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Test-Taking Strategies For The ACT

Last updated August 12, 2020

The ACT places special emphasis on time management and using critical thinking to narrow down multiple choice questions to the best possible answer. Though it may seem like becoming an expert in math, science, English, and reading is the best way to get a great score, time-management skills and strong decision-making can compensate for holes in knowledge.

No penalty for guessing

The ACT only counts your correct answers and doesn’t deduct points from the incorrect answers.

Mastering the ACT English Section

Time is less of an issue with the English section than it is in other sections.

You’ll be reading 5 passages and answering 75 questions total. That leaves 9 minutes for each passage, so there’s no need to rush.

Use the questions to inform how you read each passage.

This means, read the 1st question, and then look for the answer in the passage. Look at the 2nd question, and then look for the answer in the passage, etc. This will decrease the amount of re-reading you have to do and help prevent confusion.

Plug in answers to see if they make sense

Correct answers in the English section will usually have astraightforward meaning and clear sentence structure, so if you plug in A, B, C or D and only A seems to provide a clear, grammatically correct meaning, that’s probably your answer.

Mastering the ACT Math Section

The key to the math section is time management

  • The math section is 60 questions, and you’re given 60 minutes to complete them
  • The topics covered are Pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. All are randomly placed, at random difficulty. (There are easy trig questions!)
  • Each section increases in difficulty—the first three sections have a predictable difficulty with the 1st being easiest, 2nd slightly harder, 3rd slightly harder, etc. 
  • The 4th section tends to be extremely challenging for the average student.

Focus on studying for the first three sections

  • Make sure you take the time to get easy and medium-difficulty questions in the first three sections correct.
  • Getting the easy-medium difficulty questions out of the way will help guarantee you’re only guessing on the challenging questions that you might get wrong anyway.

Mastering the ACT Reading section

Again, time-management is your most important skill in this section

You’re given 4 long passages (750 words) and 10 questions per passage, and only 35 minutes to complete them all. This means you’ll be forced to speeeeeed read.

There are 4 types of passages in this section

They come in a fixed order: First, literary fiction, then social sciences, then humanities (philosophy, religion, etc.), and lastly, natural sciences

Tackle the type of passage you feel most comfortable with first

Skip around the reading section to do your strongest sections first. This way, if you end up running out of time, you’ll always have completed the sections you’re most likely to get a correct answer in.

Mastering the ACT Science section

Always read the questions first before you look at the passages

Unlike the reading section, questions in the science section will almost always direct you to a specific part of the passage. So don’t waste your time reading the whole passage.

Manage your time by tackling the easier passages first

  • It’s easy to spot the difference between passages that ask for simple answers, and those that require you to comprehend the entire passage and draw conclusions
  • Getting the easy questions out of the way will help ensure that—if you are forced to guess—you’ll only be guessing on challenging questions rather than free-bees. 

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