McGraw-Hill Education ACT 2017 (2016)
Congratulations! You’ve chosen the ACT guide from America’s leading educational publisher. You probably know us from many of the textbooks you used in school. Now we’re ready to help you take the next step—and get into the college or university of your choice.
This book gives you everything you need to succeed on the test. You’ll get in-depth instruction and review of every topic tested, tips and strategies for every question type, and plenty of practice exams to boost your test-taking confidence.
In addition, in the following pages you’ll find:
How to Use This Book: Step-by-step instructions to help you get the most out of your test-prep program.
How to Use the Practice Tests: Tips and strategies to guide your test-taking practice and to help you understand ACT scoring.
Your ACT Training Schedule and ACT Emergency Plan: How to make the best use of your time, even if the test is just days away.
50 Top Strategies for Test Day: Use this list to check your knowledge, or as a last-minute refresher before the exam.
Calculator and Speed Reading Tips: These hints can help you earn higher scores.
Getting the Most from the Free Online Practice Tests: Log on to the companion website for more test-taking practice.
ABOUT McGRAW-HILL EDUCATION
This book has been created by McGraw-Hill Education. McGraw-Hill Education is a leading global provider of instructional, assessment, and reference materials in both print and digital form. McGraw-Hill Education has offices in 33 countries and publishes in more than 65 languages. With a broad range of products and services—from traditional textbooks to the latest in online and multimedia learning—we engage, stimulate, and empower students and professionals of all ages, helping them meet the increasing challenges of the 21st century knowledge economy.
How to Use This Book
This book contains general information about the ACT and chapters on each of the test sections. It also contains a Diagnostic Assessment and practice tests. At the end of the book you’ll find a discussion of related topics such as choosing a college and an ACT vocabulary list.
Count backward from your ACT test day to determine how much time you have. If you have at least three weeks but preferably twelve to eighteen weeks before test day, you should work through this entire book. You can use the five-step program that follows. If you have less than three weeks, go to the ACT Emergency Plan on page 5A.
1Start with the Diagnostic Assessment
The Diagnostic Assessment in Part II of this book is a simulated full-length ACT. Take it as the first step in your test-preparation program. It will help you to pinpoint areas of strength and weakness in your knowledge base and your skill set. After you have scored the Diagnostic Assessment, you should review the parts of the chapters that cover any content areas you found difficult.
2Learn Test-Taking Strategies
Chapter 2 describes important test-taking strategies that can help you earn extra points. You’ll learn about strategic thinking, relaxation techniques, and when to guess if you don’t know the answer to a question.
3Prepare for Each Test Section
Chapters 3–6 cover the four individual sections of the ACT: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science Reasoning. Each chapter offers concept reviews and specific strategies for answering the given question type, along with plenty of practice exercises with answers. As you work through these chapters, pay close attention to topics and question types that were particularly difficult for you on the Diagnostic Assessment.
4Get Ready for the ACT Essay
Chapter 7 provides tips and strategies for the ACT Writing Test, along with information about how your essay will be scored. You’ll find typical writing prompts as well as a description of the domain scores to show you what makes a high-scoring ACT essay.
5Take the Practice Tests
Part IV of this book contains full-length practice ACT tests with complete explanations. Additional practice tests are available online at MHPracticePlus.com. Use these tests to check your progress, to gain experience with the ACT format, and to learn to pace yourself to get your highest score.
How to Use the Practice Tests
Take the Diagnostic Assessment Under Realistic Testing Conditions
Time yourself strictly. You need to have an accurate picture of what your performance would be like if test day were today. A good place to take the test is a library; it will be relatively quiet, just like a testing center.
After Your Review, Tackle the Practice Tests
When you have finished your review of the instructional material in Chapters 2–7, start tackling the practice tests in Part IV of this book and on the companion website. Each one is a full-length simulated ACT. These tests contain some variations in style and mix of question types. This approach is intentional so that you can get a taste of all the various formats and styles that can appear on an ACT exam. If you work through all of the material provided, you won’t have any surprises on test day.
