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Using the “Elimination Method” on the ACT and SAT

Marcy J.

In past blogs, we’ve recommend eliminating wrong answers instead of hunting for right answers. Not only is this “elimination method” faster than answering the questions the way that the test makers intend, it can actually help prevent you from making common ACT and SAT mistakes.


The elimination method works because it exploits how standardized tests are designed. On the ACT, SAT, or any other standardized test, every word in an answer choice must be correct for that choice to be the correct answer. Test designers know this and phrase answers in such a way that overlooking a single word can completely change the meaning of an answer. This means that answering a question by looking for the right answer requires students to verify every word in the correct answer. Missing a key word (a distinct possibility on a timed exam) can result in you choosing a wrong answer choice. Therefore, it simply makes more sense to eliminate wrong answers than to choose right ones.


The Elimination Method in Action

Here is a step-by-step walkthrough of the elimination method. For this guide, we’ll be using the ACT Reading section. However, this process can be adapted to any section of the ACT or SAT that has long stated questions and equally long, wordy answer choices.


  1. Carefully read the entire question. Make sure you understand the meaning of every word.
  2. Scan the first answer choice for errors. If/when you find an error, immediately mark the answer choice wrong and move on to the next.
  3. Repeat step 2 for the remaining answer choices.
  4. At this point, you should have only one answer choice left. If this is the case, quickly double check the remaining answer and move on to the next question. If not, see step 5.
  5. Carefully read any choices you have left, looking for errors that you may have missed the first time. Ask yourself if any of these choices commit one of the following errors: confusing key concepts, going beyond the text, or saying the exact opposite of the correct answer.

If you find yourself stuck between two choices, table the question and move on to the next. Revisit the question if you have time left over after doing the rest. Even if you have to guess, you will have a much greater chance of choosing the correct answer.

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