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Thomas Broderick

Traps on the ACT

Hello again, Magoosh readers. Mr. B here. A while back I did an article on Traps on the ACT English Test. As I’ve already used my Admiral Akbar gif, I must find a new visual way to describe the types of things you need to avoid on the ACT.


Traps on the ACT -Magoosh


Since we’ve already talked about English, in this article I’ll be going over the Math, Reading, and Science Tests to point out pitfalls and traps that you need to know about. This isn’t a comprehensive list of traps, just the highlights of those that tripped up many of the students in my ACT Prep classes.


The Math Test is fairly straightforward, and similar to multiple choice Math tests you have taken in your high school career. Even so, there is a HUGE warning sign to keep a lookout for.


Traps on the ACT -Magoosh


The Math trap can best be described as an ACT time management black hole. Sure, the first dozen or so problems are a breeze. Then they get a little harder, and then a little harder. By the end of it you have ten questions left but only six minutes remain on the clock. Fall into this trap and you’ll be rushing through the last handful of questions, or worse, simply guessing as the seconds tick down to zero.

To avoid this trap, practice being aware of your time throughout the Math test. You don’t have to look up at the clock (or watch on your wrist. Seriously, if you haven’t already, invest in a $10 Timex for test day) every ten seconds. My recommendation: Every five questions, check to see if you’ve used more or less than five minutes. This trick should help you keep on track.


The Reading Test has only one big trap: the passages. “But,” you ask, “aren’t the passages the whole point of the Reading Test?” True, but within them lies a sinister trick. You’ve been taught your entire life that reading closely is an important skill. It is, but if you apply it to the ACT Reading Test, you’ve fallen into a Sarlacc Pit-level trap.


Traps on the ACT -Magoosh


The Reading passages aren’t there for your enjoyment. They’re a gold mine where 80% of everything that comes out of it is useless dirt. That other 20%, that precious gold, is what you’re after.

My recommendation: I’ve said this many times before, but it’s worth repeating here: read the questions first. Mark any references to specific lines and the main information that each questions needs you to recover from the article. After that, it’s treasure hunt time as you read the passage!


For the Science Test, the trap is YOU! That’s right, the trap that most students fall into with the Science Test is a trap that has little to do about the test itself. Though I never tested this with my own students, I have a working theory that most of the low scores on the Science Tests are due to student fatigue. It’s the same feeling you have during the last period on a Friday afternoon. You just want it to end. That’s not unnatural, but you’re going to have to learn how to power through this difficult thirty-five minutes.

My recommendation: It all boils down to two things: sleep and food. Get enough sleep the night before the test, eat breakfast, have a snack during the break, and test fatigue shouldn’t hit you like a brick. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still going to be tough. It just won’t (hopefully) affect your score.

P.S. recommendation: If you go into the Science Test with the same mindset I described for the Reading Test, you’ll be golden.

Final Thoughts

The traps on the ACT aren’t there by design. The test authors don’t sit around all day and think up ways to mess with students’ chances of success. Why are they there? No test is perfect. That being said, I hope the experiences of my former students have created a road map to avoid some of the biggest traps on the ACT. Good luck, ACT scholars, and I’ll see you next time.

About Thomas Broderick

Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

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