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Pacing Tips for the ACT

Kristen O'Toole
Written by Kristen O'Toole | May 9, 2018
Pacing Tips for the ACT

You will need to monitor your pacing very carefully on the ACT, since you only have one minute or less for each question! Check out the following chart to see exactly how much time you'll have on each section of the test.

  • English: You'll have 45 minutes to answer 75 questions, allowing you 36 seconds per question.
  • Math: You'll have 60 minutes to answer 60 questions, giving you one minute per question.
  • Reading: You'll have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions, allowing you 52.5 seconds per question.
  • Science: You'll have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions, giving you 52.5 seconds per question.

While timed tests can be daunting, there are some great tricks for managing your time and maximizing your ACT score -- knowing these quick tips will help you pace yourself more carefully.

You will use slightly different pacing strategies on each section of the ACT, but one trick that works on the whole test is filling in the answer bubbles on the Scantron answer sheet as quickly as possible. Work your test booklet one page at a time, circling your answers right in the booklet. Then bubble in the answers for that page all at once. Make sure you do this one page at a time -- you don't want to run out of time to transfer all your answers to the Scantron sheet after you've worked all the questions!

You should also choose a letter of the day. This will be your answer when all else fails. Read on for how to use your letter of the day on each ACT test.

Pacing on the ACT English Test

  1. Read through the full test section quickly.
  2. If you see a question you know you can answer, do so.
  3. If you see a question you're not sure about, circle it.
  4. If you see a question that you know you won't be able to answer, cross it out.
  5. Go back to the questions you circled and work until you have two minutes left.
  6. Use your final two minutes to bubble in your letter of the day for any unanswered questions.

Pacing on the ACT Math Test

  1. Work slowly to ensure accuracy.
  2. Circle questions you cannot answer in 30 seconds and come back to them.
  3. Use your letter of the day on any questions where you get stuck.

Pacing on the ACT Reading Test

Finding your strategy for the Reading Test will require some practice. If you have strong reading comprehension but work slowly, then spending your test time working fewer passages and using your letter of the day for any questions on passages you didn't get to may be an effective way of achieving your goal score.

If you struggle with reading comprehension, your strategy should be to work every passage, answer the questions about which you feel confident and use your letter of the day for the rest. Try both strategies on practice tests and compare your scores.

Pacing on the ACT Science Test

  1. Scan each passage in the section without looking at the questions.
  2. Mark each passage “Now," “Later" or “Never."
  3. Start with the passages you marked “Now." You might run into some “Never" questions even on passages you find easy to understand -- use your letter of the day.
  4. Move onto the passages you marked “Later" and work as many questions as you can.

Process of Elimination

If you finish all the easy questions and all the questions you circled, go back to those you crossed out. Even if you're not sure how to answer them correctly, do any answers jump out as wildly wrong? If you can cross out one or two answer choices, you'll increase your odds of guessing the correct answer.

Written by

Kristen O'Toole

Kristen O'Toole

Kristen O’Toole, director of online content for The Princeton Review, has been writing and editing books and digital materials on test prep and college admissions for 10 years. She has contributed to many annual editions of The Best Colleges, The Complete Book of Colleges and Colleges That Pay You Back. Prior to joining The Princeton Review, she worked in book publishing, taught creative writing for high school students and wrote a young adult thriller. She holds a BA in English from Bates College and an MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University.

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