ACT/SAT Test Taking Tips: Timing
Timing is often an issue for students taking standardized tests. We recommend going in with a game plan but most students do not have one. If you have taken ACT before and score a 24 or higher, you get to focus on every question. Sorry! If you are scoring 23 or below, please consider the timing tips below.
General test taking tips:
How to guess: do not worry about making a pretty pattern. Pick a column, say B and G or C and H and go straight down it. Let the pattern find you. On 15 questions with 4 answer choices, you should get 3-4 question right just guessing.
You do not have to do the passages in the order they give them to you BUT you do have to make sure you fill in the correct bubbles for the question number.
If you come across a question early on you do not know how to do, “guess and go” quickly. Know which column is your guessing column and just fill it in (again, B and G or C and H or D and K in the Math section).
Actually cross off answer choices you know are incorrect. No, it doesn’t take too much time. Yes, it helps.
English: 45 mins, 75 questions. A really easy way to time this section is to realize there are 5 passages and each passage has 15 questions. You get 9 minutes a passage.If you tend to run out of time, it is ok to only spend time on 4 of the passages instead of all 5. Really. Really really. How do you do this? Give yourself 11 minutes a passage. This leaves you 1 minute to guess on the last passage. It is amazing how accuracy can go up when you shift your time a bit. The goal here is to get as many right as you can. Allowing 2 extra minutes each on 4 passages can yield good score increases. But make sure you have time to guess on the last one. And be sure to put your pencil down when they ask.
* Read the sentences in your head. Actually listen to what you are reading. If it doesn’t sound right, chances are it isn’t right!
Math: 60 minutes, 60 questions and you need to know your geometry formulas (they are not provided). This means 1 minute per question.
If you are not a strong math person, consider focusing on 40 questions you can handle. It might be the first 40, it might be 40 of the first 45 questions. On ACT Math, the questions do tend to get harder as you go. If you do this, give yourself 1.5 minutes a question. Make sure you have about 1 minute to guess on any questions you are not doing.
*If you come across a question early on you do not know how to do, “guess and go” quickly. Know which column is your guessing column and just fill it in (again, B and G or C and H or D and K). If you haven’t had trig, don’t worry about it – guess and go!
*Please draw pictures! Visualization is a powerful tool. Air math leads to errors. Draw pictures!
Reading Comprehension: 4 passages (10 questions per passage), 35 minutes. This breaks down to 8.5 minutes a passage. If you need more time, focus on any three of the passages and give yourself 11 minutes per passage. Guess on the last one.
*Passages are always in this order: Literary Prose, Social Sciences, Humanities, Natural Sciences. If you know you are weak in one of these areas, do not focus on it.
*Do not try to read every word in the passage. This is an open book test! Familiarize yourself with the layout of the passage and move to the questions.
*Do the Main Idea question(s) last, even if they are the first question in the group. If you do them last, you have a better idea what the passage is about.
*Cross off answer choices you know are wrong. Sometimes you need to get rid of three to get to the right answer (i.e., which of the following is NOT mentioned in the passage).
Science: 6 passages, 35 minutes. There are not always the same number of questions per passage in this section, so about 5.5 minutes per passage. If this is not a strong section for you, focus on 4-5 passages you think you can do, which gives you 6-8 minutes a passage and guess on 1 or 2.
*Science is not really science. Don’t let this section scare you! It is really reading comprehension. You are not expected to use any information that is not on the page.
*Please draw on the charts and graphs! Circle the keywords in the legends so you know what you are dealing with clearly.
*Be sure you are using the correct chart or graph, as sometimes there is more than one.
*Don’t get bogged down by vocabulary or jargon you do not know. Often, it is just a label for a chart / graph and nothing else.
Here is the mantra I find works best in any section of this test:
What do I know. What do I need to know.
Please, read the questions! Answer the questions. Ask yourself “Did I answer the question they asked?”
Stay calm. Breathe. Have a game plan in place.