Test Prep

Five Tips to Score Over 30 on the ACT

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Does increasing your ACT score feel like an (insanely steep) uphill battle? Well, for those of you who are already scoring 28 or above, every question can make even more of a difference! It's not quite as simple as saying that every additional correct answer will improve your score, but it is generally true that the number of additional questions correct you need to improve from 24 to 28 is higher than the number needed to improve from a 32 to a 36 — or even from a 28 to a 32. Here are five tips to help hone your ACT skills and push your score over the 30-point threshold.


1. Use Your Pencil

In September 2020, the ACT plans to begin offering a digital version of the test. Until then, or as a possible reason to opt for a physical test, we want to call attention to your most secret, trusted and overlooked test-taking tool: your humble No. 2 pencil. Continuously moving your pencil throughout the test helps you stay actively engaged with the material and allows you to keep the dreaded ACT boredom at bay.

One way to do this on every section is to use Process of Elimination (POE). Get in the habit of starting every question by crossing out answers you know are wrong with your pencil, not just in your head. This improves your chances of guessing if you're unsure what the answer is and also helps prevent careless errors when transferring answers to your answer sheet.

Another way is to do your work on the page. This isn't limited to just working out the math on paper. Underline the evidence for the correct answer in the passage. Mark the relevant data point on the graph. Do your thinking on the page and not just in your head!

2. Learn From Your Mistakes

Just as professional athletes and musicians watch videos of games or performances to help them improve the next time around, one of the keys to improving your ACT score is to know what kinds of mistakes you're making. That means taking practice tests, going back over all the questions you missed, and looking for patterns in the mistakes you're making.

Research suggests that many students wisely take the ACT more than once, as this often improves their scores. This will likely be even more effective once the new September 2020 changes to the ACT roll out, as second-time takers will be able to select individual sections to retake, as opposed to the whole test, and their best results will be superscored. Those students who go in with a plan for self-improvement are likeliest to succeed, so don't just assume you'll improve — specifically target the sections you struggled with and improve them.

3. Slow Down

Seem counterintuitive? I understand why you'd think that! But trust me, the only excuse for having time left over at the end of the test is if you've gotten every single question right. If you're left with any spare time and didn't get them all correct, you've wasted time that could have been used to score more points. It's as simple as that.

If you examine your mistakes like I suggested in the previous tip and realize they're missed points from careless mistakes, that's a clear sign you need to slow down. Using test-taking strategies like POE help to control your pace, ensuring that you're reading each question and each of the four (or five) answer choices. Don't go with the first answer you read that seems correct! It might just be a trap put there to catch students working too quickly.

4. Don't Stop

While it's important not to work too fast through the ACT, it's just as important not to let yourself get stuck on any one question. While it's true that you need to get most of the questions right to score a 32, no single question is going to make or break your score. So, if you're feeling stuck or frustrated on a question, move on.

This doesn't mean you'll necessarily give up on the problem. You might work through a couple more problems and then return to the problem you skipped with a clear idea of what you were doing wrong. Alternatively, you may find it easier to use POE (note a trend?), rather than looking for the correct answer.

5. Think Positively

Scoring above a 30 on the ACT is no easy feat! So don't be discouraged if it feels hard. In fact, one of the keys to scoring that high is to not get discouraged at all. If you don't believe that you can do well, or if you allow yourself to feel defeated, you're likely to live up to your own expectations — not scoring how you want to.

Of course, taking prep courses can also help increase your chances of scoring well, as can studying up on each section of the test — particularly those you know you're not scoring as well on currently. For section-by-section strategies and more you can use on the entire test, check out our book ACT Prep.