Test Prep

The Two-Pass System for ACT Math

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Worried about running out of time on the ACT Math section? That’s a totally reasonable concern! With only 60 minutes to go up against just as many questions, plenty of students worry that they won’t be able to solve every problem.

To help make things easier, I advise using a two-pass approach when tackling this section of the test. This involves categorizing each question as you go (ACT prep can help with this), answering some now, and saving others for later. Here’s a look at how to do it.


First Pass

For this strategy to work, you’ll spend a good chunk of your first pass categorizing each question into one of three groups:

- Questions you definitely can answer

- Questions you definitely can’t answer

- Questions you might be able to answer with a little more time

Questions you can answer right now will snag you all of the easy points, so you don’t want to risk not getting to any of them! Answer these questions as soon as you spot them.

On your first pass, you’ll also tackle the questions you definitely can’t answer. Now, that may seem counterintuitive, but there’s no penalty for guessing on the ACT. It’s better to put any answer down than to leave it blank; it’s not as if you’ll have a better guess if you come back to this category of question later! As with the questions you can answer, bubble in your choice and move on.

As for those you think you could answer with a little more time, circle the question number. This will help you remember which questions to revisit once you’ve gone through the rest of the test and snagged all of the “easy” points. Remember: All questions are scored equally on the ACT, so the ones you can answer more quickly should be knocked out of the way first.

Second Pass

On your second pass, go back and work the questions you circled in the first pass. Ideally, you’ll have some time left over to work through at least a few of them and snag a couple extra points. Spending time on questions you think you may be able to figure out is much wiser than taking a ten-minute nap at the end of the section. (But only work on the questions you circled — it’d be a waste of time to work through any of the questions you deemed impossible during your first pass.) As with every section on the ACT, keep an eye on the clock — once you have five minutes left in the section, stop and put an answer down for every question you’re not going to get to.

This strategy might seem fairly straightforward — and it essentially is! — but keep in mind that this technique will yield better results the more you practice it. Take a practice test to see where you could use more time studying and what strategies work best for you. Then, turn to Cracking the ACT for more tips on how to adjust your test-taking to fit your style and reach your target score.

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