What I Learned from Taking April's ACT

I took the ACT yesterday, filing into a nervous classroom in South Brooklyn filled with kids half my age.

Every time I take the ACT, I learn new things about how to approach it.

Here is what I learned yesterday:

1. ACT English and Reading seem to be getting easier.

As the new SAT evolves to become more like the ACT, the ACT seems to be returning serve, changing itself to be even more like the new SAT.After last month’s March SAT, the College Board published a survey (deemed “highly unscientific” by Erica Meltzer) suggesting that students found the SAT Reading to be the same or easier than they expected.

As Meltzer put it, “the College Board is essentially bragging — — about how much easier the new SAT is.”

And yesterday, on the ACT, I was shocked at how easy the English and Reading Sections felt.

Compared to last April and June’s ACT English and Reading Sections (before the new SAT had laid bare its attempt to steal ACT market share by inflating scores and rendering an easier test), yesterday’s English felt very doable.

And I was amazed at how simple the ACT Reading Passages were, as well as how obviously wrong so many of the answers were. Last year’s ACT English and Reading were much harder.

Some of this year’s Reading answers were so transparent in their correctness or incorrectness that I sensed I could figure out the answers without even reading the Passage.

2. For calm and energy, testtakers need to learn breathing techniques.

Last week I listened to a Tim Ferris podcast episode with Wim Hof, a Dutch daredevil and expert in cold exposure who has set 26 world records, including submerging himself in ice for two hours.

At the core of Hof’s techniques are breathing techniques that fill his body and brain with oxygen and also change their pH levels.

As Hof put it:

“Breathing – deeper breathing – brings about a better pH level – not only in the body, but also in the mind.

The right pH level will make the neurotransmitters – that’s your mind’s electrical signals – work better.

So we make it simple:we say ‘conscious breathing, all the time.’

I started using Hof’s methods last week, and I found them to be extremely helpful in raising my energy yesterday as I took the test!

At four-plus hours, the ACT is long and tiring.

To prepare for this, I did two sets of 15 deep inhales, followed by relaxed exhales.

When exhaling, I did not let all of the air leave my lungs, and instead just jump-started into my next complete inhale – filling my lungs with as much oxygen as possible.

Try this technique right now as your read it.

Do 15 inhales, followed by easy exhales that get cut short by your next full inhale.

See if your brain and body do not come alight with a buzz of energy that, if any energy drink could provide the same effect, would probably be a billion dollar company right now.

Seriously, try it now!​

After doing two sets of 15 inhales while walking to the test center, I did another set or two during each of my two 10-minute breaks during the test.

I also found it energizing to do a single deep, lung-filling breath at the beginning of every problem – particularly as the test wore on.

My energy was significantly better during this test than it had ever been before.

3. The ACT Math Section was harder than other ACT Math Sections I have done.

Just as the new SAT Math seems to be more challenging, so, too does the ACT appear to be following in step and making its Math a little quicker and more tricky.

I have not yet figured out why English and Reading are getting easier as Math gets harder, but perhaps these shifts fit the profile of an increasingly technological and math-based world, one where liberal arts and the humanities are dwindling in perceived usefulness and seeing their funding slashed at schools.

I am sure there are broader and more fascinating trends at play here, but I have not yet figured them out.

Any ideas?

Reply in the comments and let me know what you think.

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