ACT Test

Traps to Avoid on the ACT Reading Test

By | ACT Test | No Comments

Traps to Avoid on the ACT Reading Test

Written by Stefan Melnyk

Avoiding traps on the ACT Reading Test is essential to raising your score. You are given so little time to complete the test (35 minutes to answer 40 questions!) that it’s easy to fly past questions without reading them thoroughly. Unfortunately, the writers of the ACT know this and will try to trick you with trap questions. These are questions that have an answer designed to look like the correct one to students who haven’t read the text (or the question) carefully enough. Even if you have top-notch reading skills, however, it can still be useful to know what traps to expect. Here are a handful to look out for:


You read a question that asks you to find the answer that best matches the point of the passage. You glance down at the choices and see one that uses some of the exact words you remember from the passage.


Read the answer with the exact words more carefully – chances are, you will find that it uses those words to make a point that actually contradicts the one in the passage. Instead, look for the answer that paraphrases the point – that is, makes the same point using different words. That will usually be the correct one!


Some answer choices will sound correct but will use words like “always,” “never,” “only,” etc.


These are absolute words, and you have to be very careful with them – they don’t allow for any exceptions! If an answer includes a statement that is usually correct, but the answer says that it is always correct, then that answer is wrong! When you see an absolute word on the ACT Reading Test, you should take it as a warning and watch carefully for a trap!


Some questions on the ACT Reading Test will ask you to say what a word means as it is used in the passage. One of the choices you are given will almost certainly be the most common definition of that word.


You’re not being asked for the first dictionary definition of the word, you’re being asked how the passage is using the word. Always look for context.


There will be questions on the test that use words like “NOT,” “EXCEPT,” or “REJECT.”


Even though these words are usually written in all-caps in the question to help you spot them, a lot of students still miss how those words change the meaning of the question. The presence of one of those words means that you are looking for a false answer among the true ones, and that false answer will be the correct one!


This last trap is a pretty common one, but it also trips up a lot of students as they take the test. As you look at the answers, you may see more than one that is true, or makes a good point. Chances are,


The most common trick that the ACT Reading Test will try to pull is giving you a possible answer that is technically true but has nothing to do with the passage. Always remember that this is a reading test, and there can only be one correct answer, only one answer that reflects the content of the reading passage. The other answers may be true, but that doesn’t mean they’re correct!

The reading test can be quite a sprint, but knowing the hurdles it might throw in your way is essential to getting through it. You can do it!

4 Tips for Scoring Higher on the ACT Reading Test

By | ACT Test | No Comments

4 Tips for Scoring Higher on the ACT Reading Test

By Dr. Paula Tinnin

I prep students for the ACT reading test. Students who are not prepared often feel intimidated. I hear it feels awful. I see it hinders performance that leads to lower scores.  This does not have to be your experience. If you want to face the ACT with greater confidence and gain a competitive edge, try the strategies we teach at Focus on Learning.  Empower yourself and build your confidence in preparing for the ACT reading test.


The first step is to grasp the notion of pacing. Did you know that reading a college level article or excerpt from a book in about 8 minutes is a pace that is nearly impossible for most students to keep?  How can you buy yourself more time?


Look at the type of reading passages on the ACT test. Consider the fact that you are presented with a wide variety of  college-level reading (Prose Fiction, Social Sciences, Humanities and Natural Science.)  Many students get a jump on the Reading section by this simple tip: number the passages in the order of brevity. The passages all have similar word counts, but the questions vary dramatically from one passage to the next.  Which passage has the shortest questions?  Which passage is a familiar or interesting topic?  If you love science and nonfiction in general, always leave the prose fiction text till last.  NEVER automatically read the passages in sequential order.


There are ten questions you have to answer after every passage. Each one needs a surgical approach.Always read the questions before you read the passage, and be sure to underline key words, including special terms and names.  If a question gives you a specific line reference, mark the number of the question in the margin by the referenced lines.


Remember that you are only reading each passage to answer ten questions.  You do not have to read the entire passage.  For expository passages (II, III, IV), read the first paragraph and the first and last sentence of the remaining paragraphs.  That will lead you to the correct answer. The prose passage may require more reading, which is why it is a good choice for leaving it last.  And remember–the key to success on the reading test is reading every question very carefully, so you know what it is asking.  Eliminate those answer choices that have nothing to do with the question, and cross them off.  Circle all correct answers in the test booklet, so you do not go astray.  

