ACT Exam Cram

ACT Exam Cram


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If you are amongst the 2 million high school students taking the ACT this year, listen up. The ACT Exam Cram is a focused, to-the-point study aid that will help you study quicker and score higher. Each section covers one topic of the exam: reading, math, science reasoning, and the new writing assignment. The guide includes:

  • Examples and practice questions for each topic.
  • Sample answers for the writing assignment.
  • A full-length practice exam that covers all four topic areas.
  • The "Cram Sheet" tear-card that condenses exam highlights for last minute review.
If you want to know what to expect from the ACT exam, the ACT Exam Cram is the way to go.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780789734433
Publisher: Pearson IT Certification
Publication date: 10/11/2005
Series: Exam Cram 2 Series
Pages: 456
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.92(d)

About the Author

Susan French Ludwig has an MA in Education and is a STEM Grant Coordinator for Kirkwood Community College. Susan has taught both in elementary and adult education, designed curriculum for Kirkwood, written textbooks, and test questions for the ACT council.


Teresa Stephens has a Masters in Education as well as an engineering degree. She has taught SAT, GRE, and GMAT test prep courses, has tutored high school students for the ACT and the SAT and currently teaches math and science at a small private school.


Paul Felstiner has a BS in biology and a Master's in teaching. He is teaches high school physics and physical science. His background includes technical writing for the US Forest Service.

Table of Contents

Susan French Ludwig has an MA in Education and is a STEM Grant Coordinator for Kirkwood Community College. Susan has taught both in elementary and adult education, designed curriculum for Kirkwood, written textbooks, and test questions for the ACT council.

Teresa Stephens has a Masters in Education as well as an engineering degree. She has taught SAT, GRE, and GMAT test prep courses, has tutored high school students for the ACT and the SAT and currently teaches math and science at a small private school.

Paul Felstiner has a BS in biology and a Master's in teaching. He is teaches high school physics and physical science. His background includes technical writing for the US Forest Service.



Welcome to the ACT Exam Cram! Taking the ACT Assessment is usually one of the very first steps as you prepare to apply to college. What an exciting time of your life.

Because you are likely to be a high school junior right now, this is probably the first Exam Cram book you have ever used. You will find that this guide contains all the information and tips you will need to be fully prepared for the test you are planning to take—the ACT Assessment. As you take certification and licensing exams in the future, we hope you will turn to the Exam Cram series for all your test-preparation needs.

As you already undoubtedly know, the ACT Assessment is a national college admission examination. The ACT Assessment is accepted by pretty much every college and university in the country, and the scores on the test are used by college admissions departments to help make their decisions about accepting students. It is essential then for you to do your personal best on this test.

The ACT Assessment consists of subtests to measure your ability in the subject areas of English, reading, mathematics, and science, and there is an optional test in writing. The material presented on the test is what you have learned up until your junior year of high school.

The ACT Exam Cram is designed to help you perform at your optimum on this important test. In this introduction, you will learn about the basics of the ACT Assessment, what to expect with the testing environment, and general test-taking strategies. The Self-Assessment that follows enables you to know firsthand which subject areas you may need to set aside more preparation timefor and which subject areas are already pretty solid in your mind. Subsequent chapters are designed to help you review individually each of the subject areas and the types of questions included on the ACT Assessment. After you have completed working through this guide, the sample tests at the end of the book will provide you with a reasonably accurate post-preparation assessment of your knowledge of each of the subject areas. Reviewing the correct responses after you've taken a practice test provides further reinforcement of the material.

The ACT at a Glance

The ACT Assessment consists of subtests to measure your ability in the subject areas of English, reading, mathematics, and science, with an optional test in writing. The material presented on the test is what you have learned up until your junior year of high school. The following table gives an overview of the general format of the ACT.


Subsets Evaluated

English test: 75 questions, 45 minutes

Usage/mechanics: 40 questions


Rhetorical skills: 35 questions


(Strategy, organization, style)

Math test: 60 questions, 60 minutes

Elementary algebra: 24 questions


Intermediate algebra and coordinate geometry: 18 questions


Plane geometry and trigonometry: 18 questions

Reading test: 40 questions, 35 minutes

Arts/literature: 20 questions


Social studies/sciences: 20 questions

Science Reasoning test: 40 questions,

Data representation: 15 questions 35 minutes


Research summaries: 18 questions


Conflicting viewpoints: 7 questions

Writing test (optional): one writing

One essay responding to the prompt prompt, 30 minutes

Yes, Go Ahead and Guess

It's important that you keep in mind that the ACT Assessment does not penalize you for guessing. In other words, no points are subtracted from your score for wrong answers. This means that you should never leave a question unanswered, even if you have to choose an answer randomly. However, it's always best to use the process of elimination to make an educated guess if you can.

