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ACT timing strategies that work

homerdoghomerdog 5324 replies100 threads Senior Member
Our D is in a pickle. After debriefing yesterday from her first official ACT test, she is now realizing that she really has the content down for the test but is just too slow. No, she doesn't need accommodations. She's just a slow worker. Back when she started prepping, she would give herself a little more time on practice tests since she just wanted to know if she could do the problems. She was scoring in the low 30s. Then, she started reviewing concepts and scores got a little higher (still giving herself just five or ten more minutes on each test).

When she started trying to just go faster while taking full practice tests, silly mistakes started to occur and her scores started to drop pretty much across the board although reading seemed to be ok.

My question is this. We've seen timing suggestions that involve jumping around the test for math and science. For math, I've seen suggestions to go in order but skip those you know will take longer than one minute and ones that you don't know how to do right away. Then go back to the beginning and do the rest but still only spend one minute per problem. If the problem is taking too long, either guess or leave it to come back to it. In science, we've heard to find the shorter or easier passages with fewer words and more graphs and do them first.

Has anyone had any success jumping around a test like this? D is very resistant but it's so frustrating when she feels like she knows how the do the problems but rushing is resulting in mistakes.

She's reviewed with College Panda Math, the Erica Metzler books, and For the Love of Science. She really feels like she knows the content. She took three full timed practice tests in the two weeks leading up to this test and was stuck around 30 when using the time constraints. So...she feels like all of the prep she did this summer was for nothing. She knows she can hit more like a 34 if she could get to all of the problems in time. She was just hoping that, on test day, she'd be able to pull out her best score yet her score on the October test was lower than any test she's taken so far. She's not sure how else to improve and I think she needs to consider some timing tips.

Anyone had success taking a test by jumping around or skipping questions and going back later?

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Replies to: ACT timing strategies that work

  • MamaBear2001MamaBear2001 97 replies4 threads Junior Member
    My S had this problem with the ACT math. He decided to take the SAT to see if it would be a better test. For math, it was. So my first question is, has your D taken a timed, practice SAT? She may do better on it.

    For my S, he did wind up doing better overall with the ACT, so he is sending both tests to show his better math score on the SAT.(even with the harsh scoring for that month-Aug, it was better than his ACT math)

    As for advice- dont let her practice with extra time. It is doing her a disservice. I also texted my S to ask him for advice and this is what he wrote-
    "Don't panic, and save questions that you know will take a long time for the end."
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 7804 replies65 threads Senior Member
    Science was the section that was giving my D timing problem. She ended up reading the questions/answers first and then skimmed over the charts/graphs to get the correct answer. She raised that section score 4 points.

    No skipping around though.


    She’s had math timing issues on other tests and says the key is doing as many practice problems as possible to get faster.

    FWIW, my D did timed practice tests with no wiggle room. She then poured over wrong answers after. IMO practicing with the right pace will help.
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  • homerdoghomerdog 5324 replies100 threads Senior Member
    Thanks @mamabear1234 she hasn’t practiced with extra time since June. She was just learning the ropes then and we were so excited that she seemed to be doing well on the test. Added in time to review concepts and then scores went up with just five or ten minutes of extra time. In August we knew it was time to speed up. Thought it wouldn’t be a huge problem. She’s fast enough on reading and English but math and science scores started dropping when she had to go faster.

    She tried the SAT but only once here at home for a practice test. The math was a bomb. She didn’t like how the questions were worded compared to the ACT which is so straightforward. Our S only took SAT so I’m pretty educated on it. I understand the differences. I am wondering now if she should have worked on figuring out the SAT math instead of deciding on going with ACT. But, when she was doing so well on the ACT questions, it didn’t make sense at the time to choose the SAT.

    Maybe she could relook at it just for an hour this weekend. We just thought moving faster on a test where she can get the questions right would be easier than it’s proved to be.

    She can also try your son’s advice. She never skips a questions. Dives in and tries to answer but does guess if she feels like it’s taking too long.
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  • homerdoghomerdog 5324 replies100 threads Senior Member
    @momofsenior1 thanks. That’s two votes so far on not skipping around on math. Lol.

