When you’re preparing to take a standardized test, understanding and practicing test-taking strategies is almost as important as studying the material you’ll be tested on. After all, you only have a limited amount of time to answer the 215 questions on the ACT—understanding ACT timing and learning how to manage your time can help you achieve your goal score.
This timing factor can be extremely intimidating, especially for students who do not enjoy working under pressure, read at a slower pace, and/or struggle with test taking in general. Let’s take a look at ACT time management tips and ways to stay on-pace and maximize your problem-solving time.
How Long is the ACT?
The ACT has 4 sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. The English section has 75 questions, Math has 60 questions, and Reading and Science have 40 questions each. If students take the optional writing section, this involves one essay.
Each section has its own time constrictions:
- English: 45 minutes
- Math: 60 minutes
- Reading: 35 minutes
- Science: 35 minutes
- (Optional) Writing: 40 minutes
This totals to 175 minutes, or 2 hours and 55 minutes, to complete 215 questions. If you add the writing section, you have 3 hours and 35 minutes for the entire test.
Here’s how the ACT timing per question breaks down:
- English: 45 minutes/75 questions = 36 seconds/question
- Math: 60 minutes/60 questions = 1 minute/question
- Reading: 35 minutes/40 questions = 52 seconds/question
- Science: 35 minutes/40 questions = 52 seconds/question
Of course, students don’t have to worry about spending exactly this amount of time per question; this breakdown just provides a good idea of the pace they should aim to progress at throughout the test.
ACT Timing Strategies
There are many general test-taking strategies that can help you keep track of time on the ACT, and it’s important to practice these strategies before test day, while you’re test-prepping with practice tests. If you find that one strategy works more than another, then use that technique during your test!
General Time Management Tips
- Use a watch to track your time. You’re allowed to bring a (silent or analog) watch to keep track of timing and breaks as you take the ACT—wear a watch and take quick glances to see the time you have left and ensure that you’re answering questions at an efficient pace.
- Answer the questions you know first. If you’re spending more than half a minute pondering a question, skip it and come back after answering the questions you understand more clearly. When you skip over difficult questions, you avoid wasting time and frustration trying to figure them out—then, you will get higher scores answering all the questions you know, and can make educated guesses on those that you are not sure of.
- Keep track of your skipped questions. Skipping difficult questions that are taking you longer can save a lot of time, but don’t forget to come back for them! Use your scratch paper to keep a list of skipped question numbers or star the questions you skip, then come back to them once you have more time.
- Use the process of elimination. For each question you work on, cross out any obviously incorrect answers. This will help you narrow your choices and, if you end up skipping the question, you’ll have a better chance of solving or making the correct educated guess on it when you come back to it.
- Streamline your bubbling process. Your limited time for completing each section of the ACT includes the time you’ll have to take to bubble in your answers, so make sure you account for the time bubbling will take. One strategy that works is bubbling in all your answers before you go back to answer the questions you’ve skipped, or bubbling in answers after a set number of questions (ex. Every 10 or 20 questions, take a moment to fill in the bubbles).
Subject-Specific Timing Tips
- For the English section: Remember that you only have about 36 seconds per question, so this section requires a rapid pace. Try to (very quietly) whisper-read sentences so you can pick up on errors, and read all the answer choices before picking your answer.
- For the Math section: When you begin this section, write down the formulas you’ve memorized so that you can easily reference them instead of spending time trying to remember them. Use mental math strategies to save time on simpler calculations, and make sure to eliminate any obviously incorrect answers.
- For the Reading section: It may be helpful to read the questions before you begin reading the corresponding passage so that you know which concepts to look for. Take notes as you read by underlining sentences or circling terms—this will help you spot them as you answer the questions.
- For the Science section: Reading questions before you examine tables and charts can help you spot pertinent information. When you encounter research summaries, underline the material you may need to answer questions.
- For the Writing section: Outline your essay quickly—you can always change your ideas, but make sure you have essential concepts down to get started with before you begin writing.
- For all sections: take practice tests ahead of time. This is the most effective way to improve your ACT timing—the more familiar you are with the ACT test format, the more efficiently you’ll be able to work through the questions on test day.
ACT Timing Tips for Slow Readers
In the English section, there are 5 passages you will need to read and comprehend in order to answer the questions accordingly. The Reading section has 4 sections. The Science section has 6 or 7 passages. For slow readers, this can be extremely intimidating, but you can learn different strategies to keep in pace with the ACT.
For example, you can answer easy questions for a passage first and return to the more difficult ones just before you move on to the next passage. In addition, skim passages and don’t obsess over every word. It might help you to read the questions first and search for answers in the passages, rather than the other way around.
In the English section, mark the grammar errors as you read for easy reference! Finally, practice reading things you enjoy in the months before the test. When you read books or magazines that you love, reading becomes easier. Practicing this will help you build skills prior to your test, and get your brain used to bringing in printed text.
Piqosity Helps with ACT Timing
We hope this collection of tips has helped you understand which ACT timing strategies to practice and implement on test day! You’ll have to work through the exam efficiently, but this will get easier as you practice—if you’re looking for tools with which to practice, Piqosity can help.
In addition to our collection of ACT resources, we at Piqosity offer an extensive ACT test prep course, including 10 full-length practice tests, so that you can get the complete experience of the ACT as many times as you need. Our practice also includes a customizable timer that automatically follows the timing of the ACT test (but you can adjust it to double time or time and a half if needed). Overall, Piqosity’s ACT test prep can help students with timing strategies and anxiety.
Piqosity’s Reasonably Priced ACT Test Prep Packages Include:
The best part? You can try out all of Piqosity’s features with our free community account. When you’re ready to upgrade, Piqosity’s year-long accounts start at only $89. Plus, get a 10% off coupon just by signing up for our mailing list!