How to Test Smarter

Sometimes it's not about what you know but about how you show it. The following list provides some strategies you can use to maximize your score:

  • Never leave a question blank.

  • There is no penalty for guessing on the ACT, so you should make sure that you bubble in an answer for every question. Make sure you save at least a minute at the end of a test section to bubble in answers of questions you did not get to.

  • Reduce anxiety.

  • Plan to take the ACT early enough in your high school career so that you can take the test several more times if you are not happy with your score. Also, set a realistic personal goal for yourself. For example, answering about 45 questions correctly on the Math section produces roughly a score of 27. You don't need to answer every question correctly in order to get a good score.

  • Wear a big ugly watch.

  • Don't spend too much time on one question. Although you may know this, it's easy to forget this important strategy when you're facing a complicated word problem or an intense science passage. Figure out some way to remind yourself that a good use of time is essential.

  • Do the easy questions first.

  • The best way to make sure you use your time wisely is to answer all questions that are easy for you first. Hard questions are worth the same as easy questions. Don't spend 3 minutes figuring out a hard question when you could have answered three easy questions. You can double back in the remaining time to tackle the more difficult questions.

  • Just get the answer.

  • Think creatively to find the solution in the least amount of time. When appropriate, plug in answer choices to find the correct answer. You get no points on this exam for fancy factoring or formal English rules.

  • Make a smart guess.

  • Knowing what an answer can't be makes for smart guessing. If you can eliminate some choices, the probability that you guess the correct answer is higher.

  • Give the question what it's asking for.

  • The ACT test makers fill the answer choices with distracters—answers that are likely errors. Take enough time to make sure that you know what a question is asking for. Pay careful attention to words such as not in the question stem.

  • Check periodically to see that the number on your answer sheet matches the number of the question you are working on.

  • Some students prefer to bubble in answers in groups, such as three at a time. This is a personal preference. With any method it's important to make sure periodically that the question number matches the answer sheet number.

  • Reduce other activities near the test date.

  • Students are busier than ever. Make sure you give this test date the respect it deserves by limiting other activities a few days before the test. It takes stamina to feel alert during a test of this length.

  • Be prepared.

  • Know the directions and the format of each test section ahead of time. Follow the guidelines in this book to complete a study plan. Use other resources recommended to strengthen your weaknesses. You'll feel more confident if you know what to expect.

How to Create a Personalized Study Plan

It's important at this stage of the game that you create a plan of attack. If you have a lot of anxiety about taking the ACT, it's even more essential that you give yourself plenty of time and follow a disciplined schedule. Part of this plan is deciding when to take the ACT. Our recommendation is to plan to take the test early enough so that you have time to take it again if you're not pleased with your score. Not only does this give you the opportunity to take the ACT twice, but it's also a major stress buster.

The ACT Exam Cram should be an integral part of building your strategy. The Self-Assessment, your first assignment, should help you isolate your strengths and weaknesses. Tackle your weaknesses first. Try to set up a weekly goal in which you set aside a certain amount of time to work through this book. For most students having a scheduled time—say, after violin lessons on Saturday mornings—seems to work best. Make sure your goal is attainable; if you create a master plan that is too ambitious, you'll find yourself getting discouraged. It also may help to plan to reward yourself, if even in a small way, for following through with your scheduled study time. Did somebody say pastry?

After working through each chapter on a specific subject matter, you'll be ready to take the first practice test. If at all possible, take the test all at one time so that you match the experience you'll have on the day you take the test. The most powerful boost you can give yourself is a practice test that matches the real test as closely as possible. After you have the results from the first practice test, take time to review closely the questions you missed.

You might be tempted to skip this step because it can be time consuming, but this careful review of errors can have a huge impact on your test-taking ability. Try to determine why you missed each question. Did you not know the subject matter? Did you misread the question? Did you not have enough time to get to all the questions? Did you not choose appropriate strategies for determining question answers? Try to identify any patterns that might cost you points.

Your next step should be to practice specific skills that are still trouble spots. This might include extra review of chapters in this book, or the use of supplemental aides that specialize on specific topics. Choose aides that suit your learning style and lifestyle. For instance, if math is a weakness and you know you'll have trouble working through a book alone, you may want to sign up for a course.

