ACT Time Management

If you’re constantly running out of time at the end of each ACT practice test section you take, you may want to work on ACT time management before studying any more content. After all, if you don’t get to the hardest questions on the test, you’ll never get to demonstrate that you could have answered them.

But don’t worry—time management is learnable! In this post, we’ll go over time wasters, time savers, and how you can become better at ACT time management to boost your score.

Let’s Do an Experiment!

This experiment will only take a couple of minutes. It’s really simple, yet it will help you understand one of the biggest ACT time wasters.

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.

ACT time management -Magoosh

The second thing is a Handy-Dandy Bubble Sheet Go ahead and print it out. Cross out questions 41-50.

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

Now, the great experiment begins! Start the timer and fill in a random bubble in the first forty blanks. Doesn’t matter if they’re all C, or if they’re just 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, so take a good long look at that time, that minute or two you spent filling in bubbles. That time represents the precious seconds you won’t use solving problems on the exam. That time belongs to the bubbles.

So you have even less time on the ACT than you thought you did. That’s the bad news. But now, let’s take a look at the good news as we explore other ways to preserve every precious second of test time.

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 to bubbles is:

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? By waiting to bubble in your answers, you reduce the amount of time your eyes are darting back and forth between the test booklet and answer page, which eats up your time. 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. the 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, ensuring accuracy in the least amount of time.

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. And as you don’t lose points on the ACT for wrong answers anyway, just go ahead and pick your favorite letter. (Unless you can eliminate obviously wrong answer choices first. In such a case, do that, then pick your favorite letter.)

Other than bubbling like a pro, what else can you do to maximize your score?

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) you see in the questions, then circle them as you skim the passage.
  • Science: Underline anything that’s capitalized or comes up more than once in the same question. As with the Reading Test, these will be the key things you need to find in the charts and graphs.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

If ACT time management still challenges you, try this practice routine in combination with the bubbling and skimming techniques we’ve already seen.

  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? (Reviewing your notes can help you see this.) What was it about these questions that made them difficult
  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’.

Just like prepping for any standardized test, the more you practice ACT time management under the actual timed conditions, the better your outcome will be. Happy bubbling!


  • 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.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

, ,