TUN sits down with Dawn Mueller, an educational consultant with Tutor Doctor, to discuss practical tips that could help you earn a perfect ACT score.
TUN: Dawn, thanks so much for joining us.
MUELLER: Thanks for having me, Jackson.
TUN: Can you explain how the ACT is scored? In order to get a perfect score, do students need to get every question on the test right?
MUELLER: You know, that’s one of the nice things about the ACT. There is no deduction for incorrect answers. So, you are only scored on the correct answers that you have.
I will say that 36, the perfect score, is a very lofty goal. If you were to score a 35, consider yourself getting a perfect score.
The way it works, though, is that each section is averaged out. That’s how they get your composite score. So, if you take the test multiple times, you could theoretically get certain areas up and those areas will be averaged to bring your total score up higher if you do better.
TUN: Achieving a perfect score is something that we only really consider to be possible for unfathomably brilliant people. But, is it something that students can work towards? How big of a role does motivation play?
MUELLER: It is something that you can work towards. I think it’s good to go into the test having a goal in mind. There’s a lot to positive reinforcement and visualization, saying, “Okay, I’m setting this as my goal.” If you get close to that, you’ve pretty much met that goal.
Motivation is a key element in that. It’s better to go in with that higher goal. But, you need to do the work to get to that goal. Take practice tests. I’ve heard of people taking 20 practice tests. That’s not too many.
A perfect score is a rare achievement. I will tell you that 1,400 out of 1.8 million test-takers got a perfect score last year. That’s 0.07 percent. So, there’s a little bit of luck in there, meeting preparation.
It’s more realistic to prepare for the test as best as you possibly can. If you get a 35, as I said, you’ve done incredibly well. It’s really not about brilliance. It’s about determination and preparation. So, if you’re motivated to prepare well, you can do really well on it.
TUN: To effectively prepare for the ACT, students need good study materials and practice problems to work from. Where can students find the best practice materials? Are there free resources available online?
MUELLER: There are so many great resources out there now. There are some good free or low-cost resources too.
Magoosh is one of my favorite ones. They have online test-taking platforms, but they also provide free tests. You don’t even have to sign up with them for anything. They will provide a number of free practice tests. Princeton Review as well.
So how do you prepare? It can depend on your budget. But, your budget doesn’t have to decide how well you’re going to do on the test and how well you prepare.
As a student, if you invest in a good study guide and if you are motivated and dedicated, you can do really well.
The ideal situation is to have a private tutor who reviews the areas in which you need some more bolstering. You can identify the areas you need to work on by taking practice tests and then a private tutor can help you improve in those areas.
TUN: When it comes to studying, a lot of people say that quality is more important than quantity. So, do you have any advice to help students effectively study for the ACT? Is it simply a matter of repetition, or are there strategies that students can use?
MUELLER: Some places believe that repetition is the key to doing well on the test. You get comfortable with the environment. You get comfortable with the pressure of the situation.
That doesn’t work for everyone. I don’t believe that one size fits all with test prep. I think some students may do better with tutoring for specific areas of the test. Others may benefit from an online test-taking platform or a study guide. Others will benefit from a combination of the approaches.
I think the most important strategy for studying is pacing it out over several weeks, maybe even a few months. Don’t do too much in a given week. Make it part of your daily routine. Make it part of your weekly routine.
The thing I will warn everybody against is trying to jam everything in at the last minute before the test.
On the night or two before the test, make sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep. That really makes a difference.
TUN: Can you give me tips or strategies that students can consider or use while they’re taking the ACT.
MUELLER: I have a couple of those. I personally benefited from them when I was applying to graduate school programs.
One of my favorite strategies is to read the answers first and then read the question. This gives you an increased probability of determining the correct answer more quickly because you’ve eliminated the obviously incorrect ones.
Another tip is to answer the easiest problems first. Go through the test and answer the easiest ones first. Then, go back to the more difficult ones so you have time and feel calmer about what you have answered.
The other thing is, use the booklet. The booklet that has all the questions in it, write your answers in there and make sure you indicate the correct answer there.
You can check it with your scantron sheet and then you’ve made sure you’ve transferred them correctly.
TUN: So, how many times would you recommend that students take the ACT?
MUELLER: I would say 2-3 times max. The reason is that there’s something called “regression to the mean.” You’re likely to regress to the average of all the tests that are taken the more times you take it.
So, unless you’re changing something in your study habits, unless you’re getting that support to help you in your weaker areas, you’re just going to get the same score over and over after a period of time.
For free practice tests, I would say you could take it up to 20 times.
TUN: What is the last time that a senior can take the ACT and still have it count towards their application?
MUELLER: If they take the last test in December, they are still okay for regular decisions with colleges, which is usually in January.
If they want to apply for an early decision, October is the last date that they could take the ACT.
TUN: Thanks, Dawn, for joining us.
MUELLER: Thank you, Jackson. Happy to be here.
This interview has been edited for clarity. Watch the full video here.
News & Content Manager
Jackson Schroeder is a graduate of Ohio University with a B.A. in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School. He is originally from Savannah, Georgia. Jackson has covered a wide range of topics, including sustainability, technology, sports, culture, travel, and music. He plays bass and guitar, and enjoys playing and listening to live music in his free time.