After you review, you should take a second test. At this point you should not have to read any directions and should know the format of the questions cold. Again, take the time to examine errors on the practice test so that you can continue to improve your strategy. Look for skills that are strengths, but also look for skills that you need to hone. Although you may not have achieved your dream score, hopefully you will see improvement. You should feel really good about reaching this milestone in preparation for the ACT.

If you have remaining time, the name of the game is practice, practice, practice. Imagine yourself climbing a mountain to reach your personal best score. Every question you answer gets you one baby step closer to the score you want. Continue this pattern of testing, evaluation, study, and retesting. The CD, which features nearly 200 sample test questions, provides a great way to log in some serious practice hours. Note, too, that visiting can be very helpful in your review, because you'll find plenty of additional practice questions.

Like all the guides in the Exam Cram series, this book is aimed primarily at test preparation and review. It will not actually teach you everything you need to know about a topic or subject area although it provides a good review of the components of the test subject areas.

Begin your ACT test preparation by taking the Self-Assessment that immediately follows. It will assist you in evaluating your present knowledge against what you will encounter on the actual ACT Assessment. You will then be able to plan your study and preparation time accordingly.

Based on the information gleaned from the Self-Assessment, some students may decide to supplement their test-preparation review with some additional classroom training, some individual tutoring, some background reading, or another type of remediation. Some students may also decide to get additional practice on the subjects presented on this test by practicing with one of the many study guides available from ACT or third-party vendors on the subjects covered within the ACT Assessment. Students who find that they are particularly deficient in a subject area may consider delaying taking the ACT for a period of time until they feel more confident in their abilities. Note, too, that visiting can be very helpful in your review because there are plenty of additional practice questions.

Taking the ACT Assessment

You will need to register at least two months before you plan to take the ACT. Registration deadlines are approximately a month before the scheduled date of the test. The ACT Assessment is given primarily on Saturdays in the months of February, April, June, September, October, and December at hundreds of locations nationwide. Even though you may have taken the PLAN (the pre-ACT test) at a particular testing location, the ACT test may not be offered there. Ensure that the location where you hope to take the test is an actual ACT testing center. This information is available on the site.

Note that not all states stage the ACT Assessment each of these six months, and the states offering September test dates are especially limited. Check the ACT website ( before making any plans so that you can ensure the test is offered when and where you would like to take it.

The quickest and easiest way to register for the test is to go directly to the ACT website ( and follow the links to sign up online. Using this method will require a credit card though. If you would rather submit a check or if you don't have Internet access, you will want to register through the postal mail using a paper registration form. This form can be obtained at the guidance department of your local high school (whether or not you are enrolled) or by calling ACT directly at 319-337-1270 and requesting that a registration form be sent to you.

Caution - Find out if the schools to which you are applying require you to take the Writing portion of the ACT as an admissions requirement. If so, make sure you register for that part of the ACT Assessment too.

The basic ACT Assessment costs $28 if registration is completed before the posted deadline. The Writing test (see Chapter 3, "The ACT Writing Test," for more information about this optional subject area of the test) costs an additional $14. The late registration charge of $17 can be avoided in most instances by registering within the timeframe parameters provided on the ACT website.

Note - A limited number of fee waivers are available for those students who qualify for financial assistance. Refer to the ACT website ( for further information.

Tip - Don't procrastinate. Register well in advance for the ACT Assessment. Choose a date that is at least two months before the college application deadlines for those schools in which you have interest. Keep in mind that it can take up to two months for the schools to which you are applying to receive your scores.

Caution - If for religious reasons you are unable to take the ACT Assessment on one of the scheduled Saturday dates or if you live in a remote area and have difficulty traveling to a test center, you may request to take the test on one of the limited Sunday or Monday times. The ACT website ( has detailed information concerning the restrictions for taking a test on an alternate day of the week.

Tip - If you have special needs that call for accommodations of any kind, be sure you alert ACT at the time you register. The ACT website ( has further information about the types of accommodations test centers are able to provide. Additionally, some students with Individual Education or 504 Plans may need to submit a form to that effect to receive accommodations for taking the test. Check with your guidance counselor for further information.

When you register for the test, you will have the opportunity to request that copies of your scores be sent directly to up to four schools. Additional schools may be added for a fee of $7 for each school. If you would rather wait until you have actually seen your scores, you will pay extra to have them sent to your intended school at a later date. Talk this over with your guidance counselor or an adult family member to help you decide which option is right for you.

