ACT English: Pacing

The ACT English exam is one of the most difficult tests the ACT has to offer. This exam focuses on identifying and fixing grammar mistakes within passages, much like the SAT Writing’s “Improving Paragraphs” section. Each question will focus on one part of the passage and how to improve it. The test makers expect you to answer seventy-five questions in the span of 45 minutes, meaning you have less than a minute for each one, not enough time to be truly thorough.
Just as a marathoner takes a couple of long runs before the race, you need to sit down with the ACT English and practice taking the test, in order to gauge your readiness. During the practice test you need to simulate the conditions of the test, meaning you must eliminate all distractions, and you need to time yourself. This way you will begin to pace correctly. Since on average you are given thirty-six seconds per question, give yourself about three minutes for each five questions. The exam is split up into five passages and each passage has fifteen questions, so if you are moving on to new essays every nine minutes, you are in good shape.
On your first “long run” your goal should be to finish under the time limit. For each time trial after, make sure you are more thorough and more polished as you make your way to the finish line. Awareness of time is important, but do not let this be a distraction. If you are practiced enough, the time should come as second nature, you will know how fast you are working. Remember, unlike the SAT Reading Comprehension, the hard questions are never the last ones. This is more reason to be steady.
The ACT’s writers advise you to read the essay and then answer the questions. I agree but I will add that you should speed-read. That way you will understand the context of the passage without spending too much time on it. Be sure to read the questions before answering and make sure that they are asking what you think. Because you are in such a rush, you may think that each question is asking you to improve the sentence, but the questions will pose a variety of problems, including what answer choice would NOT work in the sentence. Always read a bit behind and after the part in question just so you are aware of the context. This is the moment the initial speed read comes in handy.
If you are strapped for time at the end of the test, don’t worry. It’s best to answer a string of questions correctly than guess on the rest. The ACT English is as much about good writing as it is about endurance, so strap your running flats on and let’s get pacing.