The Homestretch: Effective Test Prep for the Final Hours

Published on Thursday, February 8th, 2018 by


It’s never too late to provide students with meaningful test prep and encouragement. Even with only a week left before their test, there’s still room to see substantial growth and preparation. Here are some helpful tips to teach students in the days leading up to the ACT.


Students can master these test-taking tips before test day:

  • Never leave an answer blank: Students are not penalized for wrong answers, so they should always make sure to fill in every answer, even if they don’t have a good guess. By filling in an answer for every question, they can increase their chance of earning free points.
  • Mark and move: Students often skip questions to come back to later. This can cause answer sheet errors and rushed, blind guessing. Instead of skipping questions, students should make their best guess immediately. They can mark the question in the test booklet to come back to if they have extra time at the end. If students are already working on not leaving any question blank, mark and move tilts the guessing game in their favor.
  • Use the process of elimination: In order to make their best guess right away, students should learn how to eliminate wrong answers. By reducing the number of options, they increase their chances they will guess correctly. This makes students far more likely to earn points than through blind guessing. It also helps them mark and move effectively. If students come across a question without an immediately obvious answer, they should automatically switch gears to crossing out answers they know are wrong. Sometimes, students can eliminate all the way down to a correct answer!
  • Go with your gut: Many times, students change answers because they are overthinking or doubting themselves. However, they should never change a guess to another guess. They should only change an answer when they are certain their new choice is correct. Your students’ first guesses are usually their best guesses.


Make sure your students understand how important it is to pace themselves. This means they put their eyes and brain to work on every question on the test, rather than making it halfway through a section and bubbling C all the way down the remaining questions when time is called. Keeping a consistent pace is one of the best ways to ensure students get a chance to try every question within their knowledge and skillset on the test. The only way to do this is by paying attention to the time and by being intentional about progress through the test. Teach students to keep the following paces:

  • English: 8 minutes per passage
  • Math: 1 minute per question*
  • Reading: 8 minutes per passage
  • Science: 5 minutes per passage

*Advanced students should aim to move through the first half of the Math test more quickly, leaving extra time for more challenging questions at the end. We recommend allotting 20 minutes for the first 30 questions and 40 minutes for the second 30 questions.

Before the test

Rest and well being are crucial to test performance. All the test prep in the world can easily be undermined by exhaustion and anxiety. Help students plan to do the following:

  • Get enough sleep: This goes for not only the night before but also the entire week of the test.
  • Eat well: A high-protein, low-sugar breakfast will improve student energy and focus.
  • Bring a snack on test day: Protein bars work great. Avoid sugar and junk food. A bottle of water is a good idea, too. Students can have their snack during the break between the Math and Reading section of the test.
  • Be careful about caffeine: Students don’t want to overdo it the morning of the test. While some caffeine can help with concentration and energy, too much can make them anxious, shaky, and distracted.
  • Reduce distractions: This habit is tough to break with students, but avoiding social media and electronics may help students reduce anxiety and improve ambition and focus for the test.

It’s never too late to make a difference in a student’s test prep plan. Instill in them the important strategies above so they tackle the ACT with confidence.