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ACT Tips and Tricks

Our ACT tips will help you achieve a top score on the ACT. Use our expert tips when studying for the ACT.

The ACT strategies listed below will help you avoid some of the traps on the ACT and approach the test with greater confidence.

Some of the tips below apply to the whole test in general, while others are subject specific.

Summary: Learn how to study for the ACT with our guide below. Consider using ACT online prep to help you get a top score.

Here are the ACT tips we recommend:

  1. Tip #1: Practice, Practice, Practice (All Sections)
  2. Tip #2: Make a Solid Time Management Plan (All Sections)
  3. Tip #3: Eliminate Obviously Wrong Answers (All Sections)
  4. Tip #4: Actively Skim the Passage First (ACT English Section)
  5. Tip #5: Bring a Legal Calculator and Know How to Use It (ACT Math Section)
  6. Tip #6: Use a Consistent Strategy (ACT Math Section)
  7. Tip #7: Start With Passages in Your Strong Subject Areas (ACT Reading Section)
  8. Tip #8: Actively Read the Entire Passage (ACT Reading Section)
  9. Tip #9: Try to Answer a Question Without Looking at the Answers Provided (ACT Reading Section)
  10. Tip #10: Read the Question First (ACT Science Section)
  11. Tip #11: Don’t Get Bogged Down in the Passage Details (ACT Science Section)
  12. Tip #12: Use Your Test Booklet to Jot Down Ideas (ACT Writing Section)

General ACT Tips for All Sections

Use the following 3 act study tips for all sections of the exam.

Tip #1: Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice has many benefits. Taking practice exams will help you become more familiar with the exam and help you recognize what you know or do not know.

How to Practice:

  • Use an ACT practice test to get a better understanding of the questions and format of the exam.
  • Review your results after taking an exam. Figure out why you answered some questions incorrectly.
  • Narrow down which sections or types of questions you need to work on.
  • Make sure you have enough study time by looking at the ACT test dates.

Tip #2: Make a Solid Time Management Plan

Some things to consider in your time management plan are:

  • How much time will you spend on each question?
  • How will you handle answering harder questions, or remaining questions as time runs short?
  • How will you know you’re staying on track timewise?
  • How will you quickly make the best choice when unsure of an answer?

The following table shows the general time constraints for each section:

SubjectTotal # of QuestionsTime AllowedTime Per Question
English7545 minutes36 seconds
Math6060 minutes1 minute
Reading4035 minutes52 seconds
Science4035 minutes52 seconds
Writing140 minutes40 minutes

One great way to have solid time management while studying for the ACT is by using an ACT prep course.

Each testing center will have a clock for checking how much time you have left to complete a section of the test.

When five minutes remain for the test, you will hear a verbal warning from the test proctor.

One Often Recommended Strategy: Choose a standard answer for those questions you know you can’t answer, or that you are running out of time to answer.

A Final Time Saving Strategy for all Sections: Work out questions first in your test booklet, then bubble in answers all at one time when you have 5-10 minutes left. Just be sure to leave plenty of time to carefully record your answers on the scantron sheet.

Tip #3: Eliminate Obviously Wrong Answers

After carefully reading the question and reading any associated passages, scan the answers provided.

If any are obviously wrong, cross them out in your test booklet. If you can cross out even one answer, your odds of answering correctly are improved, even if you must guess among the remaining answers.

ACT Tips for English Section

Review the following ACT strategies for the English section below. If you want to focus specifically on this section, use our ACT English practice test.

Tip #4: Actively Skim the Passage First

Take about 1 minute to actively skim a passage. Here are some specific tips for the ACT to help you actively skim:

  • As you skim, force your mind to stay engaged with the text. Use your pencil as a guide and a marker.
  • Underline main ideas.
  • Circle phrases and sentences that look or sound weird.
  • Determine the goal of the essay (to inform, entertain, persuade).
  • Watch for redundancy.
  • If the phrase is already underlined in your test booklet you know you’ll have a question about that phrase.

If you know in advance a sentence or phrase has issues, you can likely eliminate the answer of “make no change.”

Time Management on the English Section: The English section is 45 minutes for 75 questions.

With 5 passages and 15 questions per passage to consider in 45 minutes, the average time spent per essay should be eight to nine minutes, and 20-30 seconds average per question.

ACT Tips for Math Section

Review the following tips for the math section below. For more practice on this section, use our ACT math practice test.

Tip #5: Bring a Legal Calculator and Know How to Use It

The ACT does allow calculators, but make sure yours is legal. Review the calculator policy beforehand and ensure you can use your calculator on the exam.

In general, you can use any 4-function, scientific, or graphing calculator, as long as it is not on the prohibited list or modified.

Rule Of Thumb: If you can do it in your head, or by sketching a quick graph faster than you can punch it in on your calculator, don’t use your calculator.

