
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 306090 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 306090 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 306090 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 306090 triangles, she actually
learned how to answer the similar questions dealing with 306090 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.