Review the Explanations as Necessary
There is an explanation for each of the practice questions in this book. You will probably not need to read all of them. Sometimes you can tell right away why you answered a particular question wrong. We have seen countless students smack themselves on the forehead and say, “stupid mistake.” We try to refer to these errors as “concentration errors.” Everyone makes them from time to time, and you should not worry when they occur. You are likely to focus better on the real test as long as you train properly with the aid of this book. Try to distinguish between concentration errors and any actual holes in your knowledge base. If you have time, read the explanations for any questions that were challenging for you. Sometimes, students answer questions correctly but for the wrong reason, or because they guessed correctly.
Keep Your Score Results in Perspective
ACT scores are sensitive to factors such as fatigue and stress. So don’t get worried if you see some variations due to an off day or because the practice test exposed a weakness in your knowledge base or skill set. Just use the information that you gather as a tool to help you improve.
A Note on Scoring the Practice Tests
The scoring worksheets provided for each test are guides to computing approximate scores.
Actual ACT exams are scored from tables that are unique to each test. The actual scaled scores depend on factors such as the number of students who take the test, the difficulty level of the items, and the performance of all test-takers. This means that “your mileage may vary.” Do not get too hung up on your test scores; the idea is to learn something from each practice session and to get used to the “look and feel” of the ACT.
The scoring worksheets have formulas that allow you to work out an approximate scaled score for each section, as well as an overall Composite Score. Each computation includes a “correction factor,” which is an average correction derived from analysis of recent ACT exams. Your actual ACT score report will include a “band” around each score. ACT, Inc. puts it there deliberately to highlight the fact that all test scores are just estimates.
ACT Training Schedule
At least eight weeks before your ACT
Find a quiet place, such as a library, and take the Diagnostic Assessment under actual test conditions. Time yourself strictly. Evaluate your results and pinpoint your areas of strength and weakness. Register for the ACT exam following the procedures described at www.act.org.
The first four to six weeks of training
Don’t worry about timing. At your leisure, work through the first two ACT practice tests in this book or on the companion website. Think about how the questions and passages are put together and study whatever other sources you need to so that you can fill any holes in your knowledge base. Read Chapters 2–7 in this book.
Two or three weeks before your ACT
Using another practice test, take your first “dress rehearsal” exam on a Saturday morning at 8:00 A.M. Time yourself strictly. Use the results to fine-tune the last part of your training. Review relevant chapters in this book.
One or two weeks before your ACT
Take your second “dress rehearsal” exam. If it doesn’t go well, don’t get too worried. Try to figure out what went wrong and review the explanations provided and the other relevant portions of this book. There is still time to consolidate your gains and continue to improve. Start planning a fun event for after your ACT exam!
Two to five days before your ACT
Make a practice run to the testing center. Figure out what you are going to wear on test day. Gather your materials together (ticket, ID, pencils, calculator). Adjust your sleep schedule, if necessary, so that you are able to wake up by 7:00 A.M. and be thinking clearly by 8:00 A.M. Confirm your plans for fun after the exam!
The day before your ACT
Rest and relaxation are the order of the day. Do little or no practice or studying. Get some physical activity so that you are better able to sleep and because the endorphins that you release in your brain will help with stress management. Make sure that you take care of your transportation issues and wake-up plan.
Get up early. Eat breakfast. Read something to get you “warmed up.” Bring your materials. Be on time. Avoid any fellow test-takers who are “stress monsters.” Remember your game plan for each section. Don’t forget to breathe evenly and deeply, and don’t tire yourself out with needless physical exertion like tensing up your muscles while taking your ACT. When the test is finished, try not to think about it until you get your score report.
ACT Emergency Plan
If you have only a day or two before your ACT exam, you should take the following steps. They are listed in order of priority so you should do as many of them as you can before your test.
1. Seriously consider rescheduling
The ACT is given several times each year at various locations. Rather than taking your exam with little or no preparation, you should look at the calendar and the ACT website and wait to take your ACT if you can do so and still get the information to your schools of choice before their deadlines.
Even if you don’t have enough time to reschedule, you can get some useful information out of this book that will help you to pick up a few points that you might not have gotten otherwise.
