Multiple Choice Test Strategies for the ACT

A huge part of passing the ACT is mastering the content, as in, understanding writing conventions, mathematics, vocabulary, the general principles of science, and so on.

However, mastering the exam format is just as important. Most obviously, the format of the ACT test is characterized by multiple choice questions. Beyond that, there are some test-specific nuances to the format of the questions themselves. In this post, we’ll look at two broad strategies that can help you correctly answer any type of multiple choice question you’ll find on the exam.


Strategy 1:

Weed Out ACT Answer Choices that Create Mistakes

In ACT English and Math, one of the main things you’re being tested on is the ability to identify and avoid mistakes in the writing and calculation processes. So when you answer multiple choice questions in these sections, you’ll want to identify answers that are mistakes,or stem directly from mistakes.

In the English section of the ACT, this means immediately looking for answer choices that are wrong because they use improper punctuation or incorrect grammar. For questions that focus on the style and content of an ACT English passage, you’ll also want to look for incorrect answers that add irrelevant information or create overly wordy, poorly structured sentences.

In the Math section of the ACT, you can employ this strategy by looking for answer choices that result from incorrect steps in the process for solving a problem. For example, a problem may ultimately require you to multiply 15 by 5 to get 75, and then divide 75 by 12 to get a final answer of 6.5. A common false answer in ACT Math might be 75, an answer that makes the mistake of stopping before all steps are complete. Another common false answer might be something like 63, which results from the mistake of calculating 75-12 (subtraction) rather than 75/12 (division).


Strategy 2:

Eliminate Multiple Choice Answers That Are Not Reflected in the Source Information

This strategy is most common in the Science and Reading sections of the ACT. In these portions of the test, the multiple choice questions are formatted to test your reading comprehension.

Some answers are obviously wrong and simply assess whether you are reading attentively. You may see an answer choice that contradicts the data in a science graph or table, or an answer that states something completely opposite to what’s in a reading passage.

Look for the answers that obviously aren’t supported by the source first. Then keep looking for answers that are not compatible with a passage or information source in other less obvious ways. Check for answers that make false inferences; suggesting a literary character is angry when the passage does not show evidence of anger in that character, or indicating that a certain scientific variable will change in the future, when the science data on the exam doesn’t clearly indicate a predictable future change.


Using These Strategies throughout the ACT

Strategy 1 is most common in ACT English and Math and Strategy 2 is needed the most of in the Science and Reading exams. However, all four strategies are potentially useful throughout the ACT. Sometimes a Reading answer choice reflects a mistake in analyzing the author’s train of thought, and science questions can have answers that create mistakes in the scientific method or in the process for reaching conclusions from the data.

Similarly, misleading and incorrect answer choices in English and Math can present things not supported by a passage or mathematics graph, such as a xy coordinate that isn’t possible on the given coordinate plane, or an answer that is completely disconnected from a passage

Regardless of which of these two strategies you need to employ on a given question, the important thing here is to immediately scan for incorrect answers. In process of finding and eliminating obviously wrong answers, you’ll think more critically about all the answer choices and be able to more easily spot the trickier wrong answers as well.



  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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