Planning Your ACT Practice Test-Taking Tactics

By Lisa Zimmer Hatch, Scott A. Hatch

Once you’ve learned the tools for tackling the ACT question types, solidify them by taking a bunch of practice questions. If you want to work on one question type in particular, the Math Test for example, work through an entire section without worrying about the timing. Then take on another full section or two of math questions under timed conditions to get a feel for how speedy you need to be.

When you feel that you have a handle on the general question types, try taking a full-length practice exam in one sitting. Set aside about three and a half hours to take the sections one right after another under timed conditions with one short break. As you practice, keep these tips in mind:

  • Answer every question. The ACT doesn’t penalize you for guessing, so you’d be crazy not to make sure every number on the answer sheet has a bubble filled in, even if you don’t bother to read the question that goes with it.

  • Budget your time. You get a designated number of minutes for each multiple-choice section. Learn how to spend it. Practice different approaches to the reading passages to determine which one gives you the most success within the time limits.

  • If you get stuck on a question, forget about it. Move on to another question. (But be sure to circle the question in case you have time to come back to it.)

  • Stay on target. You may get bored, and your mind may want to wander somewhere more pleasant, but don’t let it. Use visual cues to help yourself stay focused — point to questions with your pencil or finger.

  • Take an occasional break. When you finish a chunk of test — a Science Test passage or difficult math problem — take a super quick break. Close your eyes, twist your neck, loosen those tight muscles in your shoulders, breathe, and let your eyes focus on a distant object. Don’t take more than a few seconds, but do take the break. It helps you more than fretting about how little time you have left.

  • Move around within each section. No one says you have to answer the questions in order. Feel free to start with the reading passage or logic game set that most appeals to you. Working the easier questions first will put you in the right frame of mind for answering the remaining questions. Some test-takers read questions in two passes. On the first pass, they answer all of the questions that take them less than 30 seconds to answer. On the second pass, they tackle the more challenging offerings. Applying this strategy assures you that you’ll at least have a chance at every question in a section before the proctor calls time.