How to Approach the ACT (part II)


We’ve established in the first part of this article that you have the right mindset. You have the best materials. Now, you need some proven strategies to approach ACT content strategies that actually work to make you more efficient on test day.

Because the ACT is standardised, it tests the same concepts in the same format on every test. This is such good news for test-takers, because it means that you can practice these strategies before test day, preferably on a variety of different problems. So what are some of these strategies?

General ACT Test Strategies


Pick a question, any question

Your high school teachers have syllabi from which they work. You learn concepts in a particular order… practise them in a particular order… test them in a particular order. Throw this all out of the window on the ACT! Of course, you can only work on a one section at a time (really, don’t try to game the system here. Stay where the proctor tells you to within the test or you risk your score getting thrown out). But within that section? You’re free to pick and choose the questions you approach first.

Because one of the main challenges of the ACT is pretty intense time pressure, it’s important that you pick the low-hanging fruit first. In other words, if you’re good at literature passages, go for that passage first in Reading. If you’re an adverb maven, target those problems in English. It’s worth taking two minutes at the beginning of each section to strategise and figure out the order in which you’ll approach the questions so that you can get the easier points.

Not only will this help reduce your stress (you’ll be answering the questions you’re best at first!), but it will also help you maximise your time. On the ACT, that also means maximising your score.

Memorise, memorise, memorise

No, not vocabulary – you’re better off learning that in context for the ACT. Instead, memorise (or at least familiarise yourself with) the directions for each and every section of the test.

Again, the time pressure can be difficult to manage, and you can reduce that by knowing what you’re supposed to do in advance. I promise you, the directions don’t change! (Standardised test, remember?)

Eliminate strategically

We’ve all been there: hovering between two answer choices that seem equally right as the seconds tick away…

But don’t let that be you on test day! When you face a problem that’s giving you trouble, do your best and then just pick your favorite letter and move on. But before that, eliminate answers that don’t make sense first. Does the answer have to be a positive integer? Eliminate negative numbers. Is there no way it could be bigger than 100? Get rid of those choices. Then guess.

Along these lines, there’s no wrong-answer penalty on the ACT, so if you can’t finish a section in time, pick your favourite letter and fill it into the remaining answer blanks. It can’t hurt, and it may help!

A final word

Preparing for a high-stakes test like the ACT can put a lot of pressure on you as a test-taker. By thinking of it as a process, rather than a single event, and training accordingly, you’ll actually give yourself a better chance of getting the score you want.

After all, to return to our running metaphor, you wouldn’t show up to a marathon untrained and expect to win, would you? You’ll have easier days and harder days as you prepare for the exam, but the critical thinking skills you’re polishing here will benefit you immensely in the future. So go forth and conquer that test!

Special thanks to Rachel Kapelke-Dale for providing us with this article. 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 practises for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London.