When and How to Guess on the ACT

Published on Tuesday, December 18th, 2018 by

ACT Chalk Talk #5

In a perfect world, students cruise through every ACT question with no problem, solve every issue they run into, and finish with plenty of time to spare. In a perfect world. But in the real world of standardized tests, students get stuck, and they need a game plan to know when to guess, and how to guess.

On a multiple-choice test, it’s the best guesser who wins. Here are a few winning guessing strategies that have made the difference. Students should only use these strategies when they are running out time and they have been unable to make any eliminations. These strategies can greatly improve blind guesses, but they’re never a substitute to actually working out the answer to the question.

1: Popularity contest.

On the ACT Math test, the correct answer often has other answer choices that look similar to it. This is because the test writers are trying to catch students who make careless errors. All things being equal, students should select a choice that is popular, that looks similar to other answer choices.

2: Use the figures.

The math test carries the warning, “Illustrative figures not necessarily drawn to scale,” but students should still rely on the figures while guessing. They can use the corner of their paper to compare angles to 90 degrees, and their pencil can act as a ruler to compare lengths (marking the length by placing the tip of the pencil where the line begins and their thumb where the line ends).

3: Short and sweet.

In English, it’s better to guess the shortest answer than the longest answer. Deleting a word or phrase is even better.

4: When in doubt, commas out.

The best guess in English tends to have the least number of commas.

5: Avoid extremes.

When guessing on the Reading test, avoid extreme or categorical statements or strong emotions.

6: Column counting.

Throughout the whole test, there tends to be a balance between the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth bubbles being correct. So if you are blindly guessing, go with the bubble that belongs to the emptiest column on the bubble sheet.