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Thomas Broderick

How to Guess Better on the ACT

Good morning/afternoon/evening Magoosh readers. With spring ACT season wrapped up and summer ACT season quickly approaching, there are a lot of students out there hoping to improve their ACT scores. In this article we’ll be talking about one of the least appreciated, but most commonly used ACT strategies: guessing.


How to Guess Better on the ACT -Magoosh

If this cat can learn how to guess, so can you!


Guessing isn’t an exact science, and because it relies a lot on ‘gut feelings,’ it is impossible to write one article that will fit everyone’s needs. Yet there are a few things everyone can do to make sure that every guess on the ACT is a good guess.

When do I guess?

In short, it’s when you don’t know the answer. Yet this is only one piece of the puzzle. You have to remember that when you take the ACT, a lot is going on at once. The clock ticks down to zero, and your stress level is high. Your mind, unfortunately, is not in the best position to determine what it really does and does not know.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to give your brain a break. The first has to do with time. On each test on the ACT, you have a specific number of seconds allotted to each question. For your convenience, here they are in all of their stress-inducing glory:

  • English: 36 seconds per question.
  • Math: 60 seconds per question.
  • Reading: 52.5 seconds per question.
  • Science: 52.5 seconds per question.

I’m not asking you to be precise with your time keeping, but for example, if it feels like you’ve spent a minute tackling a Math question without success, it’s time to guess. By this point you’ve probably eliminated 1 or 2 of the answer choices. With your remaining choice, don’t linger on the decision. There are other questions waiting. Also, be sure to check out How to Eliminate SAT Math Answer Choices. Though its subject is the SAT, the article contains some excellent advice applicable to the ACT Math Test.

If you feel that you will have time to go back to your guessed questions, mark the question on your test booklet for easy reference. Never put any stray marks on your answer sheet.

I’m running out of time!

Ah yes, if ACT Time Management isn’t your strength, it’s possible that you could be down to the wire and still have a handful of blank questions on your answer sheet.

If you only have a minute (or less) left, it’s time to bubble in the blanks. For no other reason than it saves time, bubble in the same answer for each question. It doesn’t matter which one, just make sure every question has an answer.

Though furiously filling in bubbles may seem like an act of desperation, because the ACT doesn’t penalize guessing, you’re actually improving your score by accidentally providing one or two correct answers. Don’t pat yourself on the back yet, though. If time management is an issue on every part of the ACT, you’re going to need to retest after you’ve cured (or at least treated) your time management problems.

Final Thoughts

Well Magoosh readers, I know that guessing is never fun, but I hope this guide provided you a few ways to guess better on the ACT. Keep hitting the books so that guessing will be the smallest part of your ACT experience. Good luck!

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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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