Should I take the upcoming (September) ACT?

Sorry about the all-caps, I know they can get pretty annoying at times! This is going to be pretty long, so please bear with me.

I’m an international student from a non-English speaking country, and I have started preparing for the ACT since about two weeks ago (very light prep though, about 2-3 hours a week.)
I have not taken a full practice test yet because of extreme fear of not doing well. (I know that sounds really dumb, but I just can’t control it. Unfortunately my self-expectations are just too high.)
So here’s what I’ve done so far:

I first started off by taking a timed English practice test, and my starting score was a 31. I then studied the grammar/punctuation rules and a few tips from Barron’s ACT 36, and now I’m constantly scoring 34+ on the practice tests.

After making sure I was doing as well as I can on English, I moved on to the Math section. My starting score was a 32, and after spending a couple of hours on reviewing main concepts and taking a few practice tests, I’m now scoring a 34+ on this section as well.

Now off to my main issue, aka the Reading section!
As I mentioned before, I’m an international student from a non-English speaking country. That leaves me at a great disadvantage on the ACT as a whole, specially the Reading and Science sections. Reading section of the ACT is extremely fast-paced and that’s my main problem. I do have some comprehension problems as well, because, well, I don’t have enough time to read! I don’t know how I should prep for the reading section. I’ve read lots of tips and strategies here on CC and on other websites and prep books, but my fear of messing up gets in the way and makes me lose all my courage, so I keep on putting off taking practice tests. Any recommendations? Should I give myself extra time and answer all the questions and then later on start doing timed tests, or should I be hard on myself and go with the exact timing until I finally get used to it?

Same goes for the Science section. I can’t give you exact starting point scores because I haven’t taken practice tests, but I’m pretty sure they are AT LEAST a 29. (Too low for someone who is aspiring to get a minimum of 34, but here’s to hope and hard work!)

About the essay, I have no idea! I’m personally good at writing essays but the ACT essay is also too fast-paced and a different kind of essay. Anyways I still won’t spend more than a few hours a week preparing for it.

I really want to score a 34+ on my first attempt and finish it once and for all. That’s mainly because of the fact that the ACT is NOT offered in my country, therefore I have to travel abroad.

So my question:

Should I register for the September test? Can I raise my reading and science scores by AT LEAST 5 points in a month? How many hours a day/week do I need in order to do so? I’m willing to do as much prep as needed.

Thank you very much for putting in the time reading this and helping me in advance. I really appreciate it.

I mean the starting scores for the reading and science sections are at least a 29, so my starting composite will be a 32. Sorry if it caused confusion.

Hi! I have the opposite problem. I was homeschooled and my math scores on practice tests are very poor (27!! :frowning: ) but I’m scoring perfect on everything else(science, English/writing, reading). The Sept. ACT is the last ACT I’ll be able to take, and as I really want at least a 32 I have discussed my scores with some college counselors. They told me that it really depends on your schools. Does your school want ACT with writing? That can help or hurt your English score. Also, some schools 'super score", which means they take the total of all your scores and average them. If you do well enough on one subject, you could have a great score even with a poor score in one area. Are you aiming for an Ivy League? If not, anything higher than a 30 is usually good enough to auto admit at most state schools.
STUDY TIPS: I’m using McGraw Hill study books and free website, and also PrepScholar’s website. I’ve already went up from a 25 to 27 in the Math, using them. I’d recommend using their English/reading guide, or maybe finding a tutor? One way I score perfect in Science is skimming, and I used this strategy on the Reading also. I read the question first, then scan for wording like it in the paragraphs, finding the answer. It’s a lot faster than reading a little, answering a few questions, reading a little, answering a few more, etc Best of luck! With a lot of studying and prayer we can do this! :slight_smile:

And btw I went up those two points in two weeks, so I’m hopeful I can go up more in the next month!!

Hi @onawingandprayer , thank you for your reply!
Yes, I am aiming for the Ivy Leagues. I will need substantial aid and as an international student that leaves me at a disadvantage, unless my scores are Ivy good, because Ivies are pretty generous when it comes to aid. And yes, I have to take the ACT with writing. I don’t think any of the schools I will be applying to superscore the ACT, but I’m not sure. Thank you for the tips and congrats on your 2-point improvement. About tutors, as I said, the ACT/SAT/SAT IIs are not offered in my country. In fact, many people don’t even know what these tests are. People here are barely even capable of speaking English, let alone helping someone preparing for a U.S. college entrance exam. Basically, I’m all on my own in this. I’m still in a dilemma concerning the September ACT and not sure if I should register or not. Any ideas? Also, I wish you all the best with your upcoming ACT. Good luck!

Colleges will be aware of the language disadvantage if you come from a non-English speaking country, so they’ll probably expect you to take the TOEFL, too.

Getting a 34+ seems totally unrealistic since you just said you’re already struggling with the test being written in English. Even only 1% of American kids get that kind of score, and they are native English speakers.

The advantage to taking the September ACT os that it’s the earliest test of the season-- the SAT isn’t offered until October. Taking a test in September gives you more time to decide if ypu want to (or need to) retake the test later.

Rather than set some high arbitrary target, just do your best. And based on your actual performance, select a realistic list of schools to apply to.

Hi @PrimeMeridian , thank you for your reply!
Yes, I’m well aware that I’ll most likely have to take the TOEFL. It doesn’t seem like a big deal. Also I’m currently a rising junior, so I still have plenty of time to prep for my tests and get the scores ready on time for my applications next year.
I was thinking of taking the ACT for the first time in December, and then for the second time in April if needed. (Unless I decide to risk it all and go for the September test as my first attempt)
IMHO, I’m an academically strong student since my unweighted GPA is equivalent to a 4.0 in American system, accompanied by a rank of 2/180 in one of the most — if not THE most — competitive high schools in my country. That is why I am insisting on getting a 34+…
Also I don’t think aiming for a composite score of 34+ is unrealistic when I am already scoring 34+ on both math and English sections, am I wrong?
As for the schools, I’ll make sure that the list of schools I’ll be applying to consists of reach, match, and safety schools. I won’t just go for a few top-tier colleges and leave it at that.

