How to Study for the ACT by Subject

Martha Collins
Martha Collins

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The ACT is composed of four subjects: English, Math, Reading, Science. Most students find that they consistently struggle in one particular area. When I took the ACT, for example, frequently scored poorly in the science section. We find it helpful to study for the ACT by subject to help you out in the areas you need to target. In other words, divide and conquer.

If you are like myself, it can be helpful to receive studying tips that pertain to a specific subject. When you begin to study for the ACT, the same principle can apply. Below are some pieces of advice for when it comes to studying for, and taking, each section of the ACT:

English (45 min for 75 questions) 

  • When it doubt, choose the answer that is the simplest and the least wordy.
  • Read the sentences and answers aloud. The right answer will often sound the most natural.
  • Avoid run-on sentences.
  • Stay consistent with verb tense and voice. Look at surrounding sentences for help.

Math (60 min for 60 questions) 

  • Do not spend too much time on one, difficult question. Each question is weighted equally!
  • For word problems, try not to get bogged down by the “fluff”, and focus on the numbers and what the question is really asking of you.
  •  Use a calculator that you are familiar with.
  • If you do not see the solution you came up with as a listed answer, do not panic, and choose a logical option.

Reading (35 min for 40 questions)

  • Sharpen your reading skills by picking up a newspaper or a challenging book.
  • Try to answer some of the questions before reading the passage. There are multiple questions that direct you to a specific sentence in the passage, so this strategy helps students avoid spending too much time on reading. This tip may not work for everyone, so be sure to use this tactic during a practice test first!
  • Skim quickly. You do not have enough time to carefully read each passage.

Science (35 min for 40 questions)

  • Answer the questions that seem the most manageable first.
  • Look at the questions first, and then examine at the passage and/or graphs.
  • Annotate the passages. Cross out irrelevant information and (quickly!) jot down the basic gist of the passages, which can be helpful when navigating the scientific jargon.


Keeping these tips in mind, one incredibly helpful piece of advice I received was to not overthink the ACT. Although some of the questions may seem daunting at first, just remember that the ACT is just a standardized test and that there is always a right answer. However, if you are struggling with a particular question, move on–you do not want to spend so much time on a tough question that you miss an easier one. 

The strategy to study for the ACT by subject is a great way to break down the large task into smaller pieces. If you take a handful of practice tests and follow some of the tips I outlined above, the ACT will become much more manageable and you will be one step closer to getting into college. 

Looking for more test strategy tips? Book a consult and learn how our counselors guide students to succeed with tests, from overcoming test anxiety, planning out a timeline for the exams, to deciding which scores to submit.

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