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ACT and SAT Test-Taking Strategies

Over the past several blogs, we’ve focused on rules and strategies for specific sections or types of questions on the ACT and SAT. Today, we’re going to broaden our focus and look at three general, but essential, test-taking strategies. These are broad strategies that apply to all of the multiple choice sections of both the ACT and SAT. In addition, these strategies will also apply to many other standardized exams you will take throughout your high school and college careers.


Know the Overall Format

The ACT and SAT are standardized tests. The order of sections, the number of questions, the types of questions, and the time limits for sections do not change between test dates. Likewise, the directions for a given section of the ACT or SAT will be the same every time you take that section. Familiarize yourself with this information ahead of time and you’ll have one less thing to worry about on test day.


Practice Pacing and Time-Budgeting

We’ve written extensively about the importance of creating and practicing a time budget, so we’re not going to cover that process in depth here. However, we do want to emphasize the importance of maintaining a consistent pace on the ACT and SAT. The reason pacing is an essential skill is simple: every question is worth a single point. If you get stuck on a particularly-challenging question, make a note of it and quickly move on to the next question. Do not burn through 5-10 minutes on a single question you might not even be able to answer. Doing so will cost you more points in the long run because you will lose the opportunity to answer easier questions that you do know the answers to.


Answer Every Question

There is no penalty for a wrong answer on the ACT or SAT.* A student won’t get a point for a wrong answer but won’t have any points deducted either. As long as you answer a question, you have a 1 in 4 chance of getting that question right. The only way to have a 0 percent chance is to not answer at all.


To make sure that you put something down for every question, you need to come up with a system for handling the questions that you skip. For example, you might circle questions in your answer booklet, or you might lightly mark a tentative answer on your answer sheet. Whatever method you choose, make sure to practice it using the answer sheets in your ACT or SAT guide. Your method should allow you to quickly identify and “finalize” your answers to any questions you might have skipped during the final few minutes of a test section.




* As of this blog, the SAT II Subject Tests still follow the old SAT format. This includes penalties for wrong answers. See our blogs on the Subject Tests for more information.

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