two hours a day adds up quickly to studying 10 hours a week! Imagine cramming that into a single day before the test. A study plan gives you a roadmap, and knowing the way is much less stressful than navigating it with no idea which direction to go.
How To Prepare ACT Study Plan
Creating an ACT study plan is easier than you think. There are certain bits of key information you need to reflect and decide on before starting, so that you can tailor your study plan to that. Each person’s study plan will be different. Not only will they have different goals and time frames, but people have different study habits and learning speeds. Each plan should take into account your individual strengths and weaknesses, as well as your situational constraints.
Define Your Goals
The very first question you should ask yourself when making a study plan is: What are your goals on the ACT? This may be the most important question, as your entire study plan will be leading up to this. Keep in mind that goals do not have to be a specific score. If you are taking the ACT for the first time and you are a high school sophomore, your goal might be just to get a feel for the test. Your goal can also just focus on a specific section, rather than the whole test, if you are planning on using the Superscore option.
Either way, setting your goal will be informed by a variety of factors, most often depending on the schools you are applying to. You will want your ACT score to fall at or above the average score of an admitted student of the schools you are applying to. These statistics are often published by the school online as part of their admitted students profile.
Additionally, a good way to set your ACT score goals is to take a practice test. How you do on the practice test will be a baseline for your performance and can serve as a roadmap to crafting your study plan, as it will allow you to identify your strengths and weaknesses in specific sections and types of questions. Your practice test score can help you identify what is a feasible goal score to set, as well.
Consider Your Test Date
Look at the time leading up to your test date (or test date you are thinking of signing up for). As mentioned before, at least three months to study is ideal. Check your schedule – do you have time in your schedule to fit in studying for the ACT? If your schedule is too hectic, and you can only fit in a couple (one to three) hours a week, consider rescheduling your test to a later date so that you have more time to prepare. If rescheduling your test is not an option, look at what else is taking up your schedule. What activities do you prioritize the most? Which can you drop so that you can fit in studying?
Visualizing how your weeks will look like with your study schedule built into it will allow you to plan ahead and prime you to cultivate a successful study schedule.
Reflect On Your Study Habits
Everyone learns differently. People have different learning styles and speeds, for example, some are visual learners, while others do better hearing lessons out loud. Math might come quick to some, but might be a slog and burden to others. Some people like to study for long hours all at once, while others study more incrementally and do better with numerous breaks. It is important to reflect on your experiences in school and what you sense is your learning style and speed. Then, you can tailor your study schedule to how you learn best. This is another way to make sure you are preparing in the most efficient manner, and that you make most of the time you have leading up to the test.
Prepare A Study Schedule
Once you have set your testing goals, chosen your test date, and reflected on your study habits, you can begin to construct your study schedule. This can be as detailed as you’d like to be. You can plan it month-by-month, determining what topics and tasks you will complete at the end of each month, week-by-week, or day-by-day. If you are the type of person that needs a strict structure in order to stick to it, day-by-day might work for you. If your schedule is very dynamic and up in the air still, a month-by-month and week-by-week schedule can give you the most flexibility. In the following section, I will provide an example plan that breaks down studying week-by-week that you can draw from when you are creating your own.
The ACT has five sections: English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing (optional). You will want to make sure that your study schedule encompasses all of the topics and types of questions asked in each section. You can make sure you are hitting all the areas by looking up the test structure and format. If you are debating to take the optional Writing section, see if any of the colleges you’re applying to require it in their application.
|1 essay question
Gather Your Study Material
Now that you’ve created a study plan, what’s the next step? Based on what you are planning to study, you need to gather all the materials you are going to use. This includes drills, practice tests, and study guides. Luckily, there are a plethora of resources available online for you to browse and choose from. They are both free and paid, and vary in quality. This is both a blessing and a curse. While all of this is at the tip of your fingers, it can be extremely difficult to sift through the massive amounts of information and choose which ones are worth your time (and oftentimes, you money). Choosing your resource comes down to you. You can ask friends and family for the recommendations, or enlist the help of a tutoring service like SoFlo that has years of experience in this field. You can also do your own research, reading reviews and vetting the materials, to determine whether something is helpful or not.
At the end of the day, one of the most important materials to get your hands on are official practice tests. With these, you can work with real questions from the ACT and get the closest possible experience to test day. There are plenty of official practice tests on the ACT official site and available online to access.
