5 Reasons Students Run out of Time on the ACT

Published on Friday, November 16th, 2018 by

ACT Chalk Talk #1

Too many students know the content tested on the ACT yet fail at time management. Every second is precious on this standardized test; one second wasted can mean lost points for your students. In extreme cases, time management can make the difference between a 15 and a 20 on the ACT. Here are the five most common time management mistakes on the ACT:

Mistake #1: Not having a pacing plan.

In every section of the ACT, especially Math where the difficulty steeply increases from beginning to end, there are questions that students can answer correctly near the back of the test—if they give themselves enough time. Students need to go into each section with a pacing plan that ensures they have time to consider every question. A pacing plan can be extremely simple, like “Spend 8 minutes on each Reading passage.” The key is that if the students follow it, they won’t have to blindly guess on the last ten questions and miss out on easy points.

Mistake #2: Not practicing the pacing plan.

“No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” It’s almost impossible for students to stick with a pacing plan unless they have practiced it repeatedly. The best way to do this is with mini-tests: small portions of the ACT timed at the target pace.

Mistake #3: Not planning your “skips.”

Students who don’t know how many questions they need to answer correctly to get their target score make every question a hill to die on, which destroys time management. The art of time management is in knowing how to quickly bail on a question that is too difficult. Easy questions and hard questions are both worth the same number of points. Students who know how many questions they can afford to skip in a given test section are better managers of their time.

Mistake #4: Getting sucked into black hole questions.

Students who have already wasted a minute on a too-difficult question are often reticent to move on. It’s the sunk-cost fallacy at work: They feel like they will lose their time investment if they don’t get to the right answer, so they waste more and more time trying to recoup their losses. If it takes more than a minute to answer a question and the solution is not clearly in sight, then students should guess and move on. Spending five minutes on one black hole question can devastate a student’s score.

Mistake #5: Not wearing a watch.

Most students aren’t comfortable with the typical analog clocks that appear in classrooms, and in any event they can be hard to read from the back of the room. Students need to wear a watch when they go to take their test, and they need to practice with it leading up to test day.


Want your students to improve their time management skills? The ACT Boot Camp helps your students avoid these time management pitfalls and gives your students dozens of strategies that level the playing field on test day.