Managing Your Time During the ACT

It’s no secret: Colleges and scholarship boards often base admissions and awards decisions largely on standardized test scores. Therefore, it's extremely important to perform as well as possible on the ACT/SAT!


It’s no secret: Colleges and scholarship boards often base admissions and awards decisions largely on standardized test scores. Therefore, it’s extremely important to perform as well as possible on the ACT/SAT!

Testing speed is a huge determining factor in scoring— if you’re too slow taking the test, you might not be able to complete it, and you’ll lose valuable points. The best way to increase your speed is to know what to expect on test day. If you’re surprised or confused while taking the test, you might struggle to finish in time. The more familiar you are with the test, the better you’ll be able to manage your time and successfully complete it, maximizing your scoring potential!

For both the ACT and the SAT, there are a few tried and true testing strategies that can help you increase your speed and score.

Pace Yourself. Wear a watch (not a smart watch)! As you take the test, keep an eye on how much time remains in relation to how much progress you’ve made— you don’t want to run out of time before you finish. When taking practice tests, time yourself so you’re conditioned for the actual test.

Read Everything Carefully. Official ACT and SAT practice tests have the same directions as the actual tests. Reviewing the directions on practice tests will allow you to save time deciphering actual test directions, leaving more time for answering questions. Likewise, the more sample questions you have reviewed on practice tests, the more comfortable you’ll be with the question formats on the real test.

Use Logic on Difficult Questions. Review all answers presented for a given question, and quickly eliminate as many incorrect answers as possible. Then, make your best choice from the remaining answers and move on.

Answer Easy Questions First. Don’t spend too much time on any one question— hard questions have the same point value as easier ones. If you get stuck on a question, skip it and move on. If time allows, go back and complete any questions you skipped. ACT and SAT scores are based only on the number of questions answered correctly. If you start to run out of time, answer all remaining questions, even if you have to guess. Any answer left blank will be marked as incorrect.

Be Precise in Marking Responses. During the actual ACT or SAT test, you’ll mark your answers on a separate answer sheet. It’s important that you’re familiar with using a bubble-in answer sheet prior to test day. On test day, make sure your answers are in the correct row on your answer sheet, especially if you skip questions. You will lose valuable time making corrections if you discover your answer responses do not line up with the right questions.

Ultimately, the best way to increase your speed on either the ACT or the SAT is to practice beforehand. Using the test prep offered by both ACT and SAT will help you recognize test instructions, formatting, and layout to increase your confidence while taking the actual test, potentially resulting in a score increase (yay!).


If you visit the official ACT website,, you’ll find multiple resources to help you become more familiar with the test:

ACT Academy – FREE! This is a free online learning tool and test practice program designed to help you get the best possible score on the ACT. It includes study guides, along with complete practice tests for each subject, scoring keys, and writing prompts. Check out the “Question of the Day,” taken from previous ACT tests.

ACT Prep Guide – $32.95. It doesn’t get more official than the ACT Prep Guide— it’s created by the actual makers of the ACT. The Prep Guide allows you to familiarize yourself with test instructions and formatting, review and answer actual ACT test questions from full-length tests, and gauge your strengths and weaknesses.

ACT Online Prep – $39.95. This is the perfect option for busy students— you can get online prep anytime, anywhere, and on any device!

ACT Rapid Review – $40 to $99. This tool includes live, online instruction, as well as on-demand videos.

If you visit the official SAT website,, you’ll find eight official SAT practice tests. Since these practice tests are created by the makers of SAT, each test has the exact same types of questions you’ll see on test day. When you complete the online SAT practice test, your test will be automatically scored, and you will receive personalized practice recommendations so you can focus your study efforts on what you missed. SAT also offers a free app called Daily Practice for the SAT. On this app, you will receive one question a day to help you continue your test preparation.

June Garzon is an associate member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).

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