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Thomas Broderick

ACT Time Management

Let’s Do an Experiment!

This experiment will only take a couple of minutes. It’s really simple, too. Yet it will help you understand one of the greatest time wasters (and potentially time savers) on any standardized test.

You’re going to need some materials. The first is a writing utensil. Though a No. 2 pencil would be best, orange glitter pens are okay if that’s all you have.

Bubbling Practice -Magoosh

The second thing is a bubble sheet. Here’s one I found online:

Handy-Dandy Bubble Sheet

Go ahead and print it out. Cross out questions 41-50. You won’t need them.

The third thing is a timer. Your smartphone or computer will have one of these.

Now we can start the experiment. The second you start the timer, I want you to fill a random bubble for each of those forty questions. Doesn’t matter if they’re all C, or a jumble of answers. Just “make your mark heavy and dark,” as the saying goes. The millisecond you finish, stop the timer.

Everyone’s time will be different. Take a good long look at that time, that minute or two on the screen. That time represents the precious seconds you won’t use reading questions or considering the possible answers on the ACT Reading or Science Tests. That time belongs to the bubbles.

We must defeat the bubbles.

Besides explaining how to vanquish bubbles, this article explores other ways to preserve every precious second of test time. Let’s begin!

Defeating the Bubbles

Bubbling Answers -Magoosh

If only dealing with answer sheet bubbles were this easy.

There’s no way to get around the bubbles. They need filling in, and any bubbles you change at the last moment require a good erasing before choosing a new, and hopefully correct, answer.

The answer is to not fill in bubbles as quickly as you were doing in the experiment. That can lead to careless mistakes, and we don’t want that. The main trick I used to teach my students is as follows:

Always have your test booklet open to show both the left and right pages. While answering questions on those two pages, simply circle answers in the booklet. Only when you have all the answers on both pages circled should you transfer your answers to the answer page.

Why is this a good technique? I’m glad you asked. By waiting to bubble in your answers, you reduce the amount of time your eyes are darting back and forth between test booklet and answer page, which eats up your time, too. Also, your mind is focused solely on bubbling, reducing the chance of any careless mistakes.

Another bubbling trick involves your non-dominant hand, a.k.a. your hand not holding the pencil. As one hand bubbles, a finger on the other hand should be on the corresponding question in the test booklet. This trick will bring your eyes back to the exact spot it needs to be on the page before moving onto the next question.

Finally, if you’re going to use these bubbling techniques, remember to not to skip questions. That could lead to sloppy mistakes on your answer sheet.

Skim Those ACT Questions!

Outside of the Math Test, where you have one minute per question, the English, Reading, and Science Tests put you under a huge time crunch. The best tip is to skim those questions! Here’s a little specific advice for these three sections:

  • English: Only pay attention to the sentence containing the question.
  • Reading: Underline key words (Ex: proper names, places, terms) to find as you skim the article.
  • Science: It’s good practice to underline anything that’s capitalized or comes up more than once in the same question. Like with the Reading Test, those will be the key things you need to find in the charts and graphs.


Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

If ACT time management is your enemy, here is a final practice routine to try in combination with the bubbling and skimming techniques discussed in this article.

  1. Time every practice test you take. When time’s up, you stop.
  2. Score your practice test and review the results. Which questions ate up most of your time? What was it about certain questions that made them difficult? Answer these questions and you’re on your way to saving time.
  3. If you’re still struggling with time management, set aside the last 30 seconds of the test to bubble any answers that are still blank. Remember, there’s no penalty to guessing on the ACT, so you might as well choose ‘C’.

And like with getting ready for any standardized test, the more you practice under the actual timed conditions, the better your outcome will be. Happy bubbling!

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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.

2 Responses to “ACT Time Management”

  1. Melissa says:

    Thank you for these time management tips! I will definitely try these out. The April 9 ACT is my last go-around for the ACT as a senior, and time management has always gotten to me, especially in the Reading and Science sections. The strategy of transferring answers to the answer document at the end of each section is new to me, but I’ll give it a whirl on my practice tests and on the real ACT!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert Magoosh Test Prep Expert says:

      Very glad we could help, and I hope our strategies and your hard work served you well on your April exam. 🙂

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