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ACT Math Strategy - Eliminate the 5-minute Panic!

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

If you’ve taken the ACT, you are probably familiar with the panic. You coast along through the first 20 to 30 problems thinking, “Not as bad as I thought!” And then the tougher problems start to pop up left and right because, while it is true that there are “easier” questions scattered throughout the ACT, it is also true that the second half is on the whole more difficult than the first half.

You start to sweat, and you work as hard as you can. All the while a subtle panic about time starts to grow in the back of your mind until, somewhere around question 45 or 50, you hear:


“Five minutes? How can I only have five more minutes?!?” you think to yourself. You skim the remaining questions for those you can maybe get right. Then, you remember the questions stored in the back of your mind that you wanted to come back to with any extra time. Then, you remember the questions you’re neglecting altogether. Then, you remember your comfortable bed at home and wish you were still in it.

As time sinks to nothing you scribble in a handful of guesses; the break could not have come at a better time.

Let us learn a better way.

This post is not about math content, but rather strategy. Don’t be scared off; it’s rather simple, and in fact, I would bet you have employed this same strategy on tests in the past. To sum up:

Answer questions you feel confident about giving a good try. Circle and skip questions you’d like to come back to at the end of the test. Guess on questions you will never get right, even with unlimited time.

It’s that simple, really. Think about it: aren’t there questions that simply take you more than a minute to get right? You need to save these to the end. Why? Because you must give yourself a fair chance at every question on the test.

Here’s an example of a question from a recent ACT that, upon first glance, you think you could probably get right, though it may take a minute or more:

Bank some time by circling this lengthy question and coming back to it later.

Why? Because there are questions like this waiting for you:

Wouldn’t it be a shame to guess on this question, instead of giving it a good shot? Then make sure you don’t use up all of your time before given the chance.

If you guess on questions that you KNOW there is no chance of getting correct, or even of narrowing down choices for a better guess, then you will save time. If you circle questions you like to give a lengthy try on, then you save time. The advantage of this? You give yourself a fair chance at every question on the test and, if you must make good guesses in the end, you will not guess on any question you had a good chance of getting right.


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