De-Stress the Test: How to be Relaxed and Confident Taking the ACT

High-Scoring Students Share their Tips

“It seemed like it was a dream.”

William McDonough takes a deep breath before continuing.

“I was walking into the bathroom when my phone buzzed. I checked my email and there it was.”

He’s describing the experience of checking his ACT score. After taking the test four times over the span of three years, he finally achieved his dream score of a 34. His struggle was over — but for the over two million who take the test each year, the ACT represents an ongoing battle.

“I was [nervous] because the pressure was mounting as I searched for colleges,” said McDonough.

After dozens of hours poring over books and practice tests, test-day jitters can disrupt even the most astute student’s efforts.

Not all hope is lost for prospective takers. ACT high scorers offered a number of tips to do the best you can.

McDonough, who improved his score from 29 as a freshman, said that taking the test early in his high school career alleviated some of his worry. “I can’t imagine the pressure if I were taking it the first time as a Junior.”

Furthermore, he believes “practice tests are of the utmost importance” and that “if you see a problem you don’t know, skip it, circle it, come back.”

Kade Johnson, who got a 34, said the math portion was all or nothing. “You either know the math or you don’t … The only math you need to know is geometry and algebra.”

Johnson also offered an interesting tidbit for low achievers. “On the English portion, if you choose the shortest answer every time, you’re guaranteed a 22, which is higher than the national average.”

Camden Arnold, who earned a 35, was more optimistic. “If you study for the English test you’ll get a high thirty every time, because there’s only four or five [concepts] it tests.”

Arnold had interesting advice for the English section, claiming the best strategy is to not read “the entire reading passage. Just reading the first sentence is enough to answer the questions, or to be able to go back and find the answers.” However, he did say to read the entire introductory paragraph and conclusion.

Ethan Beacom, who scored a 35, agreed with Arnold: “The reading questions almost always reference a line, so reading the whole text isn’t important.”

Summing up, Beacom suggested staying calm is the best way to score well. “Pace yourself. Take deep breaths and be calm.”