    She’s done exactly as you suggest. Her last three practice tests were timed ...and had lower scores. She goes back and redoes the problems afterwards and can usually get the right answer then without looking at the official explanation. I even went back through all of the eight tests she took and circled the ones she got wrong and she redid those problems two days before the test. Score was still low. WAY lower than any test she’s taken.
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  • homerdoghomerdog 5324 replies100 threads Senior Member
    @mamabear1234 and @momofsenior1 - did your kids really keep an eye on the clock? How often? That’s something I’m not sure about. I’ll have to ask her if she’s watching the clock. Maybe too much? Maybe not enough?
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  • MamaBear2001MamaBear2001 97 replies4 threads Junior Member
    Actually, S is pro skipping, but not jumping around.
    He goes through it in order but if a question is starting to take too much time, or he knows it will, he will put an asterisk next to it, fill in a random bubble, then move to the next question. When he is done with all the questions, he starts at the first asterisk question, then the next asterisk and so forth.

    As far as looking at the clock, with practice exams, if he kept looking, he did horrible because he started rushing, and if he didnt look at all, he did bad because he took too long. He became somewhat aware after doing multiple timed exams of his timing, and always looked at how much time he had left when he was about to go over his skipped questions.
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  • wisteria100wisteria100 4234 replies47 threads Senior Member
    Advice we heard for the math section (and this is probably for kids who aren't looking for a 36 on math), is to spend no/little time on the problems you don't know how to do. You are actually better off guessing on those, then using up time to try to figure something out that you don't know. Use your time to make sure you answer the problems you do know how to do correctly, so that may mean double checking or using a little extra time on some you expect to get right to insure you lose no points on those.
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  • homerdoghomerdog 5324 replies100 threads Senior Member
    @wisteria100 thanks. I’ll have to ask D about that. Generally, there are maybe four-five questions where she doesn’t immediately know how to do them but she can figure them out. I’m guessing those take way too long. I’ll mention that strategy to her that maybe she should just skip the ones she’s not sure about right away.
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  • homerdoghomerdog 5324 replies100 threads Senior Member
    Honestly, I think part of this is also that it’s the two of us working out a plan and the mother/daughter thing is complicated. I wish she would just take ownership of it herself and do what she thinks she needs to do but she’s so busy at school and has very little time (no different than any other junior). She was hoping to study this summer, take Sept and Oct tests, and be done. That’s not happened and now I think I’m dealing with more than just figuring out strategy. Two of her friends barely studied and did really well. I need to figure out how to give her good advice and how to repair her psyche.
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  • homerdoghomerdog 5324 replies100 threads Senior Member
    Maybe getting her a tutor is the way to go. She needs a shift in how she’s been studying. I just don’t want to pay anyone who will start her from scratch. She’s done the whole ACT red book and four other tests too. She’s used some of the best materials for concept review. I guess I could start interviewing tutors and see if anyone’s willing to take her case (and able to convince me that they can help!)
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  • wisteria100wisteria100 4234 replies47 threads Senior Member
    I'm sure she is disappointed and probably doesn't help to have a brother who was one and done early in the game. But tell her compared to most juniors she is ahead of the game, as a lot of kids don't start testing until spring.
    And as for the kids that 'barely studied', perhaps that is just an exaggeration. Kids do like to exert a bit of swagger.
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  • taverngirltaverngirl 1080 replies29 threads Senior Member
    @homerdog I PMd you a recommended ACT tutor we used with great success.
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  • homerdoghomerdog 5324 replies100 threads Senior Member
    @wisteria100 yes. She’s having a hard time moving on from her plan that didn’t work - to study this summer and then take a few this fall and be done. She’s needs to get over it. She does have friends who are studying. It’s just frustrating for her as she’s not sure how to proceed at this point. That’s why I was asking about timing strategies to see if maybe that’s something she can work on. I have a call with a tutor this afternoon. Maybe we will try going that route at least to get her out of her funk.
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 7804 replies65 threads Senior Member
    D set a timer on her phone for every section. I know she broke down how many seconds she had per question at one point but she got fast enough that she always had time to spare (even science by the end) so stopped worrying about it.

