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ACT Prep: Which section should I start with?

In a previous lesson we discussed the pros and cons of beginning to study for the SAT with each of the three test subjects: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. This week we are going to do the same for the ACT. Use this guide to help you decide which ACT section is the best choice for you to begin your ACT prep journey with.




Pros: Much like SAT Writing and Language, ACT English is a good middle ground between the Math and Reading sections. Questions are presented linearly (like Math) but also in context (like Reading). The patterns that English wrong answer choices follow, such as two choices being incorrect for the same reason, and other tricks that English uses to mislead students are applicable to all sections of the test. Likewise, questions with stated prompts require students to read carefully and precisely, essential skills for Reading, Math, and Science.


Cons: While English tests many of the skills you will need for the other sections, it does not test all of them. Prepping for English first won’t help you to set up and execute Math equations or to multitask at the level that Reading and Science require.




Pros: If mathematics is far and away your strongest subject, ACT Math can give you a more thorough understanding of how all sections of the test operate. Math contains just enough wrong answer choice patterns and requires just enough close reading to serve as a gateway to English, Reading, and Science.


Cons: If you are not naturally adept at mathematics, ACT Math is one of the most difficult sections to start with. Expect to spend a lot of time reviewing fundamental concepts and memorizing essential formulas. (These formulas are not provided on the ACT.) Because will be going into the test cold, you will have to familiarize yourself with the test format at the same you are (re)learning the test content.




Pros: Reading draws on many of the same skills you will need for English, Math, and Science. Reading requires that you read carefully and precisely and recognize “trap answers,” skills that are important for success on every section. Furthermore, the time management skills demanded by Reading’s strict time limit are equally essential for Math and Science. Lastly, the ability to quickly alternate between a passage and its questions is integral to the design of both Reading and Science.


Cons: Just like English, Reading won’t teach you all of the skills necessary for the other sections. It can’t help you with the level of grammatical precision necessary for English, the mathematical formulas necessary for Math, or the data interpretation skills required for Science.




Pros: Science can help you understand the wrong answer choice patterns that appear on and the close reading skills necessary for all four multiple choice sections. Science will also help you practice the time management techniques essential for Math and Reading and the multitasking skills integral to success in Reading.


Cons: Science draws upon the greatest number of skills applicable to other sections of the ACT. While you might think this would be a point in Science’s favor, the section is designed in such a way that you would have to complete multiple passages of multiple practice tests to gain a decent level of familiarity with any single concept. For instance, completing the text-heavy “conflicting viewpoints” passage in each of the three practice tests in the official ACT guide would grant you only a basic understanding of how ACT Reading works. In short, your test prep journey though the ACT will be faster and more effective if you master the other sections first and save Science for last.


What about Writing?


Because the Writing (essay) section is optional, we have not included it in our list of pros and cons. If you do need or want to take Writing, we recommend beginning to study for this section after you have mastered English and Reading. English and Reading embody the ACT’s ideas of “good” grammar and rhetoric, respectively. Study how these sections construct sentences, paragraphs, and arguments and then work on applying what you have learned to Writing.