• Greg Landry

This 1 ACT Prep Tip May Boost 1-5 Points

© 2020 by Greg Landry. For permission to reprint in blogs, newsletters, web sites, etc. please contact Greg Landry.


In 14+ years of helping students to prepare for the ACT, this fact hasn't changed - many students can raise their score by 1 to 5 points by working on this one aspect of taking the ACT. It takes some work but can often be very beneficial.


Over 80% of students who take the ACT leave some questions unanswered. And, it's typically not because they necessarily didn't know the answers - it's because they ran out of time before they got to them. The fact that they were unanswered is one problem, but the bigger problem is that they may well have known the answers to those questions. So, if, because of time constraints, a student is unable to answer some questions in a section of the ACT (or has to guess at them), we want those to be questions they likely didn't know the answer to.


The ACT is a timed test and time management for students taking the ACT is absolutely critical. Each of the four sections of the ACT has a certain number of questions and a given amount of time to complete those questions. A large percentage of students don't have time to complete all the questions. So, two things can potentially significantly increase a student's score on a given section:


  1. Answer all the questions you know the answer to first (assuring that questions you don't have time to answer are likely questions you don't know the answer to).

  2. With a few minutes left in the allotted time for that section, with an educated guess, answer all questions you haven't been able to get to. ACT does not penalize for wrong answers so you should always answer ALL questions - but with a strategy.

This may sound simple, but under the pressure of taking a timed test, it often is not. Many students simply go down the list of questions, in order, and stop when time is up... often with 5, 10, 15, even 20 or more questions unanswered and thus counted as a wrong answer! The worst part of this scenario is that the student may have known the answers to many of those questions.


Enter the Triple Trip Method


So, how can a student prioritize answering all the questions they know the answer to and only have to guess at questions they don't know the answer to. The triple trip method is tried and true and simply involves three trips through the questions:


  1. Trip #1 - You go through the questions only answering questions you know the answer to and skipping questions you don't know the answer to, or questions that will involve more time to determine the correct answer. In your question booklet they should mark questions you skip with "CB" (come back) or some mark that you know means you'll need to come back to those questions.

  2. Trip #2 - hopefully, at the end of trip #1, you still have considerable time left. You now begin at the top again and go to questions marked to come back to. On this trip your goal is to answer all or almost all of the remaining questions - while being very aware of your remaining time. Put a line through "CB" after you answer the question. You should even answer questions you may have to make an educated guess on (possibly by eliminating some answers you know are wrong). The only questions you would still not answer on trip #2 are questions you believe you could answer correctly if you have more time to spend on them. If during trip #2 you get to the point where you only have a few minutes remaining you should take an educated guess at all remaining questions - assuring that no questions are left unanswered.

  3. Trip #3 - if you have time remaining after trip #2, you go back to any questions that are still unanswered, and work on answering those questions correctly. If during trip #3 you get to the point where you only have a few minutes remaining you should take an educated guess at all remaining questions - assuring that no questions are left unanswered.

This method increases your chances of being able to answer all the questions you know the answer to and that ALL questions are answered. Using this method can often mean increasing your composite score by 1 to 5 points but it takes a lot of practice to get good at this time management - it doesn't happen over night. It's easy to get rattled taking this 3+ hour test, so this method has to be second nature to you - that comes with lots of practice!


My recommendation is to practice this method using the five real question practice tests in the "The Official ACT Prep Guide 2020-2021" or enroll in my ACT Prep 4 Week Online Bootcamp. You can also read my article, "6 Reasons to Ditch the SAT & Laser Focus on the ACT".