ACT: Four Successful Overall Approaches to Taking the ACT

Consider these four approaches for tackling the ACT, and choose the method that feels most natural to you.

I. The "Plus-Minus" System

Many who take the ACT don't get their best possible score because they spend too much time on difficult questions, leaving insufficient time to answer the easy questions. Because every question within a section is worth the same amount, use the following system:

  • Answer easy questions immediately.

  • If a question that seems "impossible" to answer, identify it with a minus sign (-) on your test booklet. Then guess on your answer sheet and move on.

  • If a question seems solvable but appears too time-consuming (it will take more than one minute to figure out), identify it with a plus sign in your test booklet. Move on to the next question.

After you complete all the questions in one section that you can answer immediately, go back through the section and locate the questions you identified as "time-consuming." Work these questions as quickly as you can.

If you finish working the "+" questions and still have time left, you can either attempt those "impossible" questions or spend your time reviewing your work to be sure you didn't make any careless mistakes.

Remember: Be sure to fill in all your answer spaces-if necessary, with a guess. Because there's no penalty for wrong answers, it makes no sense to leave an answer space blank. And, of course, remember that you may work in only one section of the test at a time.

II. The Elimination Strategy

Take advantage of being allowed to mark in your testing booklet. As you eliminate an answer choice from consideration, make sure to mark it out in your question booklet. This technique helps you avoid reconsidering those choices you've already eliminated. It also helps narrow down your possible answers.

III. The "Avoiding Misreads" Method

Sometimes a question may have different answers depending upon what is asked. For example,

If 3x + x = 20, what is the value of x + 2?

Notice that this question doesn't ask for the value of x, but rather the value of x + 2.

Watch for these types as well:

  • All of the following statements are true EXCEPT . . .

  • Which of the expressions used in the first paragraph does NOT help develop the main idea?

Notice that the words EXCEPT and NOT change the above question significantly.

To avoid "misreading" a question, circle what you must answer in the question. For example, do you have to find x or x + 2? Are you looking for what is true or the exception to what is true?

IV. The Multiple-Multiple-Choice Technique

Some math and verbal questions use a "multiple-multiple-choice" format. At first glance, these questions appear more confusing and more difficult than normal five-choice (A, B, C, D, E) multiple-choice problems. Actually, once you understand "multiple-multiple-choice" problem types and techniques, they're often easier than comparable standard multiple-choice questions. For example,

If x is a positive integer, then which of the following must be true?

I. x > 0

II. x = 0

III. < 1

  1. I only

  2. II only

  3. III only

  4. I and II only

  5. I and III only

Because x is a positive integer, it must be a counting number (1, 2, 3, 4, and so on). Therefore, statement 1, x > 0, is always true. So next to I on your question booklet, place a T for true. This eliminates B and C as possible correct answers, so cross them out.

Statement II is incorrect. If x is positive, x cannot equal zero. Thus, next to II, you should place an F for false. Knowing that II is false allows you to cross out D because it contains false statement II. Only A and E are left as possible correct answers. Finally, you realize that statement III is also false, as x must be 1 or greater. So you eliminate choice E, leaving only choice A.

This technique often saves some precious time and allows you to take a better educated guess should you not be able to complete all parts (I, II, III) of a multiple-multiple-choice question.