If you’re still a few weeks out from test day, there are several ACT study strategies you can use to improve your overall score. Yet, the strategies you use on the day of the test to increase your ACT score are just as important. Just as you study how to get the right answers, studying how to take the test efficiently goes a long way to improving your score.
It is important to note that a test-taking tip that may work for someone else may not work for you. Test out what works for you while taking practice tests before using the strategies on test day.
Here are some things to keep in mind to improve your testing skills.
Work on Questions You Understand First
Sometimes, you may know the answer to an ACT question right away; other times, you may need to narrow down options before answering the question. If you can’t figure out the answer quickly, skip the question and come back to it.
You should skip a question when you can’t get rid of any of the answers or when you can only get rid of one answer. That way, you can use as much time as possible on the questions where you can figure out the answer. Be sure to come back and guess on the questions you couldn’t answer.
When you skip a question, make sure that you skip it in your answer sheet as well. One way to remember to skip the question on your answer sheet is to circle the number of the question lightly. This will remind you to skip the question and come back to it. You can also bubble in a guess and circle the number of the question to come back to it. This also prevents you from bubbling in the wrong line on your answer sheet.
Read each question carefully before answering it. Make sure you know what each question is asking you to do. Otherwise, you may find yourself answering the wrong question.
For example, here is a question from our ACT Math Prep Question Bank:
The fine for speeding in Virginia Beach is $350 plus $6 for every mile per hour that the driver is driving over the speed limit. Your friend received a $422 fine on a road with a speed limit of 30 in Virginia Beach. At what speed were they driving?
This question is asking for the total speed your friend was driving (spoiler alert: 42 miles). However, if you read the question too quickly, you may think that it’s asking for how many miles over the speed limit your friend was driving instead. The number of miles over the speed limit your friend was driving (12 miles) is also an answer option.
The ACT tries to come up with wrong answers that seem right. These include answers to questions similar to the question the test is asking. It’s really important to make sure you understand exactly what the question asks before answering it.
Another common reading error comes in the English section. The ACT will sometimes ask you questions around what is not correct rather than what is. It can be very easy to accidentally drop the “not” as you read.
Guess on Every Question You Don’t Know
The ACT does not penalize students for guessing. Therefore, you should guess on every question you don’t know and fill in all the answer bubbles with guesses if you’re running out of time.
There is a 20-25% chance that you will randomly guess right on each ACT question; there is a 0% chance if you leave the question blank.
If it helps, pick your favorite pair of letters that sit in the same spot on the answer sheet (e.g., A and F) before you walk into the test. That way, you know what you will guess on any answers where you’re completely stumped. It is best to consistently guess the same letter so you have a good chance that at least some of your answers will be right.
Get Rid of Incorrect Answers Before Guessing
Our next tip goes hand-in-hand with our discussion of guessing on every question you don’t know. You should try to get rid of any obviously incorrect answers before guessing if you have time to review the question before guessing.
Getting rid of obviously incorrect answers brings your chances of getting a question right higher than 20-25%.
Bubble in Answers Strategically
If you consistently finish practice ACT tests with time remaining, you can write the answers in your test booklet and then bubble them all in at the end if you prefer. That way, you can fill in your answer sheet faster and lose less time per question on filling in the answer sheet.
On the other hand, bubbling in the answers as you go ensures that you won’t end the test with a blank answer sheet. If you put your best guess for every question and circle the questions you’re unsure of, you’re unlikely to skip a line in your answer sheet.
If you bubble in answers at the end, make sure to bring a watch and keep an eye on your time. You don’t want to turn in a blank or partially blank answer sheet.
It can be tempting to pause on a particularly challenging question and focus all your efforts on getting it right. However, there are lots of questions on the ACT, and they all have the same point value. Don’t stew on a particular question; work on others and come back to it.
It’s also important to think critically without overthinking your answers. Overthinking can lead you to choose the wrong answer option or spend too much time on one question.
The best way to avoid overthinking is to know the test well. The ACT tends to put in similar answer choice options as “bait.”
Have a Back-up Plan
Before taking the ACT, it can be helpful to know which score you want to get. It’s also important to know that you can always retake the ACT if you don’t do well.
If you suffer from test anxiety or worry about the test outcome, try performing a structured brainstorm of the best, acceptable, and worst-case outcomes of the ACT. It can be helpful to write down the steps you would need to take to achieve a desired outcome. Writing outcomes and next steps down can make them more concrete and therefore less scary. Teachers, parents, or tutors can help you through this process if you need extra support.
Give Yourself Something to Look Forward to
As stressful as it is, taking the ACT is a major step forward in your college applications. As such, you should give yourself something to look forward to before or after the test. There are several things you can do to reward yourself and make the test a bit less stressful:
–Bring your favorite snack to eat during a break.
–Go out for lunch or dinner with friends/family after the test.
–Eat your favorite breakfast before the test.
–Drive to the test with a friend who is taking it with you, or have a family member drop you off.
Having something to look forward to can help make test day easier.
Keep Your Composure
Finally, it’s important to keep calm during the test so you can get the best score you can.
If you feel yourself beginning to panic during the test, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. You can count down or up from 5 as you breathe. It can also be helpful to smile or repeat a mantra to yourself.
If you feel your fight-or-flight response activating, take a minute to remind yourself that the test is not going to hurt you. Take it one question at a time and do the best you can do in that moment.
ACT strategies for test day are all about keeping yourself calm and focused on the test. Work on the easiest problems first to increase your ACT score, since all problems are worth the same number of points. Identify a few strategies that help you stay calm to keep yourself focused during the test. Finally, make sure you reward yourself after taking the ACT to give yourself something to look forward to.
How do you plan to reward yourself after the ACT? Let us know in the comments!