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General ACT/SAT test taking tips

It’s best to prepare for the ACT and SAT for several weeks, even months, before you take the test. Familiarizing yourself with the content and format of the test will help decrease your test anxiety and prepare you to score as high as possible. Consider these tips for a great test day!

  • Answer every question. Yes, even the hard ones. You won’t be penalized for guessing.
  • Use POE before you guess. Process of Elimination that is. Each question will have at least one answer that’s way out there. Physically cross off that answer so you won’t be tempted to use it, and you’ll up your odds of guessing correctly. Then go back and see if you can cross off at least one more.
  • Start easy. Answer all of the easy questions first, then move on to the difficult ones. Usually, if you answer the questions in order, this is easy to do because they are ranked from easiest to most difficult. However, if you’re one of those people who finds reading the longer passages easier than the shorter passages, start there, where it’s easiest for you.
  • Memorize the directions. During the test, you won’t get extra time to read the directions, so if you take five minutes to figure out what to do, that’s five fewer minutes you’ll have to get points.
  • Don’t doodle. On the answer sheet, that is. The ACT/SAT is graded by a machine; if your chicken scratch interferes with the reading mechanism, you could miss out on points. Keep the oval sheet as clean as is possible.
  • Erase completely. Bring two erasers, one for the heavy-duty erasing you may need to do and another clean eraser to fix up your ovals completely. You don’t want erasure marks mucking up your answers and causing you to lose points.
  • Pace yourself. You’ll have a little less than 30 seconds to answer each question, so keep that in mind. Don’t spend three minutes staring off into space or re-reading a longer passage; stay focused.
  • Bring a watch. Archaic, yes, but since you won’t be able to have your cell phone on you, bring a watch. There’s no guarantee you’ll be testing in a room with a working clock.
  • Reconsider the obvious. If an answer seems too easy, it may just be. Be sure to read every answer choice and select the best possible answer. The obvious choice may be a distracter.
  • Don’t second-guess. If you marked B for question 18, there was probably a good reason for it, so don’t go back and change it, unless you’ve found information in a later part of the test to disprove your original theory. Statistics prove that your first guess is usually the best one.
  • Come back to a toughie. If you’re stuck between two answer choices, circle the question and come back to it with fresh eyes after you’ve answered the other questions. Remember you have to pace yourself.
  • Cross-check ovals. Every five questions or so, double-check your answer sheet to make sure you haven’t skipped an oval. There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a test and realizing you missed filling in an oval somewhere.
  • Bring your own calculator. The test center will not provide you with one, so bring an approved calculator for easier math work. (All the questions can be answered without one, but bring one anyway.)
  • Outline before you write. If you’re taking the essay, be sure to take five out of the thirty minutes and plan before you write. It isn’t a waste of time; the scorers are looking for well-organized essays. The best way to get one is to plan ahead with either an outline or graphic organizer.
  • Practice. You’ve heard it before, but it’s really the truth. Buy an ACT or SAT prep book and answer every single question in it, hire a test-prep tutor or take an ACT/SAT prep class. You’ll gain confidence and a lot of extra points by doing so.

Get admitted into the College of your dreams with test taking tips

More Test Taking Tips

General Math

As soon as you find the right answer, mark it and move on — there are no ”degrees of rightness” to be considered. Creating a diagram or sketching simple drawings can help you ”see” the answers. The questions generally focus on mathematical reasoning, not your ability to perform calculations; if you find yourself spending too much time figuring the problem out, then you’ve probably overlooked a simple shortcut.

Math: Multiple-Choice Questions

As you work through the multiple-choice math questions, you’ll be given reference information (formulas and facts), but you’ll need to know how to use them. You’re allowed to use a calculator, but, again, it won’t help you unless you know how to approach the problems. If you’re stuck, try substituting numbers for variables. You can also try plugging in numbers from the answer choices. Start with the middle number. That way, if it doesn’t work, you can strategically choose one that’s higher or lower.


Use the three-stage method (previewing, reading, and reviewing) to get the most out of each reading passage. Focus on the big ideas in each passage, not the small details and underline the main ideas as you go. Look for connections among ideas in each passage. To help you find answers quickly, take notes in your booklet as you read, marking the main ideas or connections with your pencil.

Science Reasoning

Use the same three-stage method (previewing, reading, reviewing) for each science reasoning passage. In data representation passages, focus on what is being measured, relationships among variables, and trends in data. Don’t be confused by irrelevant information or technical terminology — most science reasoning passages have them, and they can almost always be ignored.

Writing (Optional)

Essays are scored holistically, which means that the final score is based on an overall impression. To make that overall impression a good one, be sure to organize your ideas into a standard essay format. Take a moment before delving in to create a loose outline. A well-organized essay consists of four to five paragraphs, including an introduction, supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. Aim to have at least two body paragraphs to develop and support your ideas.

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