Mistakes are a fact of life; we all make them. However, on tests like the ACT, mistakes are among the largest obstacles to students’ success. In fact, based on my experience, more points have been lost on the ACT as a result of careless errors or mistakes in planning than from any lack of academic understanding. Here are some of the most common mistakes students make in how they approach the ACT.
Mistake # 1: Rushing
Time management is, without question, one the toughest aspects of the ACT. The test is a sheer sprint with an average of less than one minute for each question. As a result, many students naturally try to adapt by rushing to complete every question as quickly as possible before moving on to the next one. Though it may seem counterintuitive, one of the best things students can do in this case is to slow down. Rushing is a surefire way to make careless errors and, in turn, leave valuable points on the table.
Mistake # 2: Getting Stuck on Tough Questions
While slowing down is important in order to avoid mistakes, there is also such a thing as moving too slowly. What’s worse, oftentimes when I’m reviewing a student’s homework or practice test, they will prefix a certain problem with “This question was so hard; I must have spent 2-3 minutes on it, and I still didn’t understand it.”. The issue with this isn’t necessarily just that the student took too long to answer the question; it’s that they invested that time into a question they knew they didn’t understand and were therefore unlikely to gain any points from. My rule of thumb: if you don’t understand a question within 15 seconds after reading it, it’s likely a good idea to consider moving on and coming back to it later, time permitting.
Mistake # 3: Leaving Answers Blank
Under absolutely no circumstances should a student ever leave any answer blank on the ACT. Every question on the exam is multiple choice, and there is no penalty for guessing (students gain points for correct answers but do not lose points for incorrect/omitted answers). This means that students have between a 20 and 25 percent chance of guessing the correct answer for any given question on the test — infinitely better than leaving a question blank and guaranteeing it will be marked as incorrect! Therefore, students should always bubble in an answer choice, even if they run out of time or don’t understand a question.
Mistake # 4: Not Reading the Full Question and/or Answer Choice
Common mistakes are common for a reason. Test-makers are excellent at recognizing the types of mistakes that students are most prone to and design a few questions on every test to highlight those potential errors, especially those that stem from misreading. Most, if not all, ACT tests contain at least a couple of questions which use phrases such as “which of the following does not support” or “all of the following would be acceptable except”; in addition to testing students on content, these questions also seem to test whether or not students are fully reading and understanding the questions. Many answer choices (especially on the Reading and Science sections) are similarly designed with mostly accurate information, only tarnished by one seemingly insignificant detail which ultimately makes the answer incorrect. In my experience, getting these types of questions wrong can be quite disheartening: it’s one thing to get a question wrong because you didn’t understand it or had a content deficiency, but it’s entirely different (and, in some ways, worse) to look back at a problem to find that you everything correctly…except answer the question. The key to avoiding this mistake is simple, though: read every question and answer choice fully and carefully.
Knowing what mistakes to look out for can be a huge advantage when preparing for the ACT. To learn more about common test prep errors and how to address them, please consider subscribing to our blog, or visit us at methodlearning.com to find out more about how we can help students succeed on the ACT, the SAT, and beyond!