The ACT: Ten Dumb Things You Can Do To Mess Up Your ACT

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Dec 21, 2011

Losing Concentration

When you're in the middle of an excruciatingly boring reading passage, the worst thing you can do is let your mind drift off to a more pleasant time (last night's date, last weekend's soccer game, the time that you stole your rival school's mascot and set it on the John in the principal's private bathroom — you get the point). Although visualization (picturing yourself doing something relaxing or fun) is a good stress-reduction technique to practice before the exam, it stinks when it comes to helping your ACT score during the test. Even if you have to pinch yourself to keep from falling asleep or flaking out, stay focused. The ACT is less than five hours of your life. You've probably had horrible blind dates that lasted longer than that and you managed to survive them. This, too, shall pass.

Panicking Over Time

Every section on the ACT begins with directions and a line that tells you exactly how many questions are in the section and, therefore, how many minutes you have per question The ACT is no big mystery. You can waste a lot of time and drive yourself crazy if you keep flipping pages and counting up how many more questions you have to do. You can do what you can do; that's all. Looking ahead and panicking are counterproductive and waste time.

Messing up Numbering on the Answer Grid

Suppose that you decide to postpone doing Question 11, hoping that inspiration will strike later. But now you accidentally put the answer to Question 12 in the blank for Question 11 and mess up all the numbers from that point on. After you answer Question 40 you suddenly realize that you just filled in Bubble Number 39 and have one bubble left - aaargh! Stroke City! It's easy to say, "Don't panic," but chances are that your blood pressure will go sky-high, especially when you eyeball the clock and see that only one minute remains.

If you have a good eraser with you (and you should), the wrong answers on the answer grid should take only a few seconds to erase. But how on earth are you going to re-solve all those problems and reread and reanswer all the questions? You're not you're going to thank your lucky stars that you bought this book and took the following advice: When you choose an answer, circle that answer in your test booklet first and then fill in the answer on the answer grid. Doing so takes you a mere nanosecond and helps you not only in this panic situation but also as you go back and double-check your work.


Rubbernecking is craning your neck around to see how everyone else is doing Forget those bozos. You have too much to do on your own to waste precious seconds checking out anyone else. You don't want to psych yourself out by noticing that the guy in front of you is done with his section and is leaning back whistling while you're still sweating away Maybe the guy in front of you is a complete moron and didn't notice that the booklet has yet another page of problems — so he did only half the section. After you have the exam booklet in front of you, don't look at anything but it and your watch until time is called.

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