5 Ways to Improve Your ACT Score

Parents can help their students to relax and prepare.

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An education expert argues that school leaders can improve student achievement by empowering teachers and engaging parents.

If your first (or second) ACT score isn't quite what you were hoping for, you probably plan to take the test again. Here are some simple ways to boost your score and improve your college acceptance and scholarship odds.

JULIE:

We recently went through the nail-biting experience of waiting for my son's first ACT score to arrive. When it finally did, his reaction was almost exactly like our daughter's had been four years earlier: happy, relieved, but hoping to do a bit better next time.

Lindsey was able to improve her ACT score by three points when it was all said and done, and our son, Grant, hopes to do the same. Here are some of the methods that worked for us.

1. Relax: One piece of good news is that your child has an advantage the second time around, simply because he or she has been through it before. The butterflies are probably tamer and just knowing what to expect from the test will likely make for better time management and a more successful test taker.

2. Take a class: Grant took an ACT prep class before his first test, but Lindsey did not, so she opted to take one between tests. It's impossible to know how much that class helped, but it certainly didn't hurt.

Check with your high school counselor about recommended classes in your area. Some will focus on content, some on test taking skills, and some a little bit of both—so you should be able to find a class that's just right for your child.

[Get more college test prep tips for families.]

LINDSEY:

As a junior in college, it seems crazy to me how much time and effort I spent on the ACT during high school. I won't tell you how many times I took the test, but it was more than two (or three, or four).

My ACT score, however, was what allowed me to get into the colleges I wanted and to obtain the financial aid I needed. Here are some of the ways I improved my score after the first attempt.

1. Examine your section scores: The ACT breaks down each section's score for you, in addition to giving you an overall score. Talk with your teacher or tutor in the categories you scored the lowest. The key to improving your score is not being perfect at everything, but bringing up the areas you're weakest in, so your stronger areas will carry you through.

2. Know the test: Like my mom said, just taking the test once will give you a huge advantage your second time around. Knowing the mechanics of how much time you'll have on each section and whether it is in your best interest to guess—it is—will allow you to focus on the problems, and not the process.

[See why international students might want to consider the ACT.]

3. Research school requirements: Know whether the schools to which you're applying require the writing portion of the ACT, which is optional for students to take. In my experience, adding that extra 45 minutes to the end of my test made me less focused on the other sections.

For me, getting through the science portion, my hardest subject, was much more difficult knowing I still had another section to go. Do some research and put some thought into whether the writing section of the test is right for you.