3. Take the Diagnostic Assessment
There is a psychological theory called “Test Re-Test” that says that you should do a little bit better on a second ACT than a first ACT, even if you don’t do any preparation in between. So make the Diagnostic Assessment your first ACT. Time yourself strictly and do it all in one sitting. Take a 10-minute break after the Mathematics Test.
4. Review the strategies in Chapter 2
Those are the high-yield test-taking strategies that will get you the most extra points on test day.
5. Read through the content chapters
The order should be:
a. Reading (These are the least intuitive strategies.)
b. English (This is the weirdest format of the ACT tests.)
c. Mathematics (Skim through the stuff that you already know. Focus on the material that tends to confuse you. Don’t worry about trig at all if you haven’t had it in school yet.)
d. Do the Science Reasoning chapter last.
6. Do as many practice questions as you can in your weakest area
Look at the explanations to gain a better understanding of how to approach the questions.
7. Get some sleep
Being well rested will have a bigger impact on your score than staying up all night “cramming.” There is a significant skill component on this test. It is not all about knowledge. So you can’t learn enough information to guarantee a higher score.
50 Top Strategies for Test Day
When it’s almost test day and you’ve read this book and taken the Practice Tests, make sure you review this page and the pages that follow. Here you’ll find 50 essential strategies that can definitely help you earn more points on the ACT. You’ll see longer explanations of each strategy, along with examples, in the review portions of this book. The purpose of these pages is to provide a handy, all-in-one, last-minute reminder of these valuable concepts. Use this review to check your test readiness and make sure you’re prepared to do your best—and get your best score.
Before the Test
1 Be prepared. Study and practice consistently during your training period. Be organized.
2 Know yourself. Understand your strengths and weaknesses on the ACT.
3 Change bad habits. If you have poor study habits, it took you a while to develop them. Identify these bad habits early so you can make the necessary adjustments.
4 Rest. Get plenty of sleep between practice sessions. Go to bed early the night before the test.
On Test Day
5 Dress comfortably. Wear loose, comfortable, layered clothing. Don’t forget your watch.
6 Eat something. Breakfast should not contain anything with too much sugar. Get your normal dose of caffeine, if any.
7 Bring stuff. You need your driver’s license, admission ticket, number 2 pencils, a good eraser, and your calculator.
8 Read something. Warm up your brain by reading the newspaper or something similar. Review some practice material.
General Test-Taking Strategies
9 Relax. Don’t panic if you are having trouble answering the questions! You do not have to answer all the questions correctly to get a good score. Take a few moments to relax if you are stressed. Put your pencil down, close your eyes, take deep breaths, and clear your mind. When you get back to the test you will feel better.
10 Do the easy stuff first. You do not have to answer the questions from each section in order. It is better to skip the hard ones in each test section and come back to them later. Keep moving so that you don’t waste valuable time. If you get stuck, move on!
11 Manage the grid. Do not fill in your “bubble sheet” after every question. Mark your answers in the book and transfer them every one to two pages. Make sure to pay attention to question numbers, especially if you skip a question. Your score depends on what is filled in on the answer sheet.
12 Use the test booklet. The booklet is the only scrap paper you will get. Circle your answer choices, cross out answers you eliminate, and mark questions that you need to come back to later. If you think the answer choice might work, underline it. Do the math! Draw pictures to help you figure out problems and use the space available to write down your calculations. Make notes and marks in the margins of the reading passages.
13 Be aware of time. Pace yourself. Read and work actively through the test. You learned during practice which questions you should focus on and which questions you should come back to later. Use a watch to time yourself. Stay focused. Ignore the environment around you.
14 Guess wisely. There is no scoring penalty on the ACT! Never leave a bubble blank. Eliminate answer choices that you know are wrong. The more you can eliminate, the better your chance of correctly answering the question.
15 Stick with it. Do not second-guess yourself. Your first answer choice is most likely to be correct. If you are not completely comfortable with your first choice, place a question mark next to your answer and come back to it later if you have time. Only change your answer when you are sure that it’s wrong.