Sample ACT Study Schedule: 3 Months
Three months is the ideal amount of time you should have in order to prepare for the ACT. This gives you enough time to learn new concepts and have them adequately sink in. It also gives you the opportunity to try new strategies and choose to adopt them or drop them if they don’t work.
Here is a sample study schedule for 3 months that you can use. If your test date is coming up soon, or you have plenty of time to prepare, check out our sample schedules for 1 month and 6 months as well.
Study Schedule For 3 Months
ACT Study Sample Schedule
|2 hours: Review practice test answers and explanations
|1 hour: Section concept review
|2 hours: Section practice problems
|1 hour: Section review and practice problems
|3 hours: Full-length practice test
- Take 1 full-length practice test in 1 sitting
- Score the test to get your baseline score
- Review answers you got wrong
- Review answers you got right (important step many students miss!)
- Identify your strengths and weaknesses and adjust your study plan accordingly
All ACT preparation starts with a full-length practice test. This is so you can get a baseline score, see how far off you are from your target score, and adjust accordingly. Taking the test also gets you familiar with the test format and allows you to identify some strength and weaknesses earlier on.
Take the practice test in one sitting and try to simulate testing conditions. You can ask a parent or friend to act like a proctor, but at least keep it strict with the time limits and breaks. The entire ACT takes 2 hours and 55 minutes, but if you choose to do the optional Writing section, it will take an additional 40 minutes. After you take the test, score it with the answer key. Then, set aside another block of 3 hours to go over the test (this can be done on a different day). This is a crucial step – don’t skip it! Setting a good foundation earlier on will set the direction of your study plan and set you up for success.
When reviewing the test, spend time on the questions you got wrong. Note the answer and try to figure out where you went wrong. If you do not know why you got the question wrong, flag it and either try to look it up on the internet (there are some ACT walk-throughs you can watch on YouTube) or ask a family or friend to explain it to you. Make sure that you fully understand each question, where you went wrong, and the correct way to solve it.
While going through the test, try to also identify key trends and patterns:
- Are there specific types of questions that you get wrong frequently? For example, you might notice that you often skip or miss geometry questions in the Math section. Or you might have trouble with inference questions on Reading and Writing.
- How is your time management? Were there any specific sections where you felt like you were rushing? Did you have too much time at the end, or not enough? Does it differ between sections?
This will help you pinpoint areas to focus on in the future and allocate your time most efficiently to the areas that need it most.
Lastly, many students skip this final step, but it is also a crucial one: review the questions that you got right. This might seem counter-intuitive, but it will help you be the most efficient you can be on test day. For each question, see if your way is the most efficient path to get to the answer. You can check this by reading or watching explanation guides or asking a friend or family member to go through it with you. This is where a tutor can be a big help, as well.
In this week, you can adjust your upcoming study plan accordingly to fit your strength, weaknesses, and updated goal score, if necessary.
- Study foundational concepts and learn new ones you are not familiar with
- Review concepts you already know or need a refresher on
- Learn test-taking strategies and methods for each section
Weeks 2 to 4 are all about building a good foundation on the core concepts tested on the ACT. Think of this as laying the foundation of a building – if it is not strong, everything else you do later on (drills, practice problems, etc.) can crumble and will not be as effective.
Study concepts accordingly based on how you did on your practice test last week. For example, if you keep on missing questions about geometry, dust off your old geometry textbook (or, in this age, look it up online). There are a plethora of resources, including tutors, who can walk you through the basic concepts and formulas that you should know when taking the ACT.
Make sure you also take time to review concepts you already think you know, or those that you might be a bit rusty on. You do not have to spend as much time with them, but the last thing you want is to think you are confident on something like fractions, then have a curveball fraction question on the test that you did not prepare for.
During this time, you should also be learning test-taking strategies and methods. Like any other test, there are steps you can take to your advantage. Simple strategies include elimination and annotation methods, while more complex ones include skimming and Math shortcuts.
- Take another full-length practice test
- Score and review the test
- Take note of any old and new trends and patterns
Now that you’ve taken the past few weeks to get a good grasp and understanding of the ACT’s foundational concepts, it’s time to take another practice test. Again, take it in a single setting while simulating testing conditions. Score it and compare it to your baseline.
How did it change? Improvement is always a good sign, but do not worry too much if it stayed the same or even decreased. There are a lot of explanations why this may have occurred – sometimes, your brain will slow down when it has to process a lot of new information. Or, this day may have simply been an off day for you.
Go through the test like in Week 1 and note any trends and patterns. Compare these to your Week 1 test, and be prepared to work on them intensely in the coming weeks ahead.
