ACT Tips and Tricks 2023

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🇬🇧 TIP #1 (English) 🇬🇧

“Semicolons are used like Periods on the ACT”

It’s no secret that the ACT English section involves A LOT of punctuation questions. You will be asked to choose between different types of punctuation marks with the goal of creating grammatically correct sentences. One major type of punctuation on the ACT is the semicolon (;). Thankfully, there is only one rule you need to know about semicolons: treat them like a period! Semicolons will only be used to combine two independent sentences. This is the exact same way we use periods except we don’t capitalize the word after the semicolon!

In real life, there are a couple other ways we can use semicolons, but on the ACT they are used interchangeably with periods. Check out this example question. The best option here involves using a semicolon just like we would a period!

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ACT English Tip Semicolons

🏎️ TIP #2 (English) 🏎️

“Categorize Transition Words”

“Next, finally, nevertheless, therefore, after, however…” these are just a few examples of words we use to show relationships between sentences or paragraphs. In other words, they’re transition words! Students are constantly asking for help with transition words because their teachers never gave them strategies for choosing between them. Most teachers just teach you the definitions and expect you to know when to use them!

Thankfully for us, there’s one cool trick we can use to make transition word questions A LOT easier. Pretty much all transition words can be grouped into one of the following three categories: affirmative, contradictory, and time. Affirmative transition words are used when transitioning between 2 sentences that agree with one another: “I am hungry. Therefore, I will eat.” Contradictory words are just the opposite; they’re used for sentences that seem to disagree with one another. “Jane was extremely angry. However, she chose to be nice to her brother.” Time words are simple and are just used to show the order of events. “I placed the letter in the envelope. Next, I placed the envelope in the mail box.”

In real life, there are a couple other ways we can use semicolons, but on the ACT they are used interchangeably with periods. Check out this example question. The best option here involves using a semicolon just like we would a period!

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ACT English Tip Transition Words

Categorizing transition words is a vital skill for any ACT student. Often, these questions just involve choosing the one transition word which doesn’t match the other options. Check out the example above. Three of these words (however, nevertheless, and alternatively) are all contradictory. The “odd-man-out” is affirmative- therefore. I can tell that these sentences agree with one another, so I choose A.

🔁 TIP #3 (English) 🔁

“Eliminate Redundancy”

A lot of ACT tutors will say “if you have to guess, always guess the shortest answer.” Obviously, constantly picking the shortest answer isn’t going to get you that 36, but there is some logic behind this “shortest answer” strategy. You see, on the ACT English, students are often asked to replace a phrase in a sentence. Often, the ACT is testing your ability to ELIMINATE REDUNDANCY. Never say the same thing twice on the ACT! Remember that this isn’t an essay for High School; you aren’t trying to meet a word count by padding out the essay. Check out this example:

ACT English Tip Redundancy

Can you see how the word annually has already been said in the sentence? We shouldn’t repeat ourselves by saying “for the year.” All the other options have the same issue, so we should just DELETE. Coincidentally, this is also the shortest answer…

🧮 TIP #4 (Math) 🧮

“It’s all about PLYSMLT2”

PLYSMLT 2 (pronounced polysmalt) is a powerful tool for solving polynomials and systems of equations. Even more exciting, it’s already probably loaded in your graphing calculator! 

ACT Systems of Equations TI-84 Polysmlt2 Hacks

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There are plenty of free resources online explaining the “in-depth stuff” of using polysmlt, but you should still checkout this example. We are given a system of equations. Strong math students might be able to work through this using the substitution or elimination methods. Still, every student can save a bit of time and effort by simply entering the equations into polysmlt. The answer is given to us instantly! This tool is also extremely helpful for quadratic and cubic functions. 

ACT MATH TIP polysmlt2

👻 TIP #5 (Math) 👻

“The imaginary root i is a button in your graphing calculator”

PLYSMLT2 isn’t the only trick up your calculator’s sleeve. This second neat trick can be used to instantly solve any imaginary numbers question. Here’s how it works, simply remember that “i” the imaginary root is just a button in your calculator. You just might need to do some investigating to locate it.

Once you’ve located i, you should try a basic multiplication problem with complex numbers. Try something like 1+2i * 2-4i. Your calculator should give the solution “10.”


Now try this example problem. We are asked to change this fraction into an equivalent form. Simply put the fraction into your TI-84 or equivalent, and hit solve!

ACT Math Calculator Trick Complex Numbers

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🗺️ TIP #6 (Reading) 🗺️

“The ACT Reading Section is Kinda Just a Scavenger Hunt...”

The ACT reading is first and foremost a scavenger hunt. Every correct answer should have CLEAR TEXTUAL EVIDENCE. Remember, you shouldn’t be bringing in any outside knowledge here. 

Take this passage and question for example. We are looking for benefits of forest-bathing. Every option is explicitly mentioned in the text except muscle growth. Muscle growth might seem to logically be a good answer, but this isn’t a logic test.

ACT READING Trick Scavenger Hunt

🧐 TIP #7 (Reading) 🧐

“Never choose a word you don’t know”

When asked to replace or define a word on the ACT, never choose a word you don’t know. Checkout this example. The simplest word here is  “shown.” I’m sure you’re familiar with the meaning of this word. These other options are kinda tempting and mysterious. 

It can be very tempting to choose a word you can’t define because Humans are naturally curious toward the unknown. But don’t let the ACT trick you. Never choose a word you don’t know. Strange words are often placed in these questions as “red herrings.”

ACT Reading Tip Unknown Words

📈 TIP #8 (Science) 📉

“Think about direct and indirect relationships”

The Science ACT can be a tricky section for many students. It’s the last section of the exam. Once you reach this section you will have been testing for at least 2 hours and 20 minutes! Thankfully, there’s one reliable strategy that can improve your confidence and performance on every ACT Science passage- even if you’re getting tired.

When you’re looking at science graphs or descriptions of experiments, you need to think about direct and indirect relationships. Its ok if you don’t really understand everything the passage is talking about, but you DO need to understand the relationships between the variables of the experiment.

Let’s consider two hypothetical variables: a child’s age and their height

In general, children get taller as they age. In other words, as age increases height increases too. This is called a direct relationship because as one variable increases, so does the other.

Let’s look at two other variables: the number of minutes clocked in a game of Fortnite and the number of players remaining in the game

As the number of minutes played increases, the total number of players remaining in the game decreases. This is an indirect relationship!

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📚 TIP #9 (Big Picture) 📚

“Read something before the ACT”

We’ve all experienced the feelings of sluggishness and confusion when reading right after waking up. These cognitive barriers come up when our brains haven’t had the chance to get “warmed up.” So, make sure you read something before the actual ACT. You don’t need to spend too long on this, just 10 or 15 minutes.  Examples of good things to read include newspaper articles, journal entries, a few pages of a novel, or even a real old ACT reading passage! This is vital for “warming up your brain” before the ACT!

😴 TIP #10 (Big Picture) 😴

"Reduce Sleep Pressure!"

Struggling to sleep befor the ACT? It is as simple as “reducing sleep pressure”. Watch the video below to learn how!

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