English Test Strategies
16 Listen to your brain. Read aloud silently. If it sounds right to you, it probably is.
17 Avoid redundancy. Wordiness and redundancy are never rewarded. Usually, the fewer the words that you use, the better.
18 Take DELETE and NO CHANGE seriously. DELETE is a viable answer choice when it eliminates redundant or irrelevant statements. Don’t forget to consider the NO CHANGE answer choice. Just because a portion of the passage is underlined does not mean that there is something wrong with it.
19 Try the answer choices. Read each of the choices back into the sentence and then select the one that is grammatically correct and/or clearly expresses the idea.
20 Simplify answer choices. If one part of the answer choice is wrong, the whole answer choice is wrong!
21 Don’t make new mistakes. Do not select an answer choice that introduces a new error to the sentence.
22 Match the author. When choosing answer choices, make sure they match the author’s strategy and style.
23 Stay organized. Ideas within each essay should flow in a logical sequence.
Math Test Strategies
24 Draw pictures. It really helps to visualize the problem. Your sketches can be quick and a little messy. You should create tables and write out equations too.
25 Think before computing. Look for a way to reason through the problem. Don’t just go for your calculator. When you do use your calculator, try to have an idea of what your answer should be.
26 Answer the question that they ask you. Cross out any irrelevant information given in the question. Complete all the steps in the problem—don’t quit early.
27 Check the choices. Take a quick peek at the choices as you read the problem. They can provide clues about how to proceed.
28 Test the answers. When trying answer choices, start with the middle value. Because the answers are arranged in order, you can eliminate answer choices based on if the middle value is too high or too low.
29 Use stand-ins. Use this strategy when you have variables in the question and some of the same variables in the answer choices. Simplify the answer choices by substituting numbers for the variables.
30 Simplify the question. When reading word problems, translate them into mathematical equations and then use substitution.
Reading Test Strategies
31 Read the question stems first. Make notes in the passage. When the questions refer to specific lines or words, you may be able to answer the questions right away.
32 Don’t study the passage. The ACT reading test is in an open-book format. You do not need to memorize the information for a long period of time. Read loosely and only dwell on information that you are sure is important because you need it to answer a question.
33 Read for the main idea. The main idea is comprised of topic, scope, and purpose.
34 Skim the passage. Do not stop on unfamiliar words the first time through. You may not need to know the meaning of a word to answer the questions. Just try to gain a general understanding of the structure of the passage.
35 Read and answer the questions. Paraphrase the question to ensure an understanding of what it is asking you.
36 Refer back to the passage. Questions should be answered based on the information in the passage. If a question contains references to specific lines, read a little before and a little after the lines mentioned.
37 Predict an answer. After finding relevant information in the passage, try to answer the question in your mind before looking at the answer choices.
38 Use the process of elimination. It is reliable but slow. Use it when you cannot predict an answer or your prediction is not listed as an answer choice.
39 Move around. Don’t be afraid to skip around within the ten-question group that accompanies each passage.
Science Test Strategies
40 Prioritize. Choose passages in the format you like the most and with information that is the least confusing.
41 Think first. Understand the main idea(s) presented in the passage before reading the questions. Use common sense to avoid being tricked by distractors.
42 Be “trendy.” Note any relationships between variables or trends in the data represented in charts or graphs.
43 Don’t be scared by complex vocabulary. The ACT usually defines terms that are absolutely essential to your understanding. Don’t waste time trying to pronounce these new terms either.
Writing Test Strategies
44 Carefully read the prompt. Be certain you understand the prompt completely.
45 Think about the prompt. Take the time to formulate your opinion. There is no correct position to take. You just have to be able to defend your opinion.
46 Plan your essay. This is the most important stage of the essay-writing process. You can take up to 10 minutes to outline your paper using the scratch paper provided.
47 Be persuasive. Make sure you have compelling reasons and examples to support your position. Place the issue in a broader context.
48 Consider the other side. Be sure to address how someone might challenge or question your position.
49 Write your essay out on the answer pages. Do not worry about the number of examples included in your essay or the length of your essay. Focus on the quality and cohesiveness of your ideas.
