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What to do when you are stumped by an ACT or SAT question

No matter how thoroughly you prepare for the ACT or SAT, there will probably be a handful of questions that will totally stump you. In this lesson, we’re going to cover what do when you encounter a question that you have no clue how to answer.


  1. Skip the question and come back

All ACT and SAT questions are worth the same number of points regardless of difficulty. Therefore, your first move when you encounter a troublesome question should be to skip the question entirely. Focus on the questions that you can answer, and come back to the question(s) that you can’t after you’ve completed the rest.


  1. Ask yourself the following questions

Now that you’ve answered the majority of the questions, it’s time to start diagnosing where you might have gone wrong with any questions that you skipped. The most effective way to do this is to ask yourself a series of questions relevant to the test section that you’re working on. Your answers will help you to identify any aspects of the question-answering process that you might have overlooked.


ACT and SAT Reading

  • Did I read every word in the question?
  • Did I overlook a key word in the question?
  • Did I look at every part of the passage, including first line, last line, parenthetical elements, and footnotes, for the answer?
  • Do any of the answer choices contain an absolute (always, never, etc.) that makes the answer inaccurate to the passage?


ACT English and SAT Writing and Language

  • For pure grammar/punctuation questions
    • Did I scrutinize the answer choices for very small errors?
    • Did I eliminate answer choices that perform the same grammatical function in exactly the same way?
    • Is there an ACT/SAT grammar rule that I might not have considered?
  • For questions with stated prompts
    • Did I read every word in the question?
    • Did I overlook a key word in the question?
    • Did I read far enough back and far enough ahead to understand the context of the question?


ACT and SAT Math

  • Did I read the question correctly?
  • If the question is a word problem, did I overlook a key word?
  • Did I set up my equation correctly?
  • Did I skip a step while solving the problem?
  • Am I using just the information needed to solve the problem?
  • Is there another way to solve the problem?


ACT Science

  • For text-heavy passages, such as “conflicting viewpoints”
    • Did I overlook any similarities or differences among the viewpoints?
    • Did I miss or misinterpret any key words or concepts among the viewpoints?
  • For passages that are primarily data presentations
    • Am looking at just the data the question is asking about?
    • Have I made any assumptions about the data, even minor ones, that aren’t directly-supported by the data itself?
    • Have I tried looking for patterns and trends in the data?
  • For all types of questions
    • Did I read every word in the question?
    • Did I overlook a key word in the question?


  1. Pick the simplest answer

If you’ve asked yourself the questions above but still have at least two answer choices left, go with the answer choice that is either the most straightforward or makes the fewest number of assumptions. The longer and more complicated an answer choice is, the greater the chance that it will contain something that is inaccurate the passage or question.


  1. Guess

If all else fails, make sure that you put something down before time runs out. There is no penalty for wrong answers on either the ACT or SAT, so the only way to have no chance of getting a question correct is to not answer the question at all. Make sure that you use the same letter for all of your guesses. Designating a “guess letter” will give you a slightly greater chance of getting the question correct.



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