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Rita Kreig

10 Tips to Rock the Pacing on the ACT Test

Many of my ACT students get bogged down by the fact that each section of the ACT has so. many. questions. And you’re given so little time to answer them!

Here’s what I tell them, and what you need to remember: the ACT doesn’t just test your knowledge. The exam is also a measure of how well you perform under pressure and how well you implement test-taking strategies.

You can improve your pacing on the ACT, with the help of simple strategies. And doing so can drastically improve your score. Because, don’t forget, the ACT doesn’t penalize you for guessing in the same way that the SAT does. Let me say it another way: the ACT does not subtract points for wrong answers. So, it’s in your best interest to answer all of the questions, even if you have to guess on some.

Ready to learn some strategies to improve your ACT pacing? Let’s do this.


1. Predict the answer in ACT Reading.

Don’t simply go straight to the answer choices. The ACT Reading Test is like an open book exam. To ace the ACT Reading Test, find the answer in the passage and make a prediction before reading the options. It will help you eliminate, and the best colleges want students who can think critically and trust their own judgments.

2. Bring a calculator you’re comfortable using.

ACT test day is not the place to try out your brand new calculator, or to borrow one from your friend. Use a calculator that you know how to use already.

3. Looking for the main idea of a passage? Re-read the title!

For those ACT English questions that ask about the purpose or function of a paragraph, go back and re-read the title of the passage. Every ACT English passage has one, and it’s a great clue to find the main idea!

4. Know each test’s format like the back of your hand.

Always be aware of how many questions you have left! The number of questions per section never changes, and part of preparing for the ACT is knowing its format cold and practicing. The ACT English Test has 75 test questions. The ACT Math test has 60 questions. The ACT Reading Test has 40 test questions, and the ACT Science test has 40 test questions. Keep track of where you are in a section at all times.

5. Start each section strong.

Don’t rush through the beginning quarter on each ACT Test section, but move quickly past the easy ones, saving the majority of your time for the harder test questions at the end.

6. Do only 3 out of 4 Reading passages.

The ACT Reading Test is 35 minutes long and contains 40 test questions (10 questions per passage). This means you’ll have slightly less than 9 minutes to spend on each of the 4 ACT passages, so pacing is essential. If Reading is a challenge for you, consider only actually reading 3 of the ACT passages (whichever 3 you choose!).  That way, you will have a little less than 12 minutes to spend on each set of test questions.

7. Do your favorite type of Science passage first.

There is no rule that states you must do the ACT Science passages in the order in which they are presented, so if you’re not a fan of Research Summaries, skip it and do the Data Rep and Conflicting Viewpoints first. Using this test strategy doesn’t mean you won’t answer those questions, it just means you can always come back to them at the end.

8. Take 5 minutes to plan out your essay before you start writing it.

A high level of organization is essential to better scores on the ACT Writing section. Use the sample essays on actstudent.org to give you an idea of how high-scoring essays look. This practice will help you with your college admissions essays as well, since you have to write so many personal statements as part of college entry requirements.

9. Stressed out over a hard ACT Math question? Skip it!

Don’t get bogged down in the middle of the ACT Math Test as the questions get more challenging. If you are stuck on a particularly hard test question, mark it for later. Don’t spend more than 2 minutes on any one Math Test question. Bad ACT scores often result from students who linger too long in the middle of the test and do not finish.

10. Even if you finish an ACT test early, never close your booklet!

Now is the time to go back and check your work, not to take a nap! Don’t second-guess yourself to the extreme, but re-check your work on the medium-hard level test questions. Start practicing this tactic when you work on your ACT practice tests, and you will be more likely to naturally apply this strategy on test day!


About Rita Kreig

Rita helps high schoolers find Magoosh, improve their SAT/ACT scores, and get into their dream schools. She earned both her BA and Master of Pacific International Affairs from UC San Diego, where she also studied Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Rita loves education and marketing, just as much as she loves vinyasa yoga and baking chocolate chip cookies.

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