Test Prep

4 Basic ACT Section Approaches

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You’ve studied (and studied and studied) and now you’re so close to being finished! Even if you’ve taken our most intensive ACT prep, I’ve put together a list of go-to approaches that, if used on test day, can help you avoid getting tripped up and give you a good chance of getting those tricky questions correct. Let’s tackle them in the order in which the sections will appear on the test — that’s English, Math, Reading and Science.

English – Vertical Line Test 


The ACT expects you to know how to use a comma in the following situations:

- Creating a List

- Setting off Unnecessary Info

- “Stop” and “Go” Punctuation

Here’s a great tip for questions with “Stop” and “Go” punctuation: Simply draw a vertical line where the punctuation changes in the answer choices. This line provides a visual break, so you can see more clearly whether you have two complete sentences or two incomplete ideas. From there, you should have a much better idea of which answer choice is correct.

Math – Plug in the Answers Approach

On the ACT, one of your answer choices will always be unquestionably correct. For the ACT Math, this is more important than ever because you can use the given answers to solve certain problems. That means you can save yourself a lot of time by working backward through a problem rather than solving it from scratch.

First, underline what the question is specifically asking so you don’t forget. (Forgetting what you’re being asked to do is one of the most common slip-ups students make on this section!)

Next, switch to assessing the answer choices. You could go in order from first to last, but there are a couple of other things you can do to make things easier:

- If a question asks for the largest value that fits the problem, start with the largest given answer! (If a question asks for the smallest, start with the smallest!)

- If the first answer you try doesn’t work, ballpark how far it was from the answer so you can choose your second guess strategically.

Reading – Basic Process of Elimination Approach

Your personal order of difficulty pulls double-duty on ACT Reading. Not only must you gauge the questions by difficulty, but you must also gauge the difficulty of each passage!

Use the blurbs provided before each passage to give you a quick overview of what subject a given passage is covering. Apply your personal order of difficulty to the passages first, and then apply it to the questions under each as you tackle them. Finally, use Process of Elimination (POE) to get rid of incorrect answers.

Science – Judge the Figures

Like in Reading, the go-to ACT Science approach is pretty straightforward. First, take some time to look at what information you’re given in each figure. You might have any of the following:

- Chart Titles

- Trends

- Units

- Variables

- Axes

With a sense of what’s actually in the figures, turn to the questions! (I don’t recommend reading the accompanying text unless you absolutely need to in order to answer a question.) Much of the information for each question can be answered from the figures. If that’s not the case, then you’ll turn to the passages. Is a question tough from the start? Remember that POE can be your greatest asset and that you should use it whenever possible to give yourself a better chance of answering correctly.

Above all, remember that the ACT is a beast every student will tackle differently. That’s why it’s important to learn as many strategies as possible during your ACT prep. With a few surefire tricks up your sleeve, you can rest easy knowing you’ve got a couple of fallbacks if you start to blank on test day.

For more of these tips and tricks, take a look at our book Cracking the ACT. The more you know before walking into your testing center, the better shot you’ll have at getting the score you want!