Why the ACT English Test is Such a Big Deal

By | ACT Test, Uncategorized | No Comments

Why the ACT English Test is Such a Big Deal

Written Dr. Ene-Kaja Chippendale

Why the English Test on the ACT is Such Big Deal!Students who look at the ACT English Test for the first time are often taken aback because they’ve never seen a test in this format before. They are confronted with a page divided into two columns:  one half of the page includes a narrative with parts underlined and the other half has numbered questions, each followed by four answer choices. Students find they have 45 minutes to answer 75 questions that relate to five passages.

The directions the ACT gives students are ponderous and complicated. On a test where timing is everything, students who stop to read the directions can waste several precious minutes being told that the test requires them to choose the answer “that best expresses the idea,” “makes the statement appropriate for standard written English,” or “is worded most consistently with the style and tone of the passage as a whole.” Huh? becomes a frequent response.

Even worse is the direction that tells test takers to “read the passage through once before you begin to answer the questions that accompany it.” This is a totally nonsensical suggestion that only wastes time.

As students begin working through the test, they tend to rely on one strategy: plug in each answer choice and hope one “speaks” to them. They have no idea what the test covers. Predictably, many students answer by the seat of their pants and pick the answer that “sounds right.” Not a good plan for a high score.

In reality, the English test is the easiest test on which to raise a score because it is totally predictable. Once students learn to read the passage as editors who are looking for mistakes in punctuation, grammar, and word choice (rhetoric), they are on their way. The ACT test writers know that many students can be easily confused: isn’t the longest answer the best? My teacher is always telling me to write longer, more complex sentences. Actually, no. On the ACT, the shortest, most succinct answer is the correct choice.

How about that punctuation? I think any sentence is improved by a comma—I don’t know why, but I’m sure that’s true. Nope. Once again, the ACT plays to students’ weaknesses. Many students still struggle to identify a sentence. Others have no idea how to use a comma, a colon, or a semicolon, never mind a dash or parentheses. When do you use “he” or “him”? Remind me, is it “who” or “whom”? And the list of predictable questions goes on…and on.

Students who review rules of punctuation and grammar and learn how to comprehend questions increase their English score significantly, more so than on any other ACT subject test.  We see that as we prep students for the ACT, and the English increase is anywhere from 2-12 points. A six-point gain is very common. That’s how predictable the English test actually is! That’s why students need to pay special attention to preparing for it. Their score increase in English lifts their composite ACT score. It’s that simple.

The Right ACT Prep Makes a Difference

By | ACT Test, Uncategorized | No Comments

 The Right ACT Prep Makes a Difference

Written by Dr. Ene-Kaja Chippendale

Despite the hope of many students that colleges will abandon standardized testing scores from the ACT or SAT, their place in the college admissions process remains secure for the time being. In Missouri, where the ACT rules, both school administrators and students are nervous about students’ scores. Secondary schools’ evaluations and accreditation depend in part on their composite ACT score. At this time, the state and national averages hover around 21, and it is a badge of honor for schools to exceed that.

Students know that their acceptance into college as well their ability to earn scholarships depend heavily on their ACT scores. Even a one or two point rise in scores can mean thousands of dollars in scholarships. Some students start taking practice ACT tests their freshman year to assure that they earn the maximum score by the time they apply to college. For the last few years, the State of Missouri has paid for every junior to take the April ACT, and my contact with teachers and counselors indicates that this has proven very popular practice for everyone involved. The state has now pulled the funding, but many districts remain committed to continuing the free testing in April 2018.

The ACT is the single most important test a student takes in school, and ACT prep has become a multi-million dollar industry. Yet, objective evidence supporting the effectiveness of coaching is virtually nonexistent. When the cost of an ACT class can exceed $1000 and private tutoring also can run into thousands of dollars, students, teachers, administrators and especially parents should be demanding an objective evaluation of how effective a company or private tutor is in raising scores on the ACT. While we do not evaluate every course, we do gather rigorous, methodologically sound data on some. Our evaluations consistently show that our students make significant gains using our ACT program—one that is based on the most current ACT tests and uses only experienced teachers as coaches. No other ACT prep company has comparable data, nor do they use subject experts to work with the ACT. We offer the right ACT prep—and that makes all the difference.

Chemistry Insight

By | ACT Test | No Comments

Chemistry Insight

Written by Tom Scharenborg, B.S.

