How to Avoid Running Out of Time on the ACT

Preparing to take the ACT? Such an important test—where your admission, scholarship eligibility, or class placement may hinge on the results—can make you nervous, affecting your testing performance. While a majority of ACT test prep is focused on studying the content of the exam, the time constraints of each section are a major source of anxiety for many students. This concern may be compounded if you’re a student who struggles with test anxiety. Here are a few strategies for testing your best and to avoid running out of time on the ACT:

1. Take timed ACT practice tests

If you’re nervous about pacing on the real test, one of the best ways to prepare is to take several timed, full-length ACT practice tests in the weeks and months leading up to test day. Practice tests do not just measure your understanding of the content; they are also useful for adapting to the exam’s structure and time constraints. You may not be able to score a 36 on the ACT Reading Section now, but after weeks of practice, you can adapt to working accurately at a faster pace. Each week leading up to the ACT, set aside time to take a full practice test. If you don’t have time for the full test, select at least two sections to practice. It is important when taking these practice tests to set a timer, to mimic the pressure of test day. Each time you take a practice test, you should see your time, score, and confidence improve. (The free Varsity Tutors ACT Prep Book also has everything you need to learn about the test—a full-length practice test, practice problems, explanations of ACT concepts, and more.)

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2. Budget your time on ACT test day

Knowing time is limited, budget your time in a way that works best for you. For example, the math section contains 60 questions and allots 60 minutes for completion. In this scenario, you can budget one minute per question (although you’ll likely spend less than a minute on many questions, and a few minutes on others). Don’t constantly check the clock, but look up every five questions or so to see if your pacing is on track. If you are ahead, keep your comfortable pace, and if you finish early, you’ll have time to review your answers. If you are behind, try working a bit faster to catch up.

3. Save the hard ACT questions for last

Students often take tests in a very linear fashion. They answer questions in order no matter the difficulty, and once they close their test booklet, they don’t look back. Break this habit to help manage your time on the ACT. When you begin the test, answer the questions that come easily to you first. Skip the hard questions, and circle them in your test booklet so you know to come back to it later. Once you have quickly answered the easy questions, you can revisit the more difficult questions. It’s a good idea to budget your time here as well. If you have 20 minutes left for 10 hard questions, you can give yourself about 2 minutes per question. If you are truly drawing a blank, make an educated guess. The ACT does not penalize for wrong answers, so once you have completed the test, check your answer sheet to verify that you have at least one answer for each question.

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Take regular practice tests and utilize test-day strategies to develop effective time management skills and avoid running out of time on the ACT. If you are stressed during the exam, try to unwind a bit. If you let your test anxiety take over, it will most certainly affect your ability to finish the test on time. The best antidote to test day anxiety is comprehensive preparation. Good luck!