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Thomas Broderick

ACT Tricks #1: Wastes of Space

Come on in! Find a seat. There’s plenty of open spots near the Angry Birds.


act tricks -magoosh

The author’s old classroom in Franklin, TN


Is everybody here? As this is a virtual ACT prep class, I guess I don’t need to take attendance. That’s great, because if you ever become a teacher, you’ll quickly realize that taking attendance every period is THE ABSOLUTE WORST.

Okay, so why are we here? To do better on the ACT, of course! And because you’re reading this, you actually want to do better. That’s great! In this course I’ll be explaining a different ACT trick each lesson. Let’s get started with today’s lesson.

Today’s Lesson: Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s important.

You heard me. There’s lot of stuff in your test booklet meant to trip you up, trick you, or just waste your precious time. Today I’ll be going over the four subject tests to show you what you can ignore. But first, an all around good ACT trick:

Never read the directions. It’s not like they ever change.

act tricks -Magoosh

Bye directions. We hardly knew ye.


ACT English

Like the ACT Reading Test, the ACT English Test has passages. Do you need to read them for complete and total understanding? No. Nope. Not a chance. Focus on the grammar, punctuation, and subject/verb agreement each passage throws at you. You may need to read a little before and after the question to check if you answer choice truly works, so be careful to do this, but don’t worry about understanding the passage from start to finish; just answer questions as you go. There will be some main idea questions, but there are relatively few of them and you can skim back over the passage as needed for these ones.

ACT Math

This one’s a bit trickier. Usually you have to pay attention to EVERY LITTLE DETAIL. But there is one big waste of space on the ACT Math.

Word Problems

Though the problems themselves are important, it’s all those useless words. It’s time to break out the No. 2 and circle those numbers. Skim over that needless story about a dog, ice cream (or whatever) and figure out what equation you’ll need to create to solve the problem.

ACT Reading

You probably remember an English teacher who wanted to teach you the joy of reading, who said you shouldn’t skim the stories he or she assigned just to fill out a worksheet. Your teacher was wrong, kid, but only when it came to standardized tests.

If you are too pressed for time to fully read each passage, you can apply the strategy of circling keywords in the question first. After you’ve circled all those lovely keywords, it’s time to go on a treasure hunt in the passage. With practice, you’ll only have to read 1/3 to 1/2 of any passage to answer all the questions.

ACT Science

Ah yes, more useless words…and useless graphs and tables, too! That’s not to say an entire graph or table will be useless, but I guarantee you that at least 50% of the information in the graph will not be necessary to answer any of the questions. As long as you’re following the same rules as the Reading Test (Going on a treasure hunt in the graphs/tables), you’re golden.

When you apply these ACT tricks to a practice test, you’ll be surprised to see how much of the ACT simply doesn’t need to be there to answer questions. Yes, there’s a lot of interesting information on there, but training your brain to tune out the fluff can help a great deal when the clock is ticking.

Stay tuned, ACT scholars. In future lessons I’ll be diving into test specific ACT tricks!


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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