Hard ACT Test Questions: The Bandits of the ACT Test

On the path to a higher ACT score, there are evil bandits known as “Hard ACT Test Questions,” just lying in wait to ambush you. Overpowering you with confusion, difficulties, and frustrations, these level-10 test questions are the ones that your friends talk about in hushed tones after the ACT test:

“Did you see Math question number 59? Man, that thing was impossible….”

“That’s nothing, dude - the last Reading question about that Genetics passage was ridiculously hard… how were we supposed to get that?”

You can get a very good ACT score while missing most of the hardest questions. But if you want a great score - or even a perfect ACT score - then you’re going to have to confront and overpower these “hard question” bandits of the ACT test.

I’ve been in your shoes myself. I’m a professional ACT prep tutor with multiple perfect scores - and the only way to get a perfect score is to tackle the hard questions head-on.

In this guide to the hardest ACT test questions, I’m first going to explain what makes these questions so hard. Next we’ll cover some general strategies to deal with these hard questions, before breaking down each part of the ACT Test for some specific “hard question” tips for each section.

By the time we’re done you’ll have a much better idea of how hard questions work on the ACT test - leading you to more confidence and a much higher ACT score. And that means an easier time getting into college and setting your life on the right path!

Hope you’re as ready as I am, ’cause here we go!


What Are Hard ACT Test Questions?

So, what do I mean by “Hard ACT Test Questions,” and how can you recognize them?

Well, there’s a pretty basic test: if you give the question your best try, and you feel completely stumped and frustrated, then it counts as a “hard” question. We all have personal hard ACT questions (see below!)

But, there are some other common criteria as well. Hard ACT Test Questions may involve two or more of the following:

  • A confusing question (What’s it asking me to do??).
  • Challenging vocabulary words.
  • Multiple steps to solve the problem.
  • Advanced Math or Science topics.
  • “Trick answer” traps that are time-proven ways to trick high school students.

It’s rarely just one thing that makes an ACT question “hard.” Instead, it’s the layering of multiple pitfalls that leads to a giant challenge.

A confusing ACT question, with tough vocabulary words, that requires multiple steps to solve, and also has several “trick answers” - this is the perfect storm for a “Hard” ACT test question.


We All Have Personal Hard ACT Test Questions.

It’s important to realize and accept that each of us has different types of ACT Test questions that seem hard to us.

For example, you may be great at Geometry, but terrible at ACT Reading - while your best friend is great at Reading, but struggles with circles and triangles.

You and your friend might have a minor argument about which question is harder. You say the ACT Reading question is hard, and your best friend argues that the Geometry question is hard.

“No, no!” you exclaim. “Geometry is so easy! It’s the Reading that’s impossible on this dang test!”

“You’re crazy!” responds your friend. “Everyone knows the ACT Reading is super-easy and it’s the math that’s hard!”

So who’s right? Is the Geometry question the hard one? Or the Reading question?

Obviously, the answer is subjective (meaning, it depends on the person you ask).

Embrace this truth and accept your own personal weak spots on the ACT Test. By owning your weaknesses, you take the first step towards turning them into your strengths.


Move On From Hard ACT Test Questions, But Come Back.

Now, I truly believe most students give up too easily on hard ACT test questions.

And, most of this article will be about tips to get past the hardest questions on the test.

But, sometimes you just have to skip a hard ACT question and come back.

I don’t want you to give up on hard ACT questions too easily - BUT – I do want you to skip the hard questions at first and come back to them later.

The hard ACT test questions are worth the same points as the easy questions. It’s not like you get some extra bonus for answering the hard questions.

So, we should always use our limited time first on easy and medium ACT questions, skipping all the hard questions until the end.

Furthermore, you don’t want to lose “testing momentum.”

You know what I mean? That dark, depressing cycle as you stare at a hard ACT test question, getting more and more frustrated and stuck. You’re losing momentum, struggling with a hard question.

It doesn’t feel like you’re getting closer to the answer… in fact, the longer you think, the more confused you get.

Pretty soon all hope and energy is gone… your testing momentum slowed to a crawl.

Because easy questions are worth just as much as hard questions - and because we want to keep our testing momentum for as long as possible - we should always do the easy and medium questions first, and only then use our remaining time to work through the hardest ACT questions.


You May Have To Try Hard ACT Test Questions Many Times Without Giving Up.

The hardest questions on the ACT test will test your patience and resolve and may even make you feel a little anxious.

But, as long as you’ve already done the easy and medium questions, you should never give up.