Tutoring with students one-on-one is very rewarding. Teachers are tasked with the challenge of reaching students as a group, which presents a wide-range of issues, to make concise points in the science classroom or lab. I recall working with a student to help prepare for an upcoming quiz in chemistry. During the session, we were working with unit conversions, and I quickly realized the student wasn’t aware of the specific differences and similarities between milliliters, milligrams, and cubic centimeters. I knew this would be a critical moment in our session. This topic is critical in the science lab at all levels of learning and research. Additionally, it is regularly presented on ACT college admission tests.
 Flashing back in my mind to previous experiences in the classroom as a teacher, as-well-as a student, I knew this session might go very good—or not— depending on how I presented this concept. The psychology of learning new material is not the same for every person; re-learning can be a tough road as well. Mostly I decided to go through previous homework questions, from the beginning, until I could make a “mistake” in my work on the dry-erase board intentionally. By waiting longer than usual, explaining to the student I was not sure about the work on the board, they recognized that I had made a mistake with one of the units on the cancellation bracket.
 I knew from experience that this realization would help the student make a point to focus more carefully on the units associated with numbers. My student began to express feelings of confidence! Furthermore, they realized they had made this same “mistake” on many of their homework assignments previously turned in.  Additionally, there was a policy with this student’s teacher, such that if students realized their mistakes on homework, they were given the opportunity to correct them on a separate sheet of paper and re-submit them for half-credit given back towards the final grade. Now I could see the feelings of confidence turn to excitement and motivation.  My student realized they could increase their grade substantially by correcting nine previously turned in homework assignments.
My student found the joy of learning. I am always having fun when I work with students. To help a student learn to have fun with learning is beyond value.

Why is the English ACT Test so hard?

By | ACT Test | No Comments

Why is the English ACT test so hard?

The English test on the ACT is a bit of a paradox.  Though it is undeniably the easiest test on which to make significant score gains, it is also the test that causes many students a great deal of frustration the first time they take it.  Why?

First of all, the structure of the ACT English test presents a puzzle.  Students are asked to read 5 passages that have 75 words, phrases, or even complete sentences underlined.  They must decide whether the underlined portion is correct as given, which would lead them to the first NO CHANGE answer, or whether there is a problem with grammar, punctuation, or rhetoric (word use) that needs to be corrected.

Many students take the English ACT test by just plugging in all four choices and hoping that one will “speak” to them.  The problem is that if a student has no idea what the question is asking, this strategy becomes very time consuming, not to mention totally confusing.  The test requires knowing basic rules of Standard English grammar, punctuation, and writing.  Once students learn them, they can develop a plan of action for taking the test that leads to success.

That action plan begins with recognizing that all answers on the English ACT test fall into three categories—grammar, punctuation, and rhetoric.  Once they identify what category of question they are dealing with, students can predict what the answer has to be.  We show students how to decide what the correct answer is BEFORE they look at the answer choices.  This way, students not only save time, but they are not sidetracked by incorrect choices.   This strategy has helped our students raise their English score up to 11 points.

To apply this strategy to the English ACT test, however, students MUST know the rules of punctuation and grammar. The ACT knows that many students today are totally clueless about comma rules, when to use a semicolon or colon, or what a dash is for.   Colon use is the currently a favorite on the ACT English test.   To raise their English score, students must also know correct grammar usage, including noun-pronoun and subject-verb agreement. And finally, they must be able to comprehend rhetorical questions, which can be very devious.

Once our students have acquired the background they need for the English ACT test, we give them many ACT tests (retired tests) to practice on.  The results are remarkable.  The English ACT test is by far the most predictable and thus the easiest test on which to raise scores.  A significant gain on the English ACT test raises the composite score as well.  Pay attention to this test.

Written by Dr. Ene-Kaja Chippendale

Why We (FOL) Should Teach YOUR ACT Classes

By | ACT Test | No Comments

Why We (Focus on Learning Center) Should Teach YOUR ACT Classes

Dr. Moss teaching an ACT prep class in Topeka, Kansas

Mark Twain famously wrote, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” The same words could today be written about the ACT: despite all the buzz that colleges are becoming “test optional,” in actuality the ACT has assumed even greater importance. A student’s ACT scores still significantly affect college admission, entrance into competitive programs, college placement in math and English, and the amount of scholarship dollars earned. Some states, including Missouri, are now making the ACT a mandatory test for all juniors.

The importance of the ACT test has spawned an ever expanding “Test Prep Industry.” ACT prep programs and individual tutors offering assistance have sprouted up everywhere. Just about anybody can claim to be an “ACT coach.” A quick search on the web reveals the breadth of choices available. Students eager to improve their scores and parents anxious for their kids to earn maximum scholarship dollars are flocking to get expensive help, often without a clear understanding of what they are signing up for.

