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Are you a stressed high school student stuck with an unsatisfactory low ACT score? Do you follow instructions and apply techniques and still don’t see any significant change? Do you keep pressuring yourself because you had low 20’s on at least one of the sections on the ACT? If you said yes to one of these questions, you may want to keep reading.

There are many techniques that can be applied when it comes to standardized testing, but sometimes they are not enough. In occasions is easier to acknowledge that you are a bad test taker and keep moving on. Being a bad test taker doesn’t mean that you are not smart enough, it just means that you are not used to the method where your “knowledge” is being tested (which is not. ACT score =/= reflection of your knowledge) on a standard level.

When I was having problems increasing my ACT scores, I realized that while some techniques were effective for some people, they weren’t for me. I thought about what was my biggest constraint and learned to work around it. My worst enemy was time. I tried to complete all the questions in one section within the amount of time provided, but that made me rush throughout all of the questions and skim more than necessary, leading to zero understanding of the material and to poor understanding of the wording of the questions, which led to mediocre answers, and eventually to low scores.

So, I knew I had problems pacing myself, and I was on a state of panic since my test date was approaching. Then I decided to try something new, and I started on small portions. For the English, Reading and on the Science section (my beloved Science section) I decided to skip a passage and focus on the rest. On the Math section, I answered 45 questions out of 60, and guessed the rest. Yes. That’s exactly what I said. I skipped certain portions on a subsection in order to maximize my constraints.

Wait, what?

Since time was the factor against me, I optimized the time given by minimizing the number of questions asked. I didn’t just go on test day and tried this “theory,” I compared my practice test scores without implementing this technique with the scores where I used it. Surprisingly, my scores improved. The key element is spending more time on questions and trying to get all of them–if not the majority of the questions right.

Think about it this way: the Reading section contains 4 passages, and a total of 40 questions. The ACT gives you 35 minutes to answer all the questions and read the passages. If you’re a slow reader just like me, and can barely finish this section, you may want to consider skipping one passage. That would mean having more time to read and have an understanding of the passage instead of just skimming through it without knowing what was going on during that lecture. If you have a better understanding of the passage, then chances are that you may get more answers right. You have the opportunity of getting approximately 30/40 questions right, and then guess the rest. Let’s say you can guess 3 questions right, so that would give you 33/40. That’s a 29 on the Reading section. The same strategy can be applied on the English section of the test. Of course, if you do better than a 29 using your own methods, this is not for you.

On the Science section passages can have 5-7 questions. It’s advisable not to skip the one that has fewer questions, but the one that seems more complicated. Before answering the questions, skim through all the passages and see which one is more complex. This should not take you more than 45 seconds.

For the math section is a different story—before skipping any questions you should asses yourself and know in which aspects of math you excel. The math section has 60 questions that need to be answered in 60 minutes. At first glance it may seem as one minute per question, but some questions require more than one minute and others less than that. The first 40 questions are relatively easier than the last 20, so I would focus on getting those first 40 questions right, spend more time on the questions that range from 40 to 50, and guess the rest. Let’s assume I have 45/60 right, and guessed 3 of the questions—that would mean I have 48/60. That’s a 27. Once again, if you can get more than that by normal means, discard this method.

The key factor in order to make this work is to test it first, and if it works, practice, practice, and practice! At the end of the day is about pacing yourself and finding what best works for you.

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the author

Vianny Lugo is an incoming freshman at Colby College who is not used to cold weather and likes unhyphenated double-barrelled surnames. While she's not obsessing over deer, she invests some time into LGBT Literature, Neuroscience related topics, and dark music.

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