Tip #6: Use a Consistent Strategy

It is important to try and implement a consistent strategy when taking the math portion of the exam. Some of the following ACT strategies can be implemented:

  • Carefully read the question.
  • Underline information provided in the question – convert words to math symbols when possible.
  • Determine what the question is asking you to solve.
  • Study the appropriate diagram. Circle the information on the diagram needed to solve the question.
  • Carefully read the answers. Eliminate obviously wrong ones.
  • If you are stuck, move on and come back to the question at the end. Time is not your friend on the ACT.

Time Management on the Math Section: The math section is 60 minutes for 60 questions.

The math test increases in difficulty as you go, which means you should spend less time on early questions, and more time on later questions.

Allow yourself about 30 seconds per question for questions 1-20, 45 seconds per question on numbers 21-40, leaving about 35 minutes to complete the remaining (and hardest) 20 questions—more than 1 minute each.

ACT Tips for Reading Section

Review the following tips for the reading section below. For specific practice on this section, use our ACT reading practice test.

Tip #7: Start With Passages in Your Strong Subject Areas

Are you a history, government, or psychology buff? You might consider locating the social studies passage to complete first.

Or maybe you adore biology, geology or physics—then find the natural science passage.

The stronger you are in a subject area, the quicker you will be able to read that passage and choose answers.

Tip #8: Actively Read the Entire Passage

But first, preview the questions for that passage. Label key words in the questions.

Stay engaged as you read the passage by underlining portions you recall were mentioned in the questions.

  • Underline the thesis statement (somewhere in the first paragraph).
  • Circle main ideas/points.
  • Draw a box around unfamiliar words.
  • When you run across the key words you labelled in the questions, label them in the passage This will give you a quick reference back to the text when you are answering the questions.

Tip #9: Try to Answer a Question Without Looking at the Answers Provided

After active reading the passage, you have a good idea what the answer could be, look for it in the answer options. This will save some time.

Time Management on the Reading Section: The reading section is 35 minutes for 40 questions.

Sounds like more time, compared to English. But you must also factor in the time you will spend reading the passages—five total passages to read across 4 subject areas: social studies, natural sciences, literary, and humanities.

Budgeting a minute to read each passage will leave 30 minutes to answer 40 questions. So really, about 45 seconds per question.

ACT Tips for Science Section

Review the following tips for the science section below. To practice for this section, use our ACT science practice test.

Tip #10: Read the Questions First

Questions will help you understand the diagrams and descriptions better.

Reading the questions first will help you have a better idea of what you should be looking for when reading the passage.

Tip #11: Don’t Get Bogged Down in the Passage Details

Sometimes it is easy to get distracted by the details in the science passages. You can combat this by trying to answer the following 2 questions when reading the passage:

  1. What is the main point?
  2. What is the figure showing?

Time Management on the Science Section: The science section is 35 minutes for 40 questions. There are 6 passages on this section of the exam.

According to the ACT’s description of the science test, prior knowledge of content areas is helpful, but prior knowledge is not the key! Reading comprehension, graph comprehension, and problem-solving skills are important on this section.

ACT Tips for Writing Section

Review the following tips for the writing section below. The writing section is optional, but it is helpful to know these tips if you will be taking this section.

Tip #12: Use Your Test Booklet to Jot Down Ideas

Jotting down ideas can help you stay organized and create a better essay. This will also help save you valuable time when it comes to writing the essay.

Expert Tip: You might divide a blank test booklet page into 4 quadrants. Use 3 of them to take notes on each of the 3 perspectives provided in the writing prompt. Use the 4th to develop an outline for your essay.

How to Study for the ACT: Steps to Take

Studying for the ACT can be a very stressful process. However, you can break down the study process into smaller steps to help make the process easier.

Here are some steps to follow when studying for the ACT:

  1. Register for the ACT
  2. Set a Goal Score
  3. Determine the Amount of Time You Can Dedicate to Studying
  4. Choose Your Study Resources
  5. Take a Practice Exam
  6. Determine the Subjects Your Struggled In
  7. Dive into those Difficult Subjects
  8. Take a Subject Specific Practice Test
  9. Take Another Full-Length Exam
  10. Rinse and Repeat Steps 7-9

Studying for the ACT FAQs

We reviewed 12 different ACT test tips above. Some of the most important tips include having a time management strategy in mind, eliminating wrong answers where you can, skimming passages and actively reading, and having a consistent strategy in place (especially for math).

You can use ACT practice tests to prepare for your exam. Practice exams are a great way to study and help learn which subjects you need the most help with.

This number of practice tests will vary from person to person. We recommend taking at least 2 full-length exams.

The first exam will be a baseline exam to give you an idea of where you stand. The second exam will be a progress check. If you reach your target score on your second practice exam, you could determine you are ready and stop your studies.

Everyone is different and this comes down to personal preference and how you progress throughout your studies.

Adam Groden
Adam is our ACT and SAT expert. He has 30+ years of experience and runs his own test prep company.