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ACT Test Strategies

Getting a great score on the ACT involves more than simply knowing the concepts covered on the test. Just because you get A’s in your English, science, and math classes does not mean that you are bound to score in the 99th percentile on the ACT.

In addition to understanding all of the ACT topics, you need to know test taking strategies. The ACT requires test takers to answer 215 questions in just under 3 hours. Even if you know everything there is to know about Algebra II or grammar, if you aren’t able to tackle math questions efficiently or figure out how to read passages quickly, your score will be low.

To reach your target score on the ACT, you need to become familiar with these ACT test-taking strategies:

Answer questions out of order

Contrary to popular belief, the ACT questions do not go from easiest to hardest, so the questions at the beginning of a section may be more difficult than ones in the middle or at the end. Because you have limited time on each section of the ACT, you want to make sure you are answering the easiest questions first. The last thing you want is to spend the bulk of your time struggling with tough questions only to have to rush through or run out of time when you get to the easy ones.

When you’re going through each section, decide if each question you encounter is one that you should tackle now, later, or not at all.

If a question is going to require a lot of time and steps to complete, or you are not quite sure that you can answer it, simply circle it on your answer sheet and come back to it later. 

Feel free to guess on any questions that you know you have no clue how to answer so you don’t waste your time. Remember, there is no penalty for wrong answers! Tip: choose one default answer option to use for all the questions you guess on like “B” or “C.” 

This strategy will help you maximize your time when you are taking the test.

Use the process of elimination

While it can be tricky to find the correct answers on the test, it is often pretty easy to find one or two wrong answers.

Using the process of elimination to get rid of an answer option or two that you know is wrong will narrow down your choices and help you find the correct answer or at least make a more educated guess.

Write in your test book

Your ACT test book will eventually be thrown away and nothing you write in the test book will be scored. This means you can use the test book like scratch paper to work out your answers to tough questions, underline key information, and take any notes that will be helpful to you.

Don’t bubble in your answers right away

On the ACT, every second counts. Don’t waste time going back and forth between your test booklet and your answer sheet after every question you solve.

Try circling your answers in your test booklet and then transferring them to your answer sheet all at once when the proctor announces there are five minutes left in the test. If it worries you to wait that late, you can also try bubbling in your answers at the end of every page you complete in the test booklet.

Make sure you try this strategy out during a practice test to make sure you find a bubbling method that works best for you.

Learn strategies for each section

In addition to using the strategies listed above, practice using strategies dedicated to each ACT test section.

Here are a few strategies to consider for each of the sections you’ll see on the ACT:

English

  • Memorize key grammar rules. Brush up on punctuation, subject-verb agreement, pronoun agreement, and other important grammar concepts.
  • Silently mouth sentences. When you read sentences aloud, you will sometimes catch mistakes because the sentences won’t quite sound right. Although you can’t talk during the test, if you silently mouth sentences you’re not sure about, you may find mistakes you didn’t notice before.
  • Don’t be afraid of NO CHANGE. Some people feel that the NO CHANGE answer option is only there to trick test-takers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Sometimes a sentence will not have an error!

Math

  • Don’t let your calculator become a crutch. You can answer every question in the math section without a calculator. While it is a useful tool, be careful not to over-rely on it to the point that it slows you down.
  • Break down word problems. If you have long word problems, it can be easy to get confused and forget which math skills you will need to use to solve them. Try breaking down the world problems piece by piece so you don’t miss any crucial information or get overwhelmed.
  • Memorize important math formulas. Maximize every moment you have on the ACT by memorizing key math formulas. This way, you won’t have to think about the formulas when it’s time to solve math questions.

Reading

  • Look at the questions first. Before you start reading a passage, look at the questions first. This will let you know what you need to focus on in the passage and allow you to ignore irrelevant details.
  • Use the process of elimination for vocabulary questions. Sometimes you won’t know what a vocabulary word means, even in context. Try coming up with a definition that makes sense to you, and then using the process of elimination to get rid of answers that aren’t close to this definition.
  • Work on the easiest passages first. There’s no rule that says you have to read the passages in order. If there are passages that are more interesting or easier for you to read, start with these passages first.

Science

  • Tackle the Conflicting Viewpoints passage last. Due to the nature of the Conflicting Viewpoints passage, it will take you longer to read and answer the questions for this passage than it will for the Data Representation and Research Summaries passages.
  • Use the visuals. For the Data Representation and Research Summaries passages, you will see visuals. Make sure you use these figures to answer the associated questions. In fact, oftentimes you can skip reading the passages and just answer the questions using the information presented in the visuals.
  • Review the questions first. Just like in the reading section, you will want to look at the questions before you start reading the passages to save time.

Essay (optional)

  • Write more than one page. Aim to write at least 1.5-2 pages on the test. If your essay is too short, you will receive a lower score.
  • Focus on your introduction and conclusion. A strong intro and conclusion will go a long way toward improving your organization score.
  • Express your perspective clearly. Pick a side and make sure that it is clear that this is the position you’ve decided to take. This will help raise your ideas and analysis score.

Get help

Although you cannot get help on the ACT while you’re taking the actual test, you can get help beforehand that will make sure you are equipped with all of the strategies and information you need to master the test.

Sign up for an ACT prep class or work with a private ACT tutor. This way you can learn even more strategies to utilize on the test and familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of the ACT.

Enroll in an ACT prep class or start working with a private ACT tutor through Prep Expert today when you visit our website.

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