How difficult is it for you to go to the other country to take the test? IMO, this should be the most important factor when deciding to take the September test. There’s no harm in doing so, but you also should not be taking a long plane flight if you know that you cannot consistently score your target on practice tests.

Oh no, it stinks no one knows about the ACT! That is a problem! (and I thought my redneck town was bad lol) I suggest taking the ACT and just trying to do the best you can. Your English and grammar skills are very good. Perhaps an online tutoring program could help you improve more? I bough ‘time for learning’ and it’s like an online cram course for your last two years of highschool. If you don’t want to buy anything, is a great free resource, they have pages of resources for all the ACT topics. I’m sure you’ve encountered their international student guide but here it is: My mom is a teacher/school counselor with a degree in reading/English and her advice to you is to read as many English books you can get your hands on (even kid’s books - middle grade readers can be quite compex!!) and note the writing styles, use of descriptive words etc. Make notes of the plot, dialogue, what the author’s trying to say. Watch movies that have books based off them. ( You can find a lot of classics free online and find their movies on youtube!) Read the book, watch the movie, study the author’s message and you should do great.
And thank you!:slight_smile:

@“Elina M” If you don’t feel confident about the September test, you could wait for the October one.

But if you really want to take the September one, then here is my advice. From your posts, I gather that you are very smart and driven. I can’t imagine what it’s like wanting to take a test that no one in your area even knows about, let alone knows enough to help you study. So you said that Reading, Science and the essay are your issue. To raise your section scores by 5 points in one month would take a lot of work. Here’s what I did for science prep back when I took it a few months ago. My prep for the science section lasted about 4 weeks, so you could do what I did. I ended up getting a 35 btw, both in science and overall.

I first took a test to determine which section was my weakest, turned out it was science.
I learned of some useful techniques to conquer the science section from a tutor, who I saw once a week just for science.
He told me to skim the passages, since you have to get through 7 passages, each with at least 5 questions, all in 35 minutes. That means maximum 5 minutes per passage. So DON’T read through the entire passage, just skim for the important information needed to answer the questions.

I then did practice sections and went over each one with my tutor or my brother, who was also studying for the science section.

Timing was a big issue for me. I never seemed to be fast enough. That’s when I learned that if you’re spending too much time on one question, you have to skip it and move on. Come back later if you have time.

ALSO not sure if this will work for you, but it worked for me, and my brother too. There is going to be one passage in the section that is about two scientists and their contrasting viewpoints or whatever. Anyway, it’s the one that is basically just words, just reading. No graphs or diagrams. We found that this one took the longest out of all 7 passages, since you actually had to read it more carefully than the others. We found that saving this passage for last helped save time on the section.

I hoped this helped at least a bit! If you want to know anything else, feel free to ask.

Thank you for your reply @runna67 ,
It is a 3-hour flight. I have already decided against taking the September test (but still not 100% sure) because I honestly don’t feel like I am mentally ready for such a challenge. Even if I were, the test anxiety is driving me towards waiting till the December test.
The only advantage of taking the September test for me is that my school will start 10 days after the test, whereas if I go for the December test, I’ll have to skip school for a few days to travel and take the test and then come back.
What should I do? Should I stick to my first plan and wait till December?

It really is. At least the upside is that I get lots of praise from grown adults in my local library who are studying for TOEFL/GRE in order to get into a U.S. grad school. It’s funny how they ask me what ACT is and then tell me how they wish the knew about it at the time.

About online tutoring, I can’t get the studying vibe when it’s online. It might sound crazy, but the reason is that we ONLY use textbooks in our schools (no laptop/tablet), and therefore I’m used to studying with books.
And yes, prepscholar is amazing. I could say that it’s one of the most helpful tools that has helped me through this up to now.

I’ve already downloaded lots of fiction and nonfiction books and I’ve already read a few. It really helps, thank you for the advice!

I think I’ll be waiting until the December test, and then if I don’t end up getting my target score, I’ll retake it in April. Those are the only two test dates apart from September that match with my school schedule, since I’ll have to travel.

Thank you very much, this is the best compliment ever!

Congrats on getting a 35! Thank you very much for the tips on science. I’ll definitely use them.

Thank you, this is so nice of you. I’ll definitely ask for help if needed.

@“Elina M” I think you should take the test once you feel mentally prepared. You have to consider getting as best a score as you can, but also the time and money needed to travel to another country to take the test. I think that if the December test sounds better for you, then go with that. Yes you will need to take some time off from school to travel, but think about it this way. If you take it in Sep. when you don’t feel ready, chances are, your score isn’t going to be the best you can do. Then you would have to take it again, most likely in December. But if you wait to take it in December, and use the extra time to study, then your score will probably be higher. I’m not saying that the waiting will ensure that you don’t have to take it again, just that you’re giving yourself more time.

Thank you for the congratulations btw!

@AnimeMango yes, thank you for your responses. I have decided to register for the December test. Hopefully I have made the right decision. My mom was still insisting on September but I finally convinced her that I’d be more prepared and confident if I were to take the December test rather than the September one.

@“Elina M” Good for you! If you need any help, all you need to do is ask.

@AnimeMango Thank you very much. That really means a lot to me.

@“Elina M” ;:wink: