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Rachel Kapelke-Dale

ACT Strategies: The Pacing Drill Guaranteed To Improve Your Score

If you’re struggling to finish ACT sections (or “tests,” as the ACT calls them), it can be incredibly frustrating. More that that, it can have a major impact on your score. Here at Magoosh, we love hearing about students’ test-day experiences—but we hate hearing how stressed the time pressure makes you (yup, it’s a very common problem)! Luckily, this post has our best ACT tip on improving your timing and score.

If time pressure is keeping you from doing your best on the tests, try out this pacing drill. Following the ACT strategies below will make you faster, without losing accuracy on any of the four multiple-choice ACT tests. I’ve seen it work time and time again…so let’s go!

 
ACT Strategies-magoosh

What You’ll Need For This ACT Strategy

For this drill to work, you’ll need at least one, but preferably two or more, practice or diagnostic ACT tests. Why? Because you need to know what types of questions are slowing you down.

The first thing to do is to skim each exam and get a brief overview of where you were rushing or where you didn’t have enough time to finish the test. Take note of these.

Now, go back to the actual tests themselves. If you have your scratch work, all the better! Circle any problems that you know you spent more than two minutes on. (We’ll get into specific timing in different sections in just a minute.) Look at the problems and, if available, the answers and explanations. Classify each type of problem: first, by its general area (English, Math, Reading, Science) and second, by its subject matter (for example, verbs, triangles, author’s intent, data comparison).

How Should I Choose Which Areas to Work on?

Triage the subjects. In other words, decide what you’re going to work on first. Eventually, you’ll work on all subject areas that are giving you trouble, but start with the biggest score suckers. For example, you may get more author’s intent questions wrong than triangle questions, but your Math score may be 21 and your Reading score 31. In that case, it makes more sense to work on Math first. Be reasonable and prioritize your subjects.

Once you know the order of the subject areas you’re going to work on, here’s what you’ll need: multiple 10-problem sets of ACT problems in the area you want to work on, a timer, and a pencil. Make sure you haven’t worked on these specific ACT problems before; that’ll defeat the purpose.

ACT Strategies: The Pacing Process

Now you’re ready to go! Here’s what to do:

  1. Take the first set of 10 problems. Work through them at a comfortable pace. Time yourself, but don’t stop yourself when the ideal time for that practice set is up (see “Timing in Different ACT Subject Areas” below). Instead, keep going, not looking at the clock until you’ve finished all 10 problems.
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  3. When you’ve finished the problems, mark your answers. If you’re getting less than six of 10 correct, review the subject matter in books or lessons before working on your speed. However, if you answered more than six out of 10 correctly, mark your accuracy score as a percentage, and the time it took you to finish the 10 questions at the top of the page.
  4.  

  5. During your next practice section, take 10-20 seconds off of the time it took you to answer the last set of 10 problems. For example, if it took you 20 minutes to answer 10 questions with 70% accuracy last time, give yourself 19:40 this time.
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  7. After competing this second set, mark your work and compare your accuracy score to the first set. If you’ve gotten less accurate, keep working through problem sets at this pace until you consistently achieve the same accuracy score as you did on the first set.
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  9. Once you match that first accuracy score, take another 10-20 seconds from your overall time and repeat with new problem sets.
  10.  

  11. Repeat the above process until you reach the ideal timing for questions in that subject area.

 
That’s it! These ACT strategies are simple but effective—just how we like them. Now: just what is the ideal timing for questions on different ACT tests?

 

Timing in Different ACT Subject Areas

Here’s a quick breakdown of questions and timing on the ACT tests:

  1. ACT English: 75 questions in 45 minutes (36 seconds per question)
  2. ACT Math: 60 questions in 60 minutes (1 minute per question, but you probably knew that)
  3. ACT Reading: 40 questions in 35 minutes (52 seconds per question)
  4. ACT Science: 40 questions in 35 minutes (52 seconds per question)

So if you’re trying to answer all the questions, there are your time goals!

A Final Word

Just like most test prep, this drill isn’t a process you can complete in one sitting. Most students will find that they hit a wall at a particular point. But I’ve worked with a lot of students, and I can tell you that the wall is entirely breakable. You can master ACT timing, and that’s how to do it!

Which subject areas are you struggling to finish? Will you be using these ACT strategies to prepare for test day?

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About Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!


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