Despite all the money that is flowing into ACT prep, there is virtually no data about the effectiveness of the coaching that is offered. “Testimonials” and other such anecdotal evidence do little to reveal the effectiveness of a coach or a coaching/preparation class. What is needed (and should be demanded by parents and schools) is objective, rigorous data that compares the gains of students who prepare with the gains of those who do not. That last phase may not seem important, but comparing these two groups provides the only valid method to evaluate the effect of preparation: How much more do those who prepare, either with one-on-one tutoring or in a class, improve compare to their cohorts who just show-up?

This is the data we have collected and continue to collect at Focus on Learning. If you do a Google search for the Effects of Coaching on the ACT Scores you will find our studies listed, but little else. Although one point – or just a little higher than one point – may at first glance not seem like much, it represents the gain made by the average of an entire group of students who prepared compared to those who did not and is thus significant. This “one point” spread over all of the students – many of whom made much larger gains – translates into tens of thousands of dollars of scholarships and many educational opportunities.

We can raise your students’ scores: we have proven it and we have published the gains – our program, honed over 30 years, works. Our students raise their ACT scores. So, until someone else can math our results, shouldn’t we be teaching your ACT preparation classes? We come to your school.  Also look for our web based ACT prep programs that will be available soon.

We also offer two workshops for your teachers:  Teachers as ACT Coaches (TAC), where we share the strategies we have used successfully over the past thirty years and Teaching for ACT Success:  Revised Missouri Learning Standards and the ACT—What’s a School to Do?(TFS) for classroom teachers.  The TFS workshop provides materials and strategies for teachers to incorporate into their classroom curricula.

Contact us at or call 573-875-5187 for more information. FOL is located at 200 Corporate Lake Drive, Columbia, MO 65203.

Gary Moss, Ph.D.

Ene-Kaja Chippendale, Ph.D.

(Dr. Moss is a researcher and test consultant for Focus on Learning, Inc., Columbia, MO. His coaching areas include math and science. Dr. Chippendale is the president of FOL and her coaching areas are English, reading, and writing. Drs. Moss and Chippendale have worked together over 30 years to develop and regularly update their ACT programs for both students and teachers.)

Effects of ACT Coaching

By | ACT Test | No Comments

Effects of ACT Coaching

Around a million and a half students take the ACT test annually. However, despite the large amount of money spent on ACT prep, there is virtually no research supporting the effects of ACT prep on score improvement. To date, Focus on Learning has the only controlled study confirming that our ACT prep significantly increases ACT scores. Publishes in the 2012 Journal of College, the study found that students who participated in the coaching class increased their composite ACT score by 1.5 points over their previous highest ACT composite score. A comparable group at the same high school who did not participate in the coaching only achieved an increase of 0.65 points.  This difference is significant.  Individual score increases for the coached students rose as high as 6 points.  Coaching makes a difference.

What do a few points matter? A few points can make a significant difference in admission and scholarship awards.  A student with a mid-twenty composite score can get into many mid-level state or private universities. A student with a 31 or higher has a shot at Ivy League schools.   Scholarship awards are based heavily on ACT scores.  For example, one of our students who went from a 24 to a 33 on the ACT is going to college with an annual award of  $100,000.  ACT scores are also important for getting entrance into specialized programs such as engineering or journalism.  You can read more about the benefit to doing well on the ACT by clicking this link

Consider where you are now:  is your current ACT score what you need to get into your dream school or enter the program of your choice? Are you going to finish college in huge financial debt or will you have your college costs reduced or even mostly paid for?

If your score is not yet where it needs to be, contact us.  We can help you raise your score.  Not all our student gain 9 points, but the student who did worked hard.  You can too. We offer one-on-one tutoring that is geared specifically to meet your needs.  We also offer small classes geared to all levels:  beginners to those aiming for the 31 Bright Flight. Find out more about our ACT prep at and select the path that leads to your goals. If you have any questions, please call us at 573-875-5187 today!

To read our published article about the effects of coaching, click on at

Written by Dr. E.K. Chippendale and Brandon Painter

Pay Attention to Your ACT Score

By | ACT Test | No Comments

Why You Need to Pay Attention to Your ACT Score

      Four Reasons you need to pay attention to your ACT score

Low scores in English and math will force you into remedial classes in college

High scores will earn you thousands of scholarship dollars

You will be eligible for competitive programs in college

You will have more college choices

Low ACT scores in math and English will waste money and time in college.

If your ACT English score is lower than an 18 and your math lower than a 21 you will have to pay for remedial classes in college for which you receive NO credit.  Remedial classes are expensive and add time to your college program. These classes can cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars that will be taken out of your financial aid packet every quarter or semester.   For example, if you have a low score in math, you may have to enroll in two or even three remedial classes before you will be allowed to enroll in the required college algebra class needed to graduate.  Scoring well on the ACT can save you months of time and a large chunk of money.