50 Review your essay. If you have time at the end, reread your essay. Correct any mistakes in grammar, usage, punctuation, and spelling. Recopy any words that are difficult to read. Make your essay as polished as you can in the time allowed.
Using Your Calculator on the ACT
Here are some handy tips to help you make the best use of your calculator on the ACT Math Test.
Don’t Overuse the Calculator
Even though you’re allowed to use a calculator, the ACT math section is not a test of your calculator skills. It’s a critical thinking test. Top ACT scorers rarely use their calculators, and generally only to check their answers, not to analyze their process. Of course, smart calculator use is occasionally helpful, as the following examples show.
Think Before Computing
ACT math questions test your logical reasoning ability, not just your calculator skills. So think through the problem first before punching in numbers. When using your calculator, be sure you have a good idea of what your answer should look like ahead of time. If the answer you get from your calculator is not at least in your expected ballpark, try again.
Know How to MATH FRAC
Let’s say you’re solving an ACT math problem about probabilities and you get 34/85 as an answer, but the choices are:
Did you mess up? No—you just have to simplify. Here, a TI-83 or similar calculator with FRAC might save you time. Type “34/85” and enter, then press the MATH button and then FRAC. Like magic, it will convert the fraction to its lowest terms: 2/5.
Know How to Get a Remainder
Consider this math question: The tables at a wedding reception are set up to accommodate 212 people. There are 24 tables, some seating 8 people and the rest seating 9 people. How many 9-seat tables are there?
Without getting into the details, the answer is simply the remainder when 212 is divided by 24. You could do this by long division, but you can probably do it faster with a calculator:
So the answer is 20. Memorize this handy procedure to streamline “remainder” problems.
Get Fresh Batteries
Even if you don’t use your calculator much, you won’t be happy if it dies halfway through the ACT. Put in a set of fresh batteries the night before! You might also consider bringing a simple “back-up” calculator, just in case.
Speed Reading for Higher ACT Scores
Learning some basic speed reading techniques can help you to improve your score on the ACT. Speed reading is particularly useful on the ACT Reading Test. On that test, you will need to read and answer questions about four passages, each of about 700–900 words. If you choose to answer all of the questions on the Reading Test, you will have only about eight minutes to work on each of the four passages.
The primary goal of speed reading is to take in as much information as possible in the shortest time possible, while maintaining a high level of comprehension. The first step in becoming a “speed reader” is to determine your baseline reading speed—that is, the speed at which you read comfortably with comprehension. The average person reads at a pace of about 250 words per minute. A realistic goal for you would be 500 to 600 words per minute.
Calculate Your Baseline Reading Speed
First, find a stopwatch or a watch with a second hand. You will need to time yourself for one minute while reading some new material at your typical reading pace—the speed at which you are the most comfortable reading. At the end of the one-minute period, be sure to note where you stopped reading.
For ease of calculation, assume that a “word” is equivalent to 5 units (a unit can be defined as a letter, a space, punctuation, etc.). Count the total lines of text you read, and then count the number of units in each line. Multiply the two values to get your baseline reading speed.
Increase Your Reading Speed
Generally, people read each word separately, one at a time, and the eye stops at individual words. Not only is this inefficient, it is unnecessary. The human brain can comprehend words at almost twice the rate that the human eye can read them in this jerky, stop-and-go process. This type of reading contributes to the tendency of many people to find reading boring; their minds often wander because too much time is spent between words. Increasing the number of words that your eye is able to see when you look at a page is one of the easiest ways to increase your reading speed.
Following are some more specific techniques for improving your overall reading speed.
1 Eliminate all of the “stops” in your reading. By eliminating “stops” you will automatically read faster without losing any comprehension.
2 Turn off your internal narrator. In other words, don’t “subvocalize,” or read out loud to yourself. This process of speaking the words in your mind will slow you down. NOTE: Some types of reading—the ACT English Test, for example—require you to subvocalize, so be aware of the purpose of your reading.
3 Eliminate regressions. A regression is simply reading what you’ve already read. Most regressions are subconscious, so you’ll really have to pay attention and be focused on your reading to eliminate them.