Here’s one of the biggest differences I notice between myself (a perfect-score ACT tutor) and my students: I am willing to try a hard ACT question for far longer than most of my students are.

Maybe it’s just because I enjoy a challenge - but I will give the same hard ACT question three, four, even five tries before I give up.

Many times, I don’t even expect my first or second attempts to work. I know that my first attempts will probably not be perfect. Instead of hoping to get the answer on my first try, it’s more like I’m conducting a few experiments. I’m probing for a weakness in the question… and the only way to find a weakness is to try one attack after another.

By taking written notes as I work through a hard ACT question, I keep a record of my thoughts and attempts. I document what works, and what doesn’t work. Many ideas won’t take me where I need to go. But sometimes I’ll be “half right,” and I’ll start to recognize the pieces coming together. I may not have gotten the question yet, but at least I’ve taken a few steps towards being closer to the answer.

This persistence also serves to keep my testing momentum in a forward direction. The worst possible situation for a hard ACT question is to sit and stare at the paper. NO! I should keep my pencil moving, keep my mind humming. Even if I move in the wrong direction at first, at least I’m still moving and keeping my mind activated in problem-solving mode.

Take the ACT test like a perfect-scoring tutor, not like a frustrated teenager. Believe in the power of process. It’s the process of continuing to try with every ounce of brainpower that will finally get you to the right answer.

The old cliché, “Quitters never win,” applies perfectly. Dig in your heels, grab your pencil, and try anything you can think of. Expect to need three, four, or five tries before you get the answer. But you must keep trying, and know that you’re not alone. Many other students will struggle with the same question as you.

Be the last student to give up on the hard ACT test questions. That’s how you become the first student to get them right.


Believe In Yourself to Solve Hard ACT Test Questions!

Here’s some real talk: Whatever you believe you can or can’t do… you’re usually right.

In other words, if you believe you don’t have a prayer of getting these hard questions, then reality will reflect this: you’ll never get any of the hardest ACT test questions correct.

This applies to the hardest questions on the ACT Test just as surely as it applies to everything else in life.

Nothing great in life is achieved before someone believes they can achieve it. Could Batman save Gotham City if he believed he wasn’t the right superhero for the job? Could we put a man on the moon if we didn’t believe it was humanly possible?

Of course not. Learn to enjoy the challenge. Discover how good it feels to believe in yourself, and the power of your mind.

In fact, the hard questions on the ACT test can be a chance to develop your “self-belief” muscle. Use the ACT test as a chance to grow as a person… to believe and persevere!


Have A Personal Mission To Inspire You on Hard ACT Questions.

If you want the ultimate trick for dealing with hard ACT test questions, here it is:

Have a personal mission that you must complete. See how the ACT test connects to that mission. Then use your mission as fuel to inspire you to overcome the hardest ACT test questions (and the other challenges of high school).

For example, if your dream and mission is to “cure cancer,” then you must go to a top medical university. To be accepted to a top medical school, you need near-perfect ACT test scores. To get near-perfect ACT scores, you must correctly answer the majority of hard questions.

Or, if your mission is to make your parents proud of your education, then visualize how proud your family will be of your amazing ACT test score. To get that amazing score, you must handle the hard questions as well as the easy ones!

Your reasons can be more selfish, as well! “I want to afford a giant mansion on the beach someday, so I need to get into a top college” is a perfectly acceptable mission if it’s what you truly want.

Your mission just has to be honest and true to yourself. Otherwise it won’t inspire you to push through the hardest ACT questions.

When you start to doubt yourself, take a moment to daydream or journal about your mission. Let the vision flow through you and power you up to keep fighting.

By the way, one of the best tricks is to make your mission about helping other people who you care about. This makes it harder to let yourself off the hook for giving up too early.


Tips for Hard ACT English Questions: Punctuation and Editing.

The most common hard questions on the ACT English test come from the following three grammar topics:

  • Semicolons and Colons.
  • Rules of Commas and Independent / Dependent Clauses.
  • Adding, deleting, or moving sentences.

It’s relatively simple to master the first two rules. Check out my guide to the ACT English section for more ideas and tips, and get Erica Meltzer’s book on the ACT English section to study and practice with.

A little bit of review and practice should be enough to deal with semicolons, colons, and commas.

But, it can be tough to deal with the “adding, deleting, or moving sentences” questions - since these are unique to the ACT test.

Here’s what I do: I “diagram” any sentence that I’m asked to add, delete, or move.

