Using the Habits of the ACT for Personal Gain
Using the Habits of the ACT for Personal Gain
One day, an eleventh grader named Molly Bloom sits down at the desk in her room and takes a practice test for the ACT. Because it makes this case study much simpler, she takes the entire test and gets only one question wrong. Molly checks her answers and then jumps from her chair and does a little dance that would be embarrassing if anyone else were around to see her.
After her euphoria passes, she begins to wonder which question she got wrong and returns to her chair. She discovers that the question was on the Math Subject Test and dealt with triangles. Looking over the question, Molly at first thinks the test made a mistake and that she was actually right, but then she realizes that she answered the question wrong because she had thought the ratio of the sides of a 30-60-90 triangle was 1:2: when really it is 1:2:. Molly doesn’t know where or when she got confused about the ratio of the sides of a 30-60-90 triangle, but as she studies the question and learns how and why she got it wrong, she knows that she’ll never make that mistake again.
Analyzing Molly Bloom
Molly’s actions here seem inconsequential. All she did was study a question she got wrong until she understood why she got it wrong and what she should have done to get it right. But think about the implications. Molly answered the question incorrectly because she didn’t understand the topic it was testing; the practice test pointed out her mistaken understanding in the most noticeable way possible: she got the question wrong. After doing her admittedly goofy little dance, Molly wasn’t content simply to see what the correct answer was and to get on with her day; she wanted to see how and why she got the question wrong and what she should have done, or what she needed to know, in order to get it right. So, with a look of determination, telling herself, “I will figure out why I got this question wrong, yes I will, yes,” she spent a little while studying the question, and discovered her mistaken understanding of 30-60-90 triangles. If Molly were to take that same test again, she would not get that question wrong.
“But she never will take that test again, so she’s never going to see that particular question again,” some poor sap who hasn’t read this guide might sputter. “She wasted her time. What a dork!”
Why That Poor Sap Really Is a Poor Sap
In some sense, that poor sap is correct: Molly never will take that exact practice test again. But the poor sap is wrong to call Molly derogatory names, because, as we know, the ACT is remarkably similar from year to year, both in the topics it covers and in the way it poses questions about those topics. Therefore, when Molly taught herself about 30-60-90 triangles, she actually learned how to answer the similar questions dealing with 30-60-90 triangles that will undoubtedly appear on every future practice test, and on the real ACT.
In studying the results of her practice test, and in figuring out exactly why she got her one question wrong and what she should have known and done to get it right, Molly has targeted a weakness and overcome it.
Molly and You
Molly has it easy. She took a practice test and only got one question wrong. The ACT contains 215 questions, and almost no one in the country manages to get all of them right. Of course, the only reason Molly got so few questions wrong was because we wanted to use her as an easy example.
So what if you take a practice test and get a number of questions wrong on each Subject Test, and your errors span a number of different topics, from punctuation to writing style to plane geometry? You should do exactly what Molly did. Take your test and study it. Identify every question you got wrong, figure out why you got it wrong, and then teach yourself what you should have done to get the question right. If you can’t figure out your error, find someone who can.
A wrong answer on the ACT identifies a weakness in your test taking, whether that weakness is an unfamiliarity with a particular topic or a tendency to be careless. As you study each question you got wrong, you are actually learning how to answer the very questions that will appear in similar form on the real ACT. You are discovering your exact ACT weaknesses and addressing them, and you are learning to understand not just the knowledge tested by the questions, but also the way the test writers ask their questions.
True, if you got 30 questions wrong on your first try, studying your test will take some time. But if you invest that time and study your practice test properly, you will be eliminating future mistakes. Each successive practice test you take should have fewer errors, meaning less time spent studying those errors. Also, and more importantly, you’ll be pinpointing what you need to study for the real ACT, identifying and overcoming your weaknesses, and learning to answer an increasing variety of questions on the specific topics covered by the test. Taking practice tests and studying them will allow you to teach yourself how to recognize and handle whatever the ACT throws at you.
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