4 Use your finger while you read. Place your finger below each line of text as you read, and move it along the line of text, following the tip of your finger with your eyes. Practice moving your finger faster and faster while still maintaining comprehension.
5 Read introductory material. The first thing to be aware of is the text before the text. If there is any introductory material, headings, or subheadings, make sure to read and take advantage of them. This supplemental information will serve as signposts on the road to improved understanding of the text. Often, it will provide you with a slight preview of what you are about to read, so that you will approach the passage with some idea of what you can expect to get from it.
6 Focus on main concepts. Spend as little time as possible comprehending individual words, unless they are key concepts. Focus instead on an overall understanding of the author’s aims and how the structure of a given piece of writing contributes to those goals. Spending the majority of your time on supporting details is not nearly as efficient as determining the concepts that the author is trying to stress, and then relating the central ideas back to those main points.
7 Don’t push it! Once you have achieved some mastery of speed reading, be sure not to overestimate your own rate of comprehension. Try to avoid pushing yourself to the upper limit of your reading speed, as comprehension tends to decrease slightly at that point. You should try to hover slightly below your maximum speed as much as possible, as this gives your brain the greatest opportunity to process the text and make sense of what you are reading.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
You will likely find speed reading quite challenging because you have probably been reading fairly slowly for years. This habit will be hard to break. In fact, without realizing it, you may slow down and speed up multiple times while you read, failing to notice any real improvement in your reading speed or comprehension. It is even possible to see a decrease in both speed and comprehension depending on your level of distraction at the time. Repeated practice is necessary to become a confident speed reader!
Getting the Most from the Free Online Practice Tests
Visit MHPracticePlus.com/ACT for your free access to more ACT study materials. You’ll find additional complete ACT practice tests that you can take on your computer, with automatic timing and scoring. And you’ll get a list of other ACT study resources available from McGraw-Hill Education.
Accessing the Online Practice Tests
Visit MHPracticePlus.com/ACT for your free access to additional complete ACT practice tests. At the website, click on the words “Begin Practice Tests.”
Taking the Tests
On the Main Menu, when you move the cursor over “Practice Test 1” or “Practice Test 2,” you will see a list of the test sections. Choose a section by moving the cursor over it, then click on the Start button. You have the option of taking each section as a timed test or as an untimed test. If you choose the timed test mode, a countdown clock will appear at the upper-right corner of the screen.
You will then be shown the View Instructions screen for that test section. It presents the directions for each question type. When you close the View Instructions screen, the first question will appear.
To answer questions, click on the answer circle beside the letter of your choice. At the bottom-right corner of the screen you will see a note such as “2 of 20,” telling you how many questions are in the section and which question you are answering. After answering each question, click on one of the two arrows at either side of that note to go to the next or previous question.
At any time you may roll your cursor over the Question Status at the bottom-left corner of the screen to see the total number of questions in the section and which ones you have answered or not answered.
Roll your cursor over the Menu to see these choices:
Exit Program: Choose this option if you wish to exit the program entirely. If you relaunch the program, you can complete the section that you exited or restart it from the beginning.
Score and Exit Test: You may choose this option at any time. You will get a new dialogue box that will tell you how many questions in the section you answered correctly and allow you to review the questions, your answers, the correct responses, and the explanations.
Save and Exit Test: This option takes you back to the Main Menu. Your work will be saved, and later you can complete or restart the section that you exited.
View Instructions: Choose this option if you wish to see again the instructions for the question type(s) in the section in which you are currently working.
Scoring the Practice Tests
After you answer the last question in a section, if you have not answered all of the preceding questions, you will be prompted to roll your cursor over the Question Status button to see which ones you have not answered. You can then return to them and answer them if you wish. Then return to the final question in the section.
You will then be asked if you wish to score and exit the section. If you click “Score and Exit,” you will see a new dialogue box that will tell you how many of the questions in the section you answered correctly. You will then be asked, “Would you like to review the section now?” If you click “yes,” the questions will appear one by one on the screen as shown above.
There will be an “X” next to every one of your answers and a “+” next to every correct answer. For each question, you will also see an inset panel with the explanation (“rationale”) for the correct answer. You may then navigate away or close the program.