Running Out of Time on the ACT Reading Test?

Sometimes students find themselves running out of time on the ACT Reading test even though they’ve practiced skimming efficiently. If you’re one of those students who runs out of time no matter what you do, it’s important to formulate a game plan for test day. In this article, I’ll present some options for you to consider.

Option 1: Skip a passage

For students who are slow readers but have good reading comprehension, this can be the best option. If racing through the test and answering every question is getting you, say, a 24, then you might want to consider slowing down and skipping an entire passage. Doing so will give you over 11 minutes for each of three passages instead of 8:45 for each of four passages. If you can manage to answer every question correctly and bubble in random answers for the passage you’ve chosen to skip, you can get a 31 on the Reading test. If you can answer 9 out of 10 correctly on each of the three passages you choose to work, and bubble in answers for the passage you skip, you can earn a 28 or 29.

How do you know which passage to skip? Use your intuition and draw on past experiences. Are you consistently better or worse at a certain type of passage (the four categories are Prose Fiction, Humanities, Social Science, and Natural Science)? Skip the passage that looks most difficult to you, or the passage from the category with which you struggle most.

Option 2: Skip certain questions

If it’s easier for you to answer specific line-reference questions, do those first and come back to the main idea questions if you have time. If you skip one question per passage, it’s still possible for you to get a score of 32-33. If you skip two questions per passage but get the rest correct, it’s possible to get a score of 29-30.

Option 3: Do some passages faster than others

Take a moment before you begin the Reading test to glance at each of the four passages. Choose two to work first and plan to move quickly through them. Then choose two to spend more time on. If you play to your strengths (perhaps you’re good at Prose Fiction and Humanities but need more time on Natural Science and Social Science) you can increase your score by several points.

The bottom line

If you’re running out of time, racing through the test may actually be worse for your score than slowing down and maximizing the number of questions you get right out of questions that you attempt. A student who answers 30 questions correctly and bubbles in a random answer choice for 10 questions is going to score higher than a student who races through the test and finishes but only answers, say, 24 questions correctly.

When bubbling a random answer

If you know you’re going to have to bubble in a random answer due to running out of time, the best thing you can do from a statistical perspective is to choose an answer pair, such as C/H, and make that your choice for anything you need to answer randomly. Doing so will maximize your chances of picking up points from the questions you can’t answer in time.

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