Last Minute Tips and Tricks for the ACT

Author: Hallie Zenga-Josephson

Standardized test season can be incredibly stressful for every student taking them. It’s important to study as much as you can, but also make it easier on yourself by working smarter and not harder. Following these tips and tricks will help you learn how to ace the ACT and take the test with ease.

General Tips

1. Take many practice exams

Invest in a prep book like The Official ACT Prep Guide, which has tons of practice tests. The more you take tests, the more you will know what to expect when the real test day arrives. You will be able to know how to answer different types of questions so you won’t be hit with any curveballs.

2. Leave time to review answers

Make sure to not work on the questions up until the last second when actually taking the exam. Leave a few minutes to make sure you bubbled in all of the correct answers and didn’t leave any out.

3. Don’t spend more than a minute on a tough question

If you find yourself struggling, it’s ok! Coming across a tough question happens to the best of us, but how you react to it will make or break the rest of the test. If you are taking more than about a minute on a hard question, skip it and come back to it if you have time. There may just be something that you missed and returning back with a fresh mind may make it make more sense.

4. Bring a watch to your test day

Keeping track of your time is key when you are taking timed tests. You don’t want to be stuck on the first page thinking you have a lot of time left just as the proctor announces the 5 minute mark. Be prepared to budget your time wisely.

5. Get a good night’s sleep

It would be a shame to miss some easy points just because you are too tired to notice you got the question wrong. Make sure to not just get sleep the night before, but also a few nights before to feel fully rested.


ACT English

1. Choose the most concise answer

When you come across a question where the answers all appear to be saying the same thing, but just in various levels of sentence complexity, you may be stuck wondering which one is right. Choosing the most concise answer—the shortest—will more often than not be the correct answer.

2. Don’t read the whole passage first

Although this tip may or may not work for everyone, it may help you save time. Try working on each question as you go, instead of reading the full passage and then going back to answer the questions. Definitely read a sentence above and below for context, but don’t waste more time than you need.


ACT Math

1. Plug in answers to the question

Sometimes, the most efficient way to solve a math problem is not to read the question and solve it without looking at the answers, but rather use the answers to solve the problem. You can plug in answers to the question to see which one is accurate.

2. Beware of long, complex calculations

If you are doing very complicated calculations, you’re probably doing something wrong. Most questions are fairly straightforward, and are meant to be solved in under a minute or two. You may be missing a piece of information.


ACT Reading

1. Skim passages first

Again, this is a subjective tip, but it will probably save you time to just skim the passage first, and then jump to the questions. If you miss some information in the first read and you don’t know how to answer the question, go back and read deeper in a paragraph.

2. Don’t be fooled by answers that are “almost” correct.

There may be a question that is half right, but half right is always wrong. There will always be an answer that is totally correct, you may just be overlooking it.


ACT Science

1. Start with the questions

It may be overwhelming opening up the science section since it doesn’t look like any of the other sections. Jump straight to the questions. Then skim the intro and focus primarily on the visuals to help jumpstart the problem solving.

2. Pay attention to the scale

Sometimes the passage will try to trick you, and make the scale something different than expected (cm vs. in, counting by 10s vs. by 1s). Don’t fall into that trap.

As always, the most important tip is to just breathe. Remember that a standardized test score does not define you and your worth! Know that you will be done with testing season before you know it, and even sooner than that with these helpful tips!


Need any more help? Sign up for a session with a Harvard student mentor to talk about your own applications and work one-on-one!