- Target your weak areas by reviewing and doing drills and practice problems
- (Optional) Take one practice test or section every week, score it, and review questions you got right and wrong soon after.
Weeks 6 to 9 are when things start to get serious. Really dig down into the questions and topics that you are struggling with. Do drills and practice problems, review foundational concepts, and learn new strategies to solve challenging types of questions. This is where you can get into the nitty gritty and really focus on your weak areas. Don’t forget to review areas you do well in, though this doesn’t have to be for a long period of time every week.
If you want, you can take one practice test or section every week to check up on how you’re doing. I always advocate to take more practice tests than you need – doing the real thing is one of the most effective ways to prepare for the ACT. If you don’t have enough time to set a 3 hour block every week, or you’re feeling study fatigue, you can loosen up and maybe only take a couple practice sections. Or, you can try to take parts of the test, but without the time limit.
- Take one practice test every week, score, and review it
- Study any last-minute topics and questions
These are the last two weeks before your test date! By this time, you should be getting at least your target score on all the practice tests you are taking. If not, you should re-evaluate your score goals or look into rescheduling your test, if possible. This is the most important period in your studying. In this period, you will want to be taking full-practice tests in one sitting every week. Remember, reviewing the test is just as important as taking it! Really focus in on the remaining topics and questions that give you trouble, as there won’t be enough time in the last week for it to stick and sink in. Make sure to review all the ACT topics, though, especially if you haven’t reviewed them since the first week. You will want them fresh in your mind and ready to go when you take the test!
- Learn and practice mental health test-taking strategies
- Get enough sleep and stay hydrated!
- Gather all of your materials and know where you are taking the test
- Do your best on test day!
Test week is here! Take this week slow and relaxed. In the days leading up to the test, you want to take care of your mental health and make sure you are in the right mindset before taking the ACT. It can be an extremely stressful test, and many students underestimate the power of nerves that can get in the way of performing your best. Use this week to look up mental strategies for test day – controlled breathing and meditation work for some students. Try to feel confident and ready. After all, you have three months of preparation backing you up!
If you have stuck to your study schedule so far, there is no reason that you should be doing any intense studying this week. In fact, cramming in even more studying can be detrimental to your test day performance. Study lightly only up to one to three days before the test, then take some time off.
Before test date, make sure you know all the logistics of getting to the center and what materials you need. You don’t want any additional stressors on an already stressful day!
Finally, when you are taking the test, take a deep breath and remember – there should be no curveballs, jump scares, or anything new in what you’re about to take! You’ve taken numerous practice tests and know the best strategies to approach questions that seem challenging. From now on, you can only do your best. You got this!
For a more extensive guide on what to do the day and night before the ACT, check out this article.
How To Pick The Best ACT Prep Schedule
This study schedule works well with most students, but there are obviously many other ways that you could devise up your study schedule. Again, your study schedule should be tailored to you – your goals, your strengths and weaknesses, and your situation. Reflection is a key part in making your schedule, and knowing yourself will set you up in the best possible way.
Keep in mind – once you start your study schedule, it is not fixed forever! Just because you planned something out ahead of time, does not mean you have to stick to it to a tee. In fact, it is more detrimental to stick with something that does not work than to tweak it and improve on it as you go on. As you go along your study journey, make sure to reflect every week and ask if the study plan is working for you. Are there aspects that, looking back, you realize are unnecessary or infeasible? Are there ways you can improve your studying?
For example, an unexpected situation may throw your study schedule off course. Or, you realize that, while long hours of studying worked for you in school, you need more breaks when studying for the ACT. Be adaptable and be in tune with how you are feeling and learning. The study plan is here to serve you.
Make A Good Study Plan And Prepare For The ACT With SoFlo Tutors
Want some help creating a good ACT study plan? SoFlo Tutors can help you out. Our tutors create tailored study plans for all of their students based on their target score, strengths and weaknesses identified from a diagnostic test, and testing date. They work one-on-one with each student to provide time-tested strategies and skills that have allowed hundreds of previous students reach their target scores and get into their dream colleges. All of our tutors attend top universities around the nation and scored in the 99th percentile on their ACT. Our tutors schedule to sessions to your availability and our costs start at $60/hour. Check out our tutoring services to book a session today!
About The Author
Andie Pinga is an expert SoFlo tutor and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in Economics and a minor in Anthropology. She scored a 35 on her ACT and enjoys rock climbing and playing the guitar.