Almost every student I ever work with finds themselves running out of time on the ACT reading section. It’s a pretty common problem, so you shouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself rushing, or needing an extra 5-10 minutes. The good news is that for most people, this is pretty easy to overcome, just by practicing, learning the pace of the test, and getting used to the style of questions. So if you’ve just starting preparing for the test (and by this, I mean that you’ve done less than 5 ACT reading practice sections under the 35 minute time limit), the advice I’m about to give is probably not for you. Before you go away and figure out which questions you should skip, do some more practice, and that may resolve your issue. If not, keep reading.
Some people advise all sorts of wild strategies like not reading the passage and going straight to the questions (I disagree!), or skipping one passage entirely (fine if you’re aiming for a score below 25) … none of those are great if you want to just fine tune your timing a little bit. I am not usually one to advocate for skipping questions, but recently, I’ve found that there is a certain type of question that can be skipped with very little consequence to you. If you’re looking to save 1-2 minutes and still score well, this is the strategy for you. The only disadvantage to this is that these questions are sometimes hard to classify, in terms of “type”. They don’t always use the same wording, so it can be hard to know quickly whether a question falls into this particular category. There also isn’t one on every test, so you can’t really rely on this as a failsafe timing strategy. It’s more like an extra boost to use if you need it.
So which question should I skip?
In short, you should skip questions that are about information that’s not in the passage. In short, anything that’s going to require you to skim the passage for some information that might not even be there. For example:
Ok, so that’s a silly question, and not really an ACT style one, but there’s three reasons why this question is time consuming to answer.
- In order to be sure about the answer to this question, you don’t just have to look for one thing in the passage, you have to find 3 things to choose the one that’s not in the passage! For other questions, once you find an answer that’s certainly right, you can ignore the other 3. But for this one, you need 3 answers to be fully correct before you can move on.
- You can spend a lot of time trying to find an answer that’s not really there! If you start off by skim reading for the word “shoes”, that might be the one that’s not mentioned. But if shoes are mentioned, but in a slightly different context, you could still be unsure and have to check the other choices.
- The phrasing of the question means that the answer could be anywhere in the passage! There are some questions that direct you to a specific part of the passage by identifying lines or a paragraph for you to look at. Others direct you to a part of the passage because they ask about the cause or explanation of something that you know is mentioned at a certain point in the passage. In short, you have less skimming to do. But for this type of question, the answer could be anywhere (or indeed nowhere!).
How to identify good questions to skip
Read the question, and try to figure out if you know where the answer is in the passage. If they tell you to look at line 30, then it’s obvious. If you remember reading the information at the beginning or end of the passage then that’s easy too. But if you think that you might have to skim the whole way through the passage more than once to eliminate answers one by one, it’s time to skip the question and move on!
What strategies work for skipping question for you? Comment below.