How Much Should I Push ACT Prep?

At this point, I’ve spent about 40 hours prepping for the ACT by going over ACT practice tests. I know that sounds like a lot, but I found an article saying that 80 hours is needed for 6 point score increase (which is what I’m aiming for). I got a 30 on a Princeton Review test prior to studying, and a 31 twice after studying.
Here’s the deal: I’m planning on applying to some Ivy League schools (don’t worry…I’m applying to PLENTY of safeties but Yale is my top choice) and would like a higher ACT score to ensure that that’s not what holds my application back. I’d also love to be valedictorian at my school, just because that’s been a personal goal of mine for a while. I have the GPA required to be valedictorian, but my school also requires a 36 ACT (frustrating requirement, I know).
I have one more ACT scheduled in October. I understand a 36 is probably statistically impossible for me at this point, but should I continue to study to try to get a 33 to 35 (Yale’s average ACT)? Or should I just leave well enough alone and accept the 31?

Where were your weaker/lower scores on the ACT? When was the last time you took it? What grade are you in? What level classes had you completed at the time? Whats different now?

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It seems that your score hasn’t improved in practice tests. I’d suggest focusing on your weak sections.

My score breakdown was:
36 - English
34 - Reading
28 - Math
26 - Science
(I plan on majoring in English and creative writing)
I’ve been focusing on pretty much only science and math practice tests, with some reading practice. I took it in March and April and received the same score. I just took it again in June, so I don’t have the scores quite yet but it felt pretty similar.
Honestly not much is different now. I am a rising senior so I’ll be taking more classes, but not content that would be on the ACT (for example, I’ll be taking AP Calc). The main difference would just be me choosing to study more.

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I believe the Science score might be the easiest to work on.

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I don’t think that you’ll be able to get that math score up to a 34, but if you can, and you get 36 on all the other sections (very possible), and get a 34 on the math, you’ll have a 36 overall.

You need to use real retired ACT tests. The Official Guide to the ACT has about 6 tests in it, and we found legally available retired ACTs on the internet - but I don’t know if they’re still so easy to find. Science will be the easiest to raise. Do as many science sections as you can get hold of, read the corrections, and familiarize yourself with all the ways in which they present the data. For the reading score, again, just do practice sections and correct them, to see where you went wrong. For the math, it sounds as if you need to pinpoint the areas where you have trouble, and re-teach yourself those areas. If you can get help from an ACT tutor, or from a classmate, that would be great.

40 hours isn’t that much. Now that school is out, what I suggest that you do is a math section and a science section every day, and a reading section every 3 days or so. For math review, my kid used The Best ACT Math Books Ever series, books 1&2, brought his math up from maybe about a 31 to a 34. If you get a question wrong, you’ve got to go back and re-teach yourself to make sure you understand the material.

But, this business about the valedictorian having to have a 36 ACT is just nuts. As for high reaches, unless you can get that ACT up to a 33, I’d say it’s probably better to apply test optional.

Why kill yourself. Even a 33 isn’t enough.

Yale has only a 4% admission and 88% submitted the test.

But TO give your best shot.

They only list math and English in CDS so those might be most important - getting math up.

Even the best of students don’t get into Yale so be realistic.

I’d try once more but if your score is similar then stop. I’d focus my prep on math and then science.

I don’t get the 36 and valedictorian. Most schools wouldn’t have one if you needed a 36.

Another thought - try the SAT ??

The ACT is in theory an “easier” and more learnable test, particularly the science section, but the time pressure is more acute. As a result with enough study and practice some people will do their best on the ACT, and some will never get past the time issues and will end up better suited for the SAT.

I don’t know which is best for you, but I know our private HS strongly encourages trying both and then working to maximize the one which is a best fit for you.

I would stop prepping and stop taking tests. Apply test optional where appropriate. If you have an interesting extracurricular, spend time on that instead- that is more likely to be helpful with admissions.

If you were to get into Yale, which is unlikely for anyone, it would not be because of scores anyway. Scores and grades help you meet a benchmark. But often what you do outside of school can differentiate you.

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Wow, that’s shameful. I’m sorry your school does that. Seems very arbitrary. What score do they require for the SAT?

One thing to keep in mind, you are applying to colleges prior to when your high school will announce the official, final Val/Sal rankings. It will just be what you had at the end of junior year in most cases. So, do not create added stress over getting a perfect score for that accolade.

Spend some time doing good in the world. Take care of yourself.

And focus on your essays to help differentiate your application.


They don’t accept an SAT score for valedictorian :frowning: They decided to do it this way to lessen competitiveness about grades. But it’s definitely frustrating, seeing as the best test-takers, not the best students, are typically valedictorian. Oh well!

This is very helpful, thank you!

I would argue you rarely have valedictorians if you need a 36.

But it means little. Just be the best you that you can be.

I know you have no control over that, but your school district is ludicrous. No college in the country has a preference for one test over the other.

I think it’s going to be very difficult to get your score from 31 up to 36 and I’m not sure it’s worth it to be valedictorian. As we are all aware, being valedictorian is no guarantee of anything in college admissions. You will be wasting more valuable time and money on something that won’t see a return on your investment.

If you want to try anyway, please use only real ACT tests for practice. They are hard to find, but they are out there.

Typically math and English are the easiest ones to improve. What is your issue with the math? Are you missing questions or are you not finishing? As far as science goes, our ACT tutor said that the science section should really closely mirror your reading section. It is not about science knowledge. All the information you need is on the page and you don’t need to know anything “extra“.

I hate to say it, but if your goal is Yale a 31 likely won’t make the cut. Too many people with perfect GPA’s and test scores. Can you hire a private tutor to just work on math and science with you? I think this could be money very well spent.

Also prep scholar and the college essay guy have very good websites and address how to improve your ACT score. There are probably others. I would also schedule to take it before October - take it once this summer and then in October if needed.

I would not go along with a school system that uses the ACT to determine valedictorian. For one thing, there may be hard working students who have stellar grades but not as stellar ACT scores. And there may be students who do not work hard or get good grades who get stellar ACT scores. I think this policy fails to honor hard work.

Do you have a financial reason to want to be val or sal? If not, I would let it go. Getting a 36 is unlikely and the policy is terrible. Focus on other things that enrich your life. Trust you will end up in the right school for you and try to learn about all kinds of schools. For instance Colleges That Change Lives – Changing Lives. One Student At A Time. ( And for top schools nothing wrong with test optional,