Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Power Up: Reading ACT Prep, Week 1

Laura Halstied, Michell Eike | Published: August 11th, 2023 by K20 Center


In this first ACT prep reading activity, students will focus on setting a goal for a future ACT. First, students review and reflect on the ACT process of superscoring. Then students review their existing reading scores before setting a goal to reach on the ACT and the reading test when they take the test again. Students choose at least one action to practice as a good habit leading up to the ACT, and they record their progress towards meeting their goal. This is the first activity in a 10-week "Power Up" series for ACT prep.

Essential Question

  • How can I increase my ACT score?

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the purpose of the ACT and the importance of the reading section.

  • Evaluate current ACT performance and set a realistic goal for the overall test and the reading component.

Materials List

  • Activity Slides (attached)

  • Goal Setting handout (attached; one per student)

  • MyACT Quick Start Guide document (attached; for teacher use)

  • Sticky notes (one per student)

  • Coloring utensils (highlighters or colored pencils; 1–2 per student)

  • Pencil/pen

  • Device to access ACT score or a printed report (for each student)

  • Calculators (optional)


5 Minute(s)

Introduce the activity using the attached Activity Slides. Share the essential question on slide 3 and the learning objectives from slide 4. Move to slide 5 and use the I Notice, I Wonder strategy to have students analyze the table. Give students a few moments to look at the data, then ask several students to share something they notice. Next, ask several students to share something they wonder about the data. 

Share the following with students:

  • The ACT automatically takes the highest score from each subject test when a student takes the ACT.

  • Most students increase their score after taking the ACT a second time.

  • The ACT offers a superscore calculator that can be used to predict future scores. They can access it by going to or from once they have an online account.

  • Over the next ten weeks. they will be completing activities that can help them feel more confident when taking the ACT again.


25 Minute(s)

Show slide 6 and direct students to access the ACT student portal at Let students know that they can track their progress and set goals from test to test if they have access to their ACT online portal.

Have students navigate to their score report. Hand out the Goal Setting handout. Display slide 7 and have them use coloring utensils to fill in their current composite score and reading score, but have them wait to fill in their goals.

Display slide 8. Share with students that, while some schools are moving toward a test-optional format, the ACT can be important in obtaining scholarships and school admissions. If you have students who plan to enter the workforce directly after high school, let them know that improving this score can provide more options if they later decide to pursue a degree. Share that their scores are also used to show the state what students have learned. If your school has an average goal to achieve, you can share that here.

Display slide 9. This slide shows how many reading questions a student must get correct to get each ACT score from 1 to 36. For example, to score a 28, they would need to answer 30 questions correctly. Note that the dashes indicate a score is impossible to get due to how the scores are calculated.

Invite students to set a goal for a range of scores. First, ask students to consider what goal they can reach for their next composite and reading scores, thinking about what they have just seen on the previous slides. Recommend one step above where they currently are, but allow students to set a goal for two steps if you feel like they are ready for the commitment and dedication it would take for a more significant score jump. Remind students that they can improve their score each time they take the test and that this goal is only for the next time they take the test at school. Direct students’ attention back to the slide and ask them to look at the rows with scores in their range. Have them record on their goal sheet the number of problems they would need to get correct.

Move to slide 10, which has directions for calculating the percentage of correct answers students would need to meet their goal. Using a calculator or scratch paper, have students find their goal percentage by taking the number of questions they recorded on their goal sheet and dividing it by the total number of questions on the reading test (40). Have them multiply that answer by 100 and record the percentage.

Ask the class to think about the following question: “What is an action you can take between now and the next ACT exam to help improve your score?”

After giving the students a few moments to think, move to slide 11. Ask students to read through the list of possible actions on their handout and commit to one action they can practice in the coming weeks. Explain that in the coming weeks they will have the option to add other actions. For now, based on what they know about themselves and their goals, have them commit to just one action they can take and practice as a habit. Have students record the number of their selected action in the chart at the bottom of their handout. If they prefer and have enough room, students can instead copy the entire goal.

Ask students to use the columns to record each date they practice that skill to power up their ACT abilities.


5 Minute(s)

Move to slide 13 and provide each student with a sticky note. Introduce the How Am I feeling? What Am I Thinking? strategy to students. On one half of the sticky note, have students draw a simple illustration that describes how they are feeling about the reading section of the ACT. On the other half, have students write a sentence that summarizes what they are thinking about the reading section of the ACT.

Have students place their sticky notes in a common place in the classroom and review the notes after class to determine how students are feeling overall about the ACT. Use this information to inform your interactions with students the next time the class meets for ACT prep. Consider whether students need reassurance, encouragement, or have questions about the reading section.

Next Step

Complete next week’s activity, “Power Up: Reading ACT Prep, Week 2,” to review identifying the main idea and supporting details of a text.

Research Rationale

Standardized testing in high schools has long been used as a metric for assessing college readiness and school accountability (McMann, 1994). While there has been debate surrounding the accuracy of such metrics, as well as concerns regarding equity, many institutions of higher education continue to make these scores part of the admissions process (Allensworth & Clark, 2020; Black et al., 2016; Buckley et al., 2020). In addition to admissions, it is important to keep in mind that standardized test scores can also provide students with scholarship opportunities they would not otherwise have (Klasik, 2013). Although the topic of standardized testing continues to be debated, effective test preparation can ensure that our students are set up for success.

With several benefits to doing well on college admissions tests, it is important to consider how best to prepare students for this type of high-stakes test. Students from groups that may historically struggle to find success, such as those in poverty or first-generation college students, especially stand to benefit from effective test preparation (Moore & San Pedro, 2021). The American College Test (ACT) is one option students have for college admissions testing that is provided both at national centers and school sites. Taking the time to understand this test, including the timing, question types, rigor, and strategies for approaching specific questions, can help prepare students to do their best work on test day and ensure their score is a more accurate representation of what they know (Bishop & Davis-Becker, 2016).