Debunking ACT Myths Part 2

Published on Tuesday, January 30th, 2018 by

This post is the second of a two-part series on busting ACT myths. You can read the first post here.

Myth 5: Taking the ACT multiple times can harm your chances of getting into college.

This myth stems from the old practice many colleges and universities used to follow of averaging ACT scores. Nowadays, it’s very rare to see a school do this. In fact, the opposite trend of super-scoring—taking the highest individual subject test score to create a best-case composite ACT score—is on the rise.

Not only are students not penalized for taking the ACT multiple times, it’s actually to their advantage to take the test two, even three times. We strongly encourage you to help your students develop a game plan if they decide to do this: evidence has shown that although students are likely to improve in one of the subject tests, they are unlikely to raise their composite score on a second or third ACT test if they don’t prepare in the right way.

Myth 6: On the English test, read the passage entirely before answering questions.

This myth is perpetuated by the ACT itself: the instructions at the front of the English test suggest that students read the entire passage, then answer questions. This is very bad advice for two reasons:

  1. The English test has the fastest pace: roughly 35 seconds per question to finish within the allocated time. If students carefully read the entire passage first, they could reduce their pace to as little as 12 seconds per question. This is simply just not enough time.
  2. The questions are specifically organized to follow the order of the passage. Even the “big picture” editing questions are placed at the very end of the passage. That means there really is no benefit to reading the entire passage ahead of answering the questions.

Give your students much practice answering questions as they read the passage. When an underlined portion appears in the passage, they should finish the sentence (or paragraph if it feels necessary) and then answer the associated question. After answering, they should return to the passage and carry on.

Myth 7: You can’t use the process of elimination on the Math test.

The mentality of you either know it or you don’t severely limits students from performing their best on the Math test, especially those for whom math is not their best subject. Specifically practice a number of elimination techniques with your students. Here are just a few:

Partial Elimination: If students can only solve the first part of the problem, they can eliminate choices based on just that part. For example, if they can only figure the area of part of a figure, they can eliminate any choices that are equal to or less than the area they calculated.

Ballparking: Even if there isn’t a quick or obvious way to solve a problem, use the given information to make an educated guess. Say a question wants to know the missing value in an average. A student could estimate a possible range of values of the missing value based on the average and any other information in the passage.

Myth 8: Skip a passage (or two) on the Reading test.

This is really a half-myth. Through practice, students should experiment to see which method helps them finish the test in time and answer the most amount of questions correctly. Skipping passages may actually work for some of your students. It becomes a problem when it’s prescribed as the solution—especially to students who are scoring close to or below a 20 on the ACT.

The argument is that since students struggle to keep pace on Reading, it’s better time management to throw out two passages altogether. And if the student is aiming for a 20 on the Reading test, he or she only needs to answer just over half the questions correctly to achieve that score.

However, this strategy doesn’t work as a blanket solution because of how the ACT distributes difficulty on the Reading test. According to our research on over 200 million student responses on the ACT, the difficulty on the Reading test is non-uniform: there are both hard and easy questions on every passage. If students devote the time saved by skipping two passages on the hard questions in the remaining passages, they still tend to choose the incorrect answer.

On the other hand, if students spend less time on hard questions and more time answering the easy questions on every passage, they tend to score higher overall. This method is the perfect building block for achieving a higher score on Reading. As they improve their test-taking ability, all students have to do is work on answering more of the hard questions as they go along.

Myth 9: On the Science test, you need to read everything.

This myth can make or break a student’s performance on the ACT. While it is helpful to understand what is being described in each Science passage, most students don’t have enough time to read for comprehension. Worse, many get too caught up in the information in the passage that they overthink every question and answer choice.

The truth is closer to the opposite. If students practice skipping the text and answering as many questions as possible without reading it, they’ll find they have more time to find the answers to their questions, typically located in the charts and graphs. With enough exposure and practice, students will be able to tell the difference between when it’s essential to skip a passage and when they may need to skim to find useful information.


For more information on how to tackle the Science passages (as well as the other subject tests), be sure to attend our upcoming webinar on ACT tips by signing up here.

You can also email any questions to our Chief Academic Officer, Oliver Pope, at [email protected].