Monday, March 29, 2010


April 10....the next national administration of the ACT. Really too late to start studying, but a few quick tips could help raise that score by a point or two. For English and Math you might need 2 more correct answers to gain one more section score point; each Reading and Science Reasoning question should usually give you a point. Four more section score points are needed to raise the composite average by just one point.

ENGLISH: Recognize the punctuation questions relating to independent sentences. You always need a full sentence in front of a period, semi-colon, comma-conjunction, or colon. For the first 3 you also need a full sentence (not a prepositional phrase) after the punctuation. A colon can be followed by either a full sentence or a list or just more detail.

Recognize prepositions. They introduce phrases, not full sentences, and might need a comma at most.

SHORTER IS BETTER. At least consider the shortest alternative since it's the right answer more often than not.

MATH: Avoid silly mistakes, especially on the first 30 questions. And work problems for the entire hour; there are some easy questions in the last 10.

READING: Keep moving. Don't get "stuck" on one difficult question. Unless you're working toward a perfect score (which means you've been studying for weeks), you don't need to get every question right. Take the loss of one point rather than denying yourself the chance to gain 2 by finding easier questions further along in the section.

SCIENCE REASONING: Get the first two questions in every data set correct. These ask if you can read the data given and the answer should be "sure." If the last 2 questions are too hard, default them and move on to the next data set where the first few questions will be easier.

IN GENERAL: Leave nothing blank. Pick a default answer and use it to fill in bubbles for any question you can't answer. ONE DEFAULT ONLY. Pick the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth alternative and use only that one for default. Statistically you will be correct 20 - 25% of the time. Arbitrarily picking a different alternative every time could result in a success rate of 0%!

SIT UP! If you start to fade, take a second to sit up straight, stretch, breath deeply. Get the brain oxygenated again and dig back in!!

GOOD LUCK! And remember that if your score doesn't turn out to be what you hoped, there is also June, September, and October for 2011 graduates. With any of these test dates, you'll have results in time for early admission to most colleges.


  1. Thanks! These are great tips! But just saying, in the "general" section, excluding the possibility of suggestion, there is no statistical relevance to choosing different answers rather than a default. The odds of a dice roll are the same no matter what number you are looking for.

    1. The ACT is a little different than rolling a die, a situation in which each roll is independent. On the ACT, I've never found a key that has the same answer position (first, second, etc) for more than 3 consecutive questions. Therefore, if I choose A, then B, then C, e.g., I could miss every correct answer. If I select one position, say the third...C and H...there is a greater chance that I will get about 20 to 25% of the answers (depending on whether there are 4 or 5 alternatives) through thoughtful default. Of course there is no guarantee and this statistic was calculated using large numbers of default answers, but calculating the frequency of A, B, C, etc answers over any two ACTs will result in each alternative position receiving an equal number of "hits." So pick a default and stick with it. There's no penalty so you have nothing to lose.