Keep in mind that you do have the opportunity to take the ACT again if you feel your scores don't accurately reflect your ability. ACT research shows that the majority of students who took the ACT more than once attained a higher score on their second try.

What to Expect on Test Day

Most regularly scheduled ACT Assessments begin at 8:00 a.m. Plan in advance to be at the test center early. If you are not sure of exactly where the test center is located, obtain accurate directions in advance of the test day. If necessary, drive to the center a day or two prior to the test and make note of how much time you will need to allot the morning of the test. It is unnecessary to be stressed about arrival time on the actual test day.

Note - The ACT includes 215 multiple-choice questions and takes approximately 3 1/2 hours to complete with breaks (or just over 4 hours if you are taking the Writing test).

When you arrive at the test center the morning of the test, you will be asked to show your admission ticket (which will be mailed to you a few weeks after you register) as well as "acceptable identification" to be admitted. Proper identification for the ACT test is one of the following:

  • A current photo ID—Acceptable identification is a driver's license, a passport, or your school or work ID, provided it contains both your name and a current photograph. A learner's permit is generally not acceptable.

  • A recently published photograph—Your photograph needs to have been published in a newspaper or a high school yearbook, and both your first and last names must appear and be captioned underneath the photo.

  • A school letter or a transcript—Make plans to obtain this form of ID a few weeks before the test. The official letter must be on school letterhead and include your name and a full physical description, with your height, weight, age, gender, race, and hair and eye color. Alternatively, the letter can include a recent photograph with the school seal affixed and a school administrator's signature across a portion of the photograph.

  • A notarized statement with your photo—If you are home schooled or are otherwise unable to obtain an official letter on a school letterhead, you may obtain and use a notarized statement with your photo. You'll need to sign a statement in ink in the presence of the notary and ensure that the notary's stamp or seal is affixed to a portion of the photo.

Check the ACT website ( and the materials you will be sent after registering to ensure that you have proper identification prior to the day of the test. Testing officials will not permit you to take the test if you do not have a required form of identification—and students are turned away at every testing station for that reason. Don't be one of them. Just like finding the location of the test center in advance of the test, obtaining the proper identification well before the test day is absolutely essential. Keep in mind that ACT does not issue refunds, even if you are turned away from the test for lack of acceptable identification.

Remember to bring with you a supply of sharpened #2 pencils with erasers on test day. (Some students use thick elementary school–type pencils to efficiently draw one thick line through the bubble on the answer key.) You will also want to make sure you have a calculator to use during the Mathematics test. If you forget to bring your own calculator, you will not be permitted to share with another student, and you may not let another student use your calculator when you are finished with it. Also remember to wear a watch on test day. You will need to keep close track of time and pace yourself as you work through the parts of the test.

Exam Day Checklist - Have you remembered the following items?

  • Your admission ticket
  • Your identification
  • A calculator
  • Sharpened #2 pencils with erasers
  • A watch

After all the students have been checked in to the test center, the ACT Assessment will begin. After the first two tests, you should expect to be given a short break.

Occasionally a student is unable to complete the test; he or she may feel ill or otherwise not competent enough to finish the test. In the unfortunate event that this happens to you on test day, make sure you tell the test proctor that your test should not be scored. Don't wait until after you leave the test center to attempt to make this request, because by then it will be too late. Remember that you are able to reregister and retake the test on a later date if you want to.

How to Interpret Your Scores

You will receive a score report that lists your composite score, or overall score, and your scaled scores for each of the four tests. The scaled scores will fall within a range between 1 and 36. Of course, the higher your score, the better. The report will also give a percentile for each scaled score that tells you how many other students (in percentage form) received scores that were the same as or lower than yours. In addition, you will receive subscores for the content areas of English, Mathematics, and Reading. If you look at your report and observe that the subscores don't seem to add to the scaled score for each content area, don't panic. The test administrators have a special process they use to create your scaled scores. This process allows for comparison between many versions of the ACT.

If you take the optional Writing test, you will receive a Writing subscore between 2 and 12. Two different readers will use a rubric to assign your essay a score between 1 (low) and 6 (high). The result of adding these scores together is the Writing subscore. You will also receive an English–Writing scaled score between 1 and 36. This does not count toward your composite score but is presented to colleges.

How to Prepare for the ACT Assessment

Reading articles from a variety of sources, writing well-organized essays about different subjects, and going over the types of math problems you have worked on in your classes are all ways to prepare yourself for the ACT Assessment. Preparing for this test means familiarizing yourself with the subject areas and the types of questions you will encounter on the actual test.

