ACT Tips and Test Taking Strategies

a student sitting at a desk reading a book

The ACT test is a tool to prepare students for life after high school. It can help you figure out which courses to take as you pursue your higher education, as well as which careers or college majors would be a fit based on your skills and interests. You'll be ready to put your best foot forward with these simple tips and test taking strategies.

5 ACT test taking strategies:  

  1. Answer every question – Don't be afraid to give a question your best guess. The ACT calculates your section scores based on the number of questions you answer correctly; there is no penalty for guessing. If you are starting to run out of time, mark your best guess and keep moving. 
  2. Answer the questions you find the easiest - A good strategy is to answer the easy questions and skip the questions you find difficult. After answering the easy questions, go back and answer the more difficult questions if you have time. 
  3. Understand what the question is asking you – Not every question on the ACT will be  simple. Be sure to read each question carefully, as some will require you to go through several steps to find the correct or best answer. For example, some math questions will be in the form of a story. Make sure you know what the question wants so you can eliminate unnecessary information and get to solving. 
  4. Pace yourself – Pacing is everything on the ACT! Finding a pace that works for you will help you know when to move on from a difficult question, or how long to spend reviewing passages or information provided. Practice your pacing at home on a practice test using the same watch you plan to bring with you on test day.

    Here is a suggested ACT test time management strategy:

    • English: 30-36 seconds per question 
    • Math: About 1 minute per question 
    • Reading: About 8 minutes per passage 
    • Science: About 50 seconds per question or less than 6 minutes per passage

  5. Use logic on difficult questions – If you are trying to quickly narrow down the answer choices, start by using some logic. Compare the answer choices to each other and note how they differ. Such differences may provide clues as to what the question requires. Eliminate as many incorrect answers as you can, then make an educated guess from the remaining answers. 

Some additional ACT section tips to consider:


Check the surrounding passage: If you are asked to replace a section within a passage, check if the idea within the replacement fits the concepts shared in the passage. Select the answer that fits best after checking the grammar and usage. Try reading a few sentences both before and after to make sure it flows smoothly. 

Eliminate wordiness: Check the answers to see if any of them include concepts already included within the passage, or that add unneeded details that don’t contribute to the overall message. If the answer adds wordiness, don’t select it! Choose the response that follows the usage rules you know and conveys the clearest message.


Back solving: If you’re presented with a question that allows you to back solve, start by selecting an answer from the option listed with a value in the middle. Plug in the value and solve the question. From there, you should know if you need a smaller or larger value, or if it works out to be the correct answer.  

Estimation: If you need to do some quick math, it may be easiest to round numbers listed in the question to the nearest whole or even number. For example, 60.5 might become 60 and 78 might become 80. This should help you solve the question quicker and get you close to the correct answer. 


Refer to the passage: Even if the topic of the passage seems complex, everything you need to answer the questions is included in the passage itself. So, there's no need to worry about not understanding the topic beforehand. The reading section measures your ability to read closely, reason logically about texts using evidence, and integrate information from multiple sources. Pay attention to the relationships between ideas and refer to the passages when answering the questions.


Units matter: Always carefully note the units mentioned in the chart or graph. Units include sizes, frequencies, and types. What is the chart trying to tell you? Think about the units for comparison purposes as you solve each question.  

Skim first: When looking at each new chart or graph, do a quick review of what it’s trying to tell you. Different charts and graphs are used to tell different stories. You don’t have to memorize the information. Instead, get a general sense of the concept, and then look at the first question. You’ll want to revisit the chart or graph when answering each question. 

Common chart/graph types:

  • Bar chart – How two concepts are quantitively related. 
  • Line graph – Shares how two sets of data that are interdependent change over time. 
  • Circle graph (aka pie chart) – Shows proportions of values. 


Write from your outline: Don’t skip an outline! Instead, use your outline as the base for the rest of your essay. It is unlikely that you will have time to draft, revise, and recopy your essay, so any way you can save time will be valuable. Also, you may find it helpful to review the planning questions provided so you know the topic of each of your paragraphs as you write the outline. 


You ready to start preparing for the ACT? Check out other great ACT testing advice now! 

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