I start with the sentence in question. Then I analyze the beginning of the sentence, and write a couple of key words for how that sentence starts. What is the beginning of the sentence about? I write this down on my paper.

Then I move to the end of the sentence. How does this sentence end, and what should come next? I form a hypothesis, and I also write this down.

This gives me a clear picture of what should happen right before and right after the sentence I’m studying.

Now I’m able to easily eliminate answer choices that don’t have the right beginnings or endings. It gets amazingly easy because only one answer choice (the correct one) will match both the beginning and the end of the sentence I’m looking at.

These types of ACT English question don’t have to be hard, yet it’s common for students to miss them.

The two key mistakes most students make on “adding, deleting, or moving sentences” questions in the ACT English are:

  • They use their “feelings,” not a dependable, repeatable method to analyze the sentence.
  • They only look at either the beginning or the end of the sentence - not both at once, like we should.

Practice makes perfect, so be sure to use this method on your homework and practice ACT tests before you apply it to the hardest questions on the official ACT test.


Tips for Hard ACT Math Questions: “How to Start?” and Careful Reading.

When it comes to the hardest questions on the ACT Math test, the majority of them will be at the end of the Math section. The ACT Math questions are given in order of difficulty, so it’s predictable that you’ll see the most challenging questions at the end.

Specifically, the ACT Math test has 60 questions, and questions 45 through 60 are usually the most challenging. So, you can predict when you’ll start hitting the really tough questions.

The most common issues on hard ACT Math questions are:

You’d be amazed how many students make their lives harder by not reading math questions carefully. Maybe they think that careful reading is only important in the ACT verbal sections, but they’re wrong.

Since math questions have fewer words than reading assignments, that means every word of a math question is even more important. It’s like a super-concentrated version of a big reading assignment.

Make sure you’re not missing key details or useful info buried in the words of the Math question.

The next big issue for students on hard ACT Math questions is not knowing how to start.

To tell the truth, you’re supposed to experience a process of feeling stuck, then having a breakthrough. A professional ACT prep tutor thinks it’s normal to feel totally stuck on a math question for a while, and have to try two or three different approaches before finding any success.

Yet most students believe that if they don’t know what to do right away, then they’ll never figure it out. NOT TRUE!

In addition to being prepared, my biggest tip for the hardest questions on the ACT Math test is to keep trying. The hard questions often seem impossible until something “clicks” in your head. But, the only way to generate that “click” is to try everything you can think of.

Instead of “I don’t think this will work,” think “This might not work, but let me try it anyway.” Write your work on paper to keep track of what you tried.

Taking action, no matter how unsure you are, will help jostle your memory and your “idea muscle.” Eventually, one idea will lead to another, and then to another, and you’ll strike gold. Once you know how to solve the math problem, you’ll wonder how you ever got stuck!

You only have to figure the question out once.

But, if you give up on the question (or if you just stare at the paper in despair), you will never see how it feels to get the hardest ACT Math questions on your own. (It feels great, by the way!)

Practice and preparation are key. You need to sharpen the tools in your math toolkit before you can experience these breakthroughs on the hardest ACT Math questions.

Check out my other tips for the ACT Math test for more ideas on how to prepare and get a stellar score!


Tips for Hard ACT Reading Questions: Finding Evidence and Tough Vocabulary.

What are the toughest parts about hard ACT Reading test questions? And, how can you overcome those difficult questions?

Well, the four major difficulties of ACT Reading Test can be summed up below:

  1. Challenging Reading Passages.
  2. Multi-step Questions.
  3. Complicated Answer Choices.
  4. Running Out of Time to Find Evidence.

The hardest ACT Reading questions simply come from a combination of those four difficulties. For example, you may be running out of time to find evidence in a challenging reading passage for a multi-step question with complicated answer choices.

To deal with difficulties 1 (hard passages) and 4 (running out of time to find evidence), you must simply become a better reader. This is something I’ve written about extensively in the past.

Get to Amazon, the bookstore, or a library, and start bulking up on challenging (but interesting) reading material. Set aside 20-30 minutes per day minimum and devote that time to free-reading and vocabulary building. Over time, your ACT Reading score will creep up. It’s not exactly fast, but it’s one of the few tricks that always works.

Dealing with difficulties 2 (multi-step questions) and 3 (complicated answer choices) requires a well-practiced, analytical approach to the ACT Reading questions and answer choices.

My personal methods are “Pre-Answering” (creating my own free-response answer first) and “Eliminating” (looking for answer choices that don’t work, instead of trying to find an answer that does work.)