 High scores will reduce your college costs—there are many scholarships waiting for you!

Financial debt can be a huge problem for all students enrolling in college—tuition as well as room and board costs are on the rise and remain well ahead of inflation.   Tuition alone can be astronomical.  Locally, instate tuition alone will cost $27,374 a year at MU.  Columbia College is even higher at $32,210.   Elite colleges such as Yale charge $66,445.  And remember you still have to pay for a place to live, food, books, lab costs, and transportation—the list goes on and on.  Do everything you can to earn scholarships so you have the lowest possible debt when you graduate.

High scores on the ACT pay off in scholarship dollars.   Doing well on the ACT is the first step to collecting scholarships.   You can receive thousands of dollars a year. Yes, that’s right–thousands! For example, in Missouri, you earn one thousand dollars for an ACT score ranging from 27-36 if you are the top 50% of your class rank.   Bright Flight at 31 brings $2,000 a year for up to five years.   The Mizzou Scholars Award from the University of Missouri is $10,000 a year for students with an “excellent high school record” and a score of 33.   The Curator’s Award of $4,500 a year goes to students in the top 5% of their class who earn a 28.  Most colleges also offer generous scholarships.  They know that awarding scholarships is a key for getting students to enroll.

This past year, one of our students went from a 24 composite to a 33 and earned over $100,000 at an out-of-state university.  It can be done!


 High scores will help you get into the program of your choice.

Many students who enroll in college have some an idea of what their “dream career” will be; others won’t know for a few years.   Once again, however, their ACT score will greatly affect what choices will be available to them.

For example, MU ACT score requirements for competitive programs include the following:  Journalism 29, Nursing Scholars 31, Bioengineering  (and other engineering programs) 32, and the Honors College 31.

There are great rewards for preparing for the ACT—and preparation raises scores.


 Having college choices will open more possibilities.

Once again, there are variable scores for colleges.    Average ACT scores for some colleges and universities in Missouri include the following: Columbia College 23; Central Methodist University 21; Washington University 33; Drury University 26; St. Louis University 27; Stephens College 23; University of Missouri 25; University of Missouri-Kansas City 21; and the UMKC combined BA/MD Program, 31.

There is comparable score ranges for other private state universities and colleges.  The “prestige” Ivy League schools, University of Chicago, and Stanford all have ACT average scores in the mid-30s.

College competition is fierce, and your ACT score can make a significant difference in determining both where you go to college, which program you enter, and how many scholarship dollars you earn so you minimize the amount you have to pay yourself.

Take the ACT very seriously!  It’s the most important test you will take in high school—and it’s a test you can prepare for to earn a maximum score.  The higher scores will bring you many rewards.

To find out more details about ACT scholarships, college choices, and program requirements go to our ACT FAQs page here.

ACT Scores Will Help Finance College

By | ACT Test | No Comments

ACT Scores Will Help Finance College

The ACT test is the single most important exam a high school student takes.  ACT scores are used for college admission, scholarship aid, and decisions about enrollment in remedial English or math classes.  Remedial college classes cost as much as regular classes but do not award credit.

Students receive 5-7 ACT scores.  All students receive ACT scores in English, Math, Reading and Science and a Composite Score that is the average of the four.   Some students also take the Writing Test and receive two additional scores:  Writing and a Composite English/Writing.   The ACT scores range from 1-36, and a score of 21 is the approximate average.   At this time, 31 is Bright Flight and reflects the top 4% of students.

ACT score based scholarships kick in on all levels.  For example, Missouri Western University offers a $2000/year scholarship to students with 21s.  The largest scholarships are awarded once students score 25 or higher.

High ACT scores translate into serious money.  The University of Missouri offers some generous scholarships that include

Excellence Award          $1000/yr        27+           Top 25% class

Curators’ Award            $4500/yr         28+          Top 5%   class

Chancellor’s Award      $6500/yr         31+           Top 10% class

Missouri Scholars        $10,000/yr       33+          Excellent record

These are the most prestigious awards.  There are many more, and each college and university in Missouri and around the country has its own list. Check out the possibilities here!

ACT preparation makes a difference and it can be a very valuable investment.

Check our website for more information about scholarships in Missouri and across the US.

The ACT provides colleges with “equalizer” information in that the scores for every student are based on the same criteria.  In an age of grade inflation, many colleges believe that the ACT score can differentiate among students and help identify those who have the greatest chance of success.