    If she felt she was taking too long with any given question, she would also make an educated guess and then come back to that question at the end.


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  • mamaedefamiliamamaedefamilia 3499 replies24 threads Senior Member
    @homerdog. I would have your daughter circle back to the SAT and try again. I believe there are some strategies that can be learned to strip away the verbiage around the math problems if that is her main sticking point on that test.

    For my older D, she was adamant that the SAT was her test, after taking the PSAT and pre-ACT (PLAN?) at school. However, focused SAT test prep did not lead to meaningfully better scores. I asked her to try the ACT again and practice test results were encouraging. She had most difficulty with the science section (its curve can also be unforgiving) and using the ACT on line practice for that section (there was then a modest annual fee) did yield improvements.

    It can be frustrating when the test results don't match up with your child's academic abilities at school. I have found that this is often the case with deep thinkers who may overthink the test or are simply more methodical in their approach.
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  • homerdoghomerdog 5324 replies100 threads Senior Member
    @mamaedefamilia Yeah those crazy deep thinkers. I agree. S19 hated the ACT. Couldn't come close to finishing but did very well on the SAT. It can't hurt for D to circle back and look at it again. Unfortunately, she's still thinking about how the plan was to study this summer and be done by now. She may need a few days here to regroup after seeing her OCT ACT score. :(
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  • Darcy123Darcy123 328 replies6 threads Member
    edited November 13
    My D20 said she did the entire science section just by looking at the tables/figures - she had a 36 on that section. It was her first time with the ACT - their school uses SAT and so was only familiar with the PSAT/SAT format. She didn't prep other than doing one practice test the weekend before. Now she is a very, very fast reader and she may have exaggerated somewhat, but I do think that 90% of the answers are in the tables and figures and reading the passages are a giant waste of time. My S21 took the exact same test - same room, last October. He is extremely strong in math/science and totally bombed the science section as he bluntly said he ran out of time and skipped the entire last section. My daughter encouraged him to try again and not read the passages, but he picked the SAT and hasn't looked back.

    If your daughter is determined to stick with the ACT, I'd have her do a practice test without reading the science passages at all and see how it goes.
    edited November 13
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  • homerdoghomerdog 5324 replies100 threads Senior Member
    @Darcy123 yeah. She's already doing that. Finished on time. Bombed. She was getting 29-31 on science at home within the time constraints. Kids on Reddit said this science test was super easy and she thought it was too. Her score did not show that. It was the biggest disappointment overall. She thought she rocked it.
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  • Darcy123Darcy123 328 replies6 threads Member
    That's tough @homerdog I'm wondering in the ACT is just not for her. Is it possible she ended up making a misaligned answer sheet error that carried through the test? That happened to one of my kids in elementary school on a standardized test where the results were just horrifically bad - turned out about 3/4 through the test he bubbled the wrong line and then just bubbled wrong the rest of the test. I can't remember if you can receive your ACT answers, but perhaps that will identify if something just went haywire.
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  • homerdoghomerdog 5324 replies100 threads Senior Member
    @Darcy123 I heard the "curve" on the science section this time was brutal since it was an easier version. Who knows. The issue is mostly that, even under timed circumstances at home, she's getting more like a 30-31 on all sections with English and reading sometimes going as high as 34. Reading on this official test was the only one with an expected score. Everything else was mid-20s. She's definitely the kind of kid who gets 'in her head' about stuff so this is not helping. She keeps saying "but I studied all summer!!" and I really need her to just move on. For some kids, and it looks like this is her, it's not as easy to post the score you know you can get.

    I'm thinking of finding a tutor and staying with ACT for December sitting at least. See what happens. And then maybe move to SAT if it's really not working out. Gosh she is going to hate on that!!
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