How to Study for the ACT Sophomore Year

Sophomore year is about figuring out your baseline score on the ACT test. You can find this out by taking the PreACT or a timed, paper practice test at home. Use this practice test score as a launch point for further prep: are you already in pretty good shape? did your practice score surprise you (in a bad way)? are you having trouble with how the questions are asked, or the timing of the test? 

How to Take the PreACT

A lot of schools offer the PreACT, which is a shorter, practice version of the ACT, to sophomores. The content is altered somewhat to tailor to sophomores–especially the math, because the test makers assume that as a sophomore you are currently taking Geometry or Algebra 2–so it might not have all the topics that you would see on the real ACT. However, it can be helpful to take to get a real feel for the actual ACT test. 

The PreACT test is usually not required, and unlike the PSAT, which is commonly required in schools, you may have to sign up for it yourself. Check with your guidance counselor or a teacher at your school to see if your school offers the PreACT to students. Even if it’s not offered at your school, they may be able to help you find a place to take it. 

Should I Study for the PreACT?

So, the question is: should you study for the PreACT. I think that you will like that the answer is no! These scores do not go anywhere (unlike the PSAT that can be used for scholarships or qualifying for a National Merit Scholar designation). It can be nice to use the PreACT as a true baseline ACT score: what is your score if you take it never having seen the test before?  

What Does My PreACT Score Mean?

You can use your PreACT score to determine what you need to spend your time working on and how much content you need to learn or review. Additionally, if you’ve also taken the PSAT, you can compare the two scores and decide which test to focus on moving forward. And of course, you can take a real ACT or SAT test to get these baseline scores, but the Pre-test or a timed, self-administered practice test at home should do the job without the high cost of taking a real test. 

The point of taking all these pre-tests is to figure out how much will you need to prepare for the ACT. For example, do you see a big score difference in the sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science? If you are in Algebra 1, Geometry, or Algebra 2 as a sophomore, you probably have not yet covered some of the topics on the ACT, which covers Algebra 1 and 2, Geometry, and a little Pre-Calculus. So as you continue to take math classes, you can expect to improve your ACT score just by paying attention in math class and learning the material. 

Focus on the Reading and English Sections

Sophomore year is the best year to improve your reading comprehension skills, scientific reading comprehension skills, and grammar and English usage skills because these skills take time to develop and can’t be “crammed” 2 weeks before test day. 

How To Improve Comprehension for the Reading and Science Sections

One way to improve your reading comprehension skills is by reading a wide variety of material, especially nonfiction. While you are reading a newspaper or magazine article, you should ask yourself some questions: what is the purpose of this article? is the author presenting information in an objective way or does the author seem to be trying to convince you of an idea?

Then look up a few words that you think you know but aren’t completely sure about – were you on the right track? Finally, find someone to talk to about the article. Do you find that you can remember the details or only the broad strokes?  

How to Ace the ACT Reading Section

Remember to read scientific articles as well. Can you glean something from the graphs and tables? Are you finding yourself getting bogged down in the details?  Look for the primary purpose of the experiment or article and then review the details within the context of why the author has shared the experiment or article: how does the data further his/her point? 

How to Improve Your Grammar Skills for the English Section

And don’t forget to improve your grammar skills. Did you know that your English score is the easiest score to raise? There is a specific and not very long list of grammar usage and English language topics covered on the test. Sitting with these topics and practicing how they are asked can result in significant increases in your English score. This is a section where with some focused practice, you have the very real potential to earn a perfect score. 

Study Guide for the ACT

To improve on the English section, you will want to work on varying your sentence structure, correctly punctuating both within and at the end of sentences, selecting correct words and phrases for clarity and reduced redundancy, and logically structuring sentences within a paragraph.  A great way to practice these skills is while texting! You could pick a friend and decide that you will only text that friend with grammatically correct texts. Let your friend know when he or she makes a mistake and have him or her do the same for you. 

If you find yourself uncertain about how to study for this section, then ask your teacher. I guarantee you that most of your teachers will be thrilled to be asked for help improving your grammar!

Focus on the Baseline

Even if you can’t do anything else, try and figure out your baseline score on the ACT test this year. This will help you your junior year when it becomes crunch time. By doing just a little planning now, you can make your testing and eventual college application process much smoother.

Next up: How to Study for the ACT Junior Year

Further Reading:

How to Study for the ACT Each Year of High School
How to Study for the ACT Freshman Year
How to Study for the ACT Senior Year

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