ACT Prep Author Offers Hilarious but Truthful Study Tips (Part 1)

ACT Prep Author Offers Hilarious but Truthful Study Tips (Part 1)
Up Your ACT Score: The Underground Guide

In a previous post, One of the Best Books For ACT Prep,  I introduced readers to a great resource I use in tutoring students for the ACT.  I liked the book so much, I wanted to contact the author.

Chris Arp's responses were so entertaining and informative, I published them as is- for all to benefit.  These are some questions I think parents might like to have the answers to.

Here is Part 1 of my interview with Up Your Score ACT: The Underground Guide author, Chris Arp.  Enjoy and don't forget to click on the link below for Part 2.


When should a student start preparing for the ACT? Sophomore year, junior year, freshmen year? ( I recently saw a test prep book that was targeting middle schoolers!)

I get this question from parents all the time, and my answer is always the same: pre-natal.

If that ship has already sailed, then you should enroll your infant, ASAP, in any of the countless My First Test Prep courses in your area.

The honest answer is that students are already preparing for the ACT, regardless of their age. The ACT is holistic; it tests general reading, mathematics, grammar and data analysis. So if you are the parent of a seventh grader, and you are getting anxious about the ACT, you should do two things. A. Relax. B. Make sure your kid is reading.

In general, it is easier for teenagers to “cram” subjects like graph-analysis and grammar, but it is far more difficult to increase one’s reading level in a short period of time. The best way, I’ve found, to make a child read is to incentivize the activity by taping chocolate bars to the pages.

A student should begin working on ACT practice tests, and reading test-prep books like Up Your Score ACT, in the summer before their junior year of high school.

Traditionally, juniors will take their first ACT on the February test date, so beginning the previous June gives them eight months. More than enough time to get their test-heads screwed on straight.
But let’s say, horror of horrors, that it is Christmas break and a junior has not cracked a test-prep book. Luckily, Up Your Score ACT has a one-month study plan. It is intense, and will require roughly one hour of work per night. But it is tried and tested, and it works.

What is the best place to start if you have taken a practice test and don't have a standout area of strength or weakness?

Start with the Reading section. In order to raise your score on this section of the ACT, you have to commit a significant amount of time. And don’t just take a bunch of tests. Do it the way your grandma did it: read difficult things.

Log on to, a terrific resource for scholarly, dense, headache-inducing articles that, because they are tough, will make you a better reader and (side-benefit) a more intelligent person.  In the book, we recommend a minimum of four such articles per week.

Next, you’ll want to start reviewing your math-o-matics. The ACT will test you on some concepts you haven’t seen since middle school. Up Your Score has a great math chapter to re-acquaint yourself with common denominators, the pythagorean theorem, etc., but you’ll also want to look at some practice tests.

The English (aka grammar) and Science sections are a bit more susceptible to cramming, so these can be tackled in the months closer to the test.

How should a student approach studying if they have a learning disability or have ADHD? What about if you are a poor or slow reader?

Students with learning, behavioral and reading disabilities should definitely, definitely, definitely apply for extended time.

Talk to your guidance counselor or comparable school administrator about it, because you can’t do this online. It is a lengthy and at times Kafkaesque bureaucratic process, so do this early!

Now, extended time on the ACT is a little strange. Here’s how it works. Normally, when you take the ACT, the proctor will tell you when to start and stop each section. With extended time, you are given five hours and you decide how much time you want to allocate to each section.

This is a HUGE benefit! If a student has particular trouble with, say, math, then they can spend two hours on the math section! So if you are hesitating about applying for extended time, my advice is: stop hesitating, apply now, thank me later with a gift basket.

I loved the book! I think it is written in the perfect tone to engage students of this age. The tests however, are so boring and my students do complain about that...any tips to keep them engaged?

Boredom is one of the main enemies of successful test prep, and in Up Your Score ACT we dedicate not one, not two, but three chapters to handling boredom, self-doubt, busy-work, anxiety and other dangers in the studying process.

I don’t want to give away all the advice and strategies in the book, but here’s a mini-screed for free. I encourage parents to print this out and recite it to their teenagers. I encourage teenagers to read this aloud in their most adult-sounding voices:

“The “boredom” you feel during test-prep is not common, run-of-the-mill boredom. It is anxiety masking itself as boredom. It’s a lot easier to say you are bored than to admit that you are afraid. So I’ll say it for you: you are afraid. And with good reason. You would be crazy not to be afraid of a nation-wide test that will be a significant factor in your college application process. That is scary. Period.

The question, then, is how you will react to that fear. The truth is, most people react by running away.

There are many ways to run away from a test, but one of the most popular is to say that it’s boring. This is not unreasonable. After all, the test is not an afternoon of paintball or a Project Runway marathon (to take my two favorite activities, especially when combined). The ACT is a long series of difficult questions in a high-pressure environment. It is a textbook example of “not fun.”

The other option is to accept the road-less-traveled, to not run away, to face your very valid fears, to study.

Now, the funny thing is: once you actually start studying, you will find it’s a lot less terrifying than you’d anticipated.

What’s more, some aspects of studying are kinda nice. For example, let’s say you encounter a math problem involving averages, and get it wrong. You look it up, remind yourself how averages work and do a few practice problems. Then, on the next test, you solve every average problem correctly.

That might be one small gain, but it feels good. And the pathway between you and test glory is one of small gain after small gain after small gain. And each one feels good. Just try it out and see if I’m right.

To summarize: boredom is another word for intimidation, and there ain’t no shame in being intimidated by something as frightening as the ACT. The question is how you are going to react to intimidation.”

-------------------------End Part 1-------------------------------------------------------------

In part two of my interview with Chris, he discusses the advantages of using a tutor! Click the link to continue reading!

Please comment, tweet, share, “like” on Facebook! Likes and tweets are much appreciated. Contact me at


DON'T FORGET TO READ PART 2 OF MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR, CHRIS ARP:  ACT Prep Author Discusses Advantages of Hiring a Tutor (Part 2)

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