Make your preparation time consistent, serious, and worthwhile by working in an area free of distractions. Strive to do the best you can and use your practice time wisely.

What This Book Will Not Do

If you do not have a solid understand of any of the components on the test, do not depend on this book to teach you. You may want to consider a private tutor, talking with your guidance counselor or subject area teachers at your high school, and possibly postponing taking the test until you have received adequate remediation in those areas where you need it.

What This Book Is Designed to Do

This book is designed to be used as a review for those areas that the ACT Assessment will test you on. By systematically reading through each chapter of the book and working through the practice questions, then taking a practice test under test conditions and reviewing your responses with the correct answers when you have completed the practice test, you will be adequately prepared to do your personal best on the ACT.

About This Book

It is recommended that you work through this book from beginning to end to ensure you get the most benefit from it. Don't skip portions because you think you know certain material already. Stress those areas where the Self-Assessment indicated you need reinforcement and review before taking the test.

Chapter Formats

Each Exam Cram chapter follows a prescribed structure, along with icon cues about especially important or useful material. The structure of a typical chapter is as follows:

  • Opening hotlists—In order to understand completely what you will need to know, each chapter begins with a list of the terms you will need to understand and also a list of the concepts you'll need to master before you can be fully conversant with that chapter's subject matter.

  • Topical coverage—After the opening hotlists, each chapter discusses the topics related to the chapter's subject.

  • Exam Alerts—Throughout the chapters, you will notice that certain material is highlighted. These alerts let you know that that particular material is likely to appear on the exam. The special Exam Alert layout will look like this:

  • Caution - This is what an Exam Alert looks like. An Exam Alert is actually a heads-up about concepts, terms, or activities that will most likely appear in one or more exam questions. Don't ignore these emphasized areas; rather, pay particular attention to each Exam Alert and think about what it contains.

    Even if particular material isn't flagged as an Exam Alert, all of the content in this book is associated in some way with material related to the test. What appears in the chapter content should be thought of as critical knowledge.

  • Tips—Tips are provided to focus your attention on an important concept. Tips provide a way to remind you of the context surrounding a particular area of a topic under discussion. You will find each of the tips to be a helpful bit of knowledge as you work through the chapters.

  • Practice questions—This section presents a short list of test questions related to the specific chapter topic. Each question has an explanation of both correct and incorrect answers immediately following. The practice questions highlight those areas we found to be most important on the exam.

  • Need to Know More?—Every chapter ends with a section titled "Need To Know More?" This section provides pointers to resources we found to be helpful in offering further details on the chapter's subject matter. All these resources will be helpful to you as you prepare for the test, and you will find that most are readily available at your school or public library, as well as at most bookstores.

The bulk of this guide follows this chapter structure, but there are a few other elements that you should take notice of:

  • Sample tests—The sample test in Chapter 9 (with the answer key in Chapter 10) is a very close approximation of the types of questions you are likely to encounter on the current ACT Assessment.

  • Answer keys—The answer key provides the correct responses to the sample test questions and includes explanations of the correct responses and the incorrect responses.

  • Glossary—This is an alphabetical listing of the important terms used in this book.

  • The Cram Sheet—This appears as a durable tear-away sheet in the inside the front cover of this Exam Cram guide. You will find that the Cram Sheet is a valuable tool that contains the essential facts, formulas, and ideas you will want to attempt to commit to memory prior to the test.

  • In the days and weeks prior to your scheduled test day, you will want to carry the cram sheet with you to refer to when you have free time. On the morning of the test, you may want to look at the Cram Sheet in your car or in the lobby of the testing center just before you walk into the testing center. You won't be permitted to bring anything into the actually testing area, so you will need to put your materials away before the test.

  • The CD—The CD provides additional practice items, passages, and test questions for you to review with. Remember, though, that the ACT is a paper-and-pencil test. Don't get overly comfortable reading and typing in your responses on the computer. You'll get a test booklet and answer sheet, as well as some scratch paper for taking your actual test.

Contacting the Authors

With this study guide, we have tried to create a valuable tool for you to prepare for and do your best on the ACT Assessment. We are interested in any feedback you care to share about the book, especially if you have ideas about how we can improve it for future test takers. We will consider everything you say carefully and will respond to all reasonable suggestions and comments. You can reach Susan via email at, and you can reach Teresa via email at

Thank you for choosing us as your personal ACT Assessment coach and trainer.

© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

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