Hear an Amherst College grad's honest words on the ACT: Give the test what it wants.
Updated: Mar 13, 2022
We had the opportunity of interviewing JZ about: Take the ACT.
a graduate of top liberal arts college, Amherst College in Massachusetts,
a medical student at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, and
a perfect scorer of the ACT.
Here are some main points she stresses:
To that end, this is why I feel like practice questions are one of the best ways to prepare for standardized tests; they help you guess better.”
Biggest mistake was caring so much about these tests, because they don’t really mean anything
Q: What was your daily routine structured when practicing for ACT?
A: "I took the ACT as an afterthought (i.e. talked into it by my mom) after scoring just shy of my goal on the SAT. My SAT prep was mostly doing practice questions and sample tests throughout the summer and then taking the exam in the fall (of junior year). I took my ACT in the beginning of the summer after my junior year and didn’t study a ton for it, just applied what I knew from the SAT and did some practice tests to familiarize myself with the ACT format."
Q: What resources specifically were being used, and were most helpful?
A: "Princeton Review/Kaplan-type review books. They were fine. Honestly, I’m convinced that the SAT and ACT are absolute scams because they only test how well you can take their tests and not actually any real knowledge or skills of substance (at least AP tests and SAT subject tests assess your actual proficiency in knowing actual things). So I can’t really tell you how useful they were, because they left me with nothing more than a number on my resume after I finished taking them."
Q: When did you start preparing, as in like how many months before taking the exam itself?
A: "Maybe 4 months before? I used SAT prep toward my ACT, and my PSAT prep toward my SAT, so it’s a bit hard to quantify. The earliest I took SAT practice tests was in 7th grade, for our school district’s gifted program, which looked at how well kids in the program were already doing on these standardized tests."
Q: What is one strategy that you used on every single test to help you prepare?
A: "Eat well. Also, don’t try to think too hard about things or write a “good” essay (my mistakes). Simply try to answer the test questions the way you think the test writers would want you to answer, and write the essay according to the boring formula that every test prep book tells you to follow. Again, it’s not going to be a good essay, but it’s what gets full scores."
Q: What are some mistakes you made at first that you overcame? How?
A: "Biggest mistake was caring so much about these tests, because they don’t really mean anything."
Q: What is one different strategy that you used for each of your test categories?
A: "Didn’t really take different strategies, because all of them required similar skills: pace yourself, don’t be afraid to mark what you’re unsure of and come back later, and make the best educated guesses you can. To that end, this is why I feel like practice questions are one of the best ways to prepare for standardized tests; they help you guess better."
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