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Work questions out of order.

Spending too much time on the hardest problems means you may rush through the easiest. Instead of working questions in order, ask yourself whether a question is a Do Now, Later, or Never. No need to agonize—this decision can be made very quickly:

  • NOW: Does a question look okay? Do you know how to do it? Do it now.
  • LATER: Will this question take a long time to work? Leave it and come back to it later. Circle the question number for easy reference.
  • NEVER: Know the topics that are your worst, and learn the signs that flash danger. Don’t waste time on questions you should never do. Instead, use more time to answer the Now and Later questions accurately.

Know the best way to bubble in.

If you’re worried about accidentally filling in the wrong bubble on your answer sheet, this tip will save your score. Work a page at a time on English and Math and a passage at a time on Reading and Science. Circle your answers right on the booklet. Then, transfer a page’s worth of answers to the answer sheet at one time. It’s better to stay focused on working questions rather than disrupt your concentration to find where you left off on the scantron.

Tailor your strategy to each section of the ACT.

Check out our test-taking tips for each section of the ACT:

  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science
  • Essay

Set an end time for when you’ll stop studying each day

This might not be the advice you were expecting. After all, shouldn’t you be trying to study for as many hours as you can every day? No, because the idea is to study smart, not just hard. Of course, you need to work hard. But it’s also essential to lead a balanced life. So set a strict deadline, such as 9:30 pm, and make sure that you don’t do any work after that time. This will give you time to wind down before going to bed. This means that you’ll be able to get those 8 hours of sleep that you need to optimise your academic performance. There’s another advantage to setting a specific end time for when you’ll stop studying each day. Clearly defined limits help you to concentrate on what you’re doing right now. You won’t get distracted as often, because you know that you won’t stay up late to catch up on the time you’ve wasted because of procrastination. The result? You’ll learn more in less time, and you’ll get good grades too.

When you feel as if you’re about to get distracted, write it down

It’s inevitable: From time to time, you’ll get distracted during your study sessions. So you need a strategy for dealing with these distractions. Here’s a technique that works well. Let’s say that you’re reading your science notes when you get the urge to check your text messages. Instead of giving in to the temptation, write down on a rough sheet of paper: “Check text messages.” Once you’ve done that, you’ll find that it’s easier to go back to studying. During your next break, you can go ahead and do what you’ve listed on that rough sheet of paper. In this case, you can check your text messages. Why is this technique effective? Because instead of simply trying to resist the urge, you get to “take action” by writing down the distraction. In doing so, you’re acknowledging the urge without giving in to it. This leaves you free to go back to what you were doing before – studying.

Count how many study sessions you complete each day

There’s a saying that “what gets measured, gets done”. This principle applies to study sessions too. Keep track of how many study sessions you complete each day. This way, you’ll become more intentional about getting to work. Let’s say that you typically study in blocks of 30 minutes. Before you begin your first study session of the day, you might decide that your goal for the day is to do at least 3 sessions of 30 minutes each. As the day goes by, count how many sessions you’ve completed. By keeping score in this way, you’ll focus on the process of doing the work. As a result, you’ll get more work done!

Use earphones or headphones while studying

If you intend to use Tips #15 or #16, then you’ll probably want to use earphones or headphones. But even if you don’t want to listen to any type of music, using earphones or headphones is still a good way to improve your concentration while you study. Why? Because they insulate you from the outside world. Using earphones or headphones is a signal to others that you are occupied. This reduces the likelihood that others will interrupt your study session. Wearing earphones or headphones will also remind yourself that you are in the middle of a study session.

If you don’t like classical music, listen to music/sounds from these two websites

If you don’t like classical music, try using Coffitivity instead. Coffitivity simulates the sounds you would hear in a cafe to boost your creativity and brain function. It’s designed based on research at the University of Chicago. This research shows that we think better and are more creative when there is a moderate level of background noise. Alternatively, try listening to Brain.fm. Brain.fm offers music engineered to help you achieve and sustain deep focus. Personally, I use Brain.fm almost every day, and I’ve found it to be useful. By listening to Brain.fm, I’m able to stay focused for about 50% longer than before!

Listen to classical music while studying

Listening to classical music is another way to help you focus when studying. Dr. Masha Godkin, professor at Northcentral University, has researched the effects of music on our brains. She found that classical music can take you from the beta brainwave state to the deeper alpha state, and even further to the theta state. According to Dr. Godkin, the ability of music to stimulate both sides of the brain is why music helps you focus and also improves your memory. Classical music with a fast tempo, such as Beethoven’s Für Elise, is effective in helping students to concentrate and remember more information.

Use these two apps to eliminate digital distractions

The first app I recommend is Forest. With this app, your study session “becomes” a tree. At the beginning of the session, you plant the tree and it starts to grow. But if you close the app, the tree dies – and nobody wants their precious tree to die! By using the app, you’ll have a more productive study session. Of course, having your phone next to you while you study could be a distraction (as mentioned in the previous tip). This means that you’ll need to be careful not to use your phone for anything else. The second app you can use to remove digital distractions is Freedom. You can schedule this app to block other apps such as YouTube, games, and social media to keep you on track.

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