When you’re dealing with a tough ACT Reading question, it’s best to create your own answer, instead of trying to pick between their choices. “Pre-answering” is a way of taking the initiative back. We know that the ACT will give us very crafty and tricky answer choices, so pre-answering is our way of getting the game back on our turf.

The best tricks to mastering the ACT Reading test are based on becoming a faster, better reader over the long-term. Combine that with hours of practice on official ACT Reading sections.

If you’re a strong, quick reader - with plenty of ACT Reading practice - you will get an excellent score.


Tips for Hard ACT Science Questions: Confusing Questions and Tiny Details.

To the untrained eye, the ACT Science section might seem to be one of the toughest sections of the ACT Test. But, good news: it’s actually not all that hard.

I’ve written extensively about how to get a higher score on the ACT Science section, so you might want to familiarize yourself with the basic concepts before heading onto the hardest questions.

But, even though most of the ACT Science is easier than it looks, there are still certain questions that qualify as harder than the rest.

Here are the four factors that contribute to the hardest ACT Science questions:

  1. Multi-step or wordy questions.
  2. Complex, two-part answer choices.
  3. Challenging or unfamiliar reading material.
  4. Running out of time to find supporting evidence.

In fact, the difficulties of the ACT Science test are very similar to those of the ACT Reading test. And the remedies are similar, as well.

Spend hours acquainting yourself with the ACT Science section. Learn how to do the easy and medium questions, so that you can recognize the truly difficult questions. Before you can ace this test, you must be closely familiar with it.

Then, use similar strategies as in the reading section: You can rewrite and paraphrase difficult questions in your own words for simplicity. “Pre-answering” and “Elimination” are still extremely effective.

Reading speed and skimming skills also are vital to the hardest ACT Science sections. Sometimes the hardest questions are only “hard” because we’re on a time limit.

Finally, keep your momentum up. Remember that you can always skip a question and come back. The ACT Science section is the second-to-last section of the test, so you’re in the home stretch. Check your work whenever possible, and get the easy and medium questions first.


Tips for Hard ACT Essay Questions: Blanking Out and Essay Prompts.

While some ACT Essay prompts will feel like a walk in the park, other prompts will feel like pulling teeth.

The hardest ACT Essay questions are the prompts that make you say “I have no idea what to write for this!!”

How does a pro ACT Tutor handle the hardest ACT Essay prompts? There are three main strategies, listed below:

  1. Experience and practice with ACT Essay prompts.
  2. A well-prepared essay-planning phase.
  3. Prepared evidence that you can re-use for different prompts.

Strategy #1 is self-explanatory. Get your hands on all the info about ACT Essays. Learn exactly what the prompts are, and the rules of the essay. Use the internet to dig up old ACT Essay prompts, and analyze them yourself. And of course, spend a few hours writing timed practice ACT Essays - there’s no substitute for actual timed practice.

Strategy #2 is pretty simple as well. Most students have a weak, muddled, or non-existent essay planning technique. So, once you understand the ACT Essay prompts, you should develop a personal plan of attack that you can re-use for every ACT Essay in the future. This includes the structure of your essay (5 paragraphs?), your introductory thesis paragraph and your conclusion, etc.

Strategy #3 is an advanced trick for students with experience. After a few ACT Essay prompts, you will start to notice patterns in what they ask, and how they ask it. Use those patterns, combined with your own personal interests, to come up with evidence  you can re-use on future ACT Essays.

There’s much more to learn about ACT Essay strategy, but these three tips are essential to acing the hardest ACT Essay prompts.


Handling Hard ACT Test Questions: Review

As you can tell, there’s a lot of effort that goes into besting the hardest ACT test questions.

Each of the five sections of the test presents its own style of “Hard Question.” And, students themselves will find major differences in what they consider to be “hard” on the ACT. It’s key to identify your own weak spots, and focus in on those sections of the ACT.

You also need to start *early* because it almost always takes a long time to develop your technique to overcome the hardest questions.

Keep a personal vision or exciting daydream ahead of you. Use your hopes and dreams for life as encouragement to beat these hard test questions. And, never give up! Persistence is key to victory.

Always remember - the easy ACT questions are worth just as many points as the hard questions. So, always prioritize accuracy on the easy questions, and always be willing to move on from a hard ACT question and come back to it later.

Most of all - practice makes perfect! Almost no one gets this stuff the first time they try it. If you want a high score on the ACT, you’re going to have to work for it - trust me.


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