yelloutA few years ago, I took the SAT for the first time in 18 years, as a 35 year old. I wrote an article about the experience and the article ended up appearing in newspapers around the country.

This past Saturday, at 37 years of age, I showed up with a hundred or so 16 and 17 year olds and took the actual ACT at Bay Shore High School for the first time in my life. The experience was shocking.

There were many things in my favor. I got to bed early the night before. I ate a healthy, substantial breakfast. Even though I don’t normally drink coffee, I drank a cup because I know that caffeine improves concentration. Most importantly, I have spent the last 15 years teaching students how to prepare effectively for the SAT and ACT so I have gone through thousands of ACT questions multiple times.

And I still had trouble finishing the sections in time.

The takeaway? Success on the ACT rests largely on a student’s ability to work very quickly, without panicking and without losing his or her concentration for 35 to 60 minute periods of time. This is not an easy task for most of us.

Allow me to speak bluntly: without a significant amount of high-quality practice on realistic ACT questions under some kind of timed conditions, a student has no chance of scoring his or her highest. I will go further and say that a student needs to take a full-length practice ACT under timed conditions before they sit for an official ACT or they will not score near their potential. In other words, if you haven’t done a practice ACT while being timed first, don’t waste your money or time on the real thing.