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5 Pacing Tips for the ACT Test

It's rare that high school students have to sit for a test that is over three hours, but the ACT is one of those situations. Here are 5 tips for navigating the stress of the fast-paced and 3 hour and 10 minute long test.

1. Get a Baseline ACT Score

Overall, LEAP does not recommend taking an official ACT "cold" to get a baseline, but instead recommends free diagnostic tests with an actual ACT test. We regularly offer these - see options here for both in-person and on-demand. This saves time - diagnostics have fewer logistics that add time to official testing - and money - an official ACT is $60. This also avoids having to submit less than stellar scores to the few colleges that require students to apply with all official ACT and SAT tests; these tend to be more selective schools.

LEAP diagnostic tests and practice in our prep program gives the opportunity for the student to identify on the bubble sheet if and when they run out of time on the test. By the way, our official strategy for this is to bubble in one column all the way down when 1 minute remaining is called in order to try to pick up a random extra point. 

By getting a baseline well in advance of official testing, you'll know if your student has a pacing or endurance problem to address with prep. 

2. Know the Test Format

LEAP's goal is no surprises on test day. Part of this is knowing and anticipating the test format. 

 Test Questions Minutes per Test
MATH 60 60


It is rare a student struggles to finish the English test even though it has the most questions.

3. Learn Strategies & Practice 

You might think the math test is easy...1 minute per question. That is not a great strategy. Some questions can be answered well under a minute while others take far longer. Students also need to know when their calculator may be a hindrance to their speed....step away from the calculator. 

Reading and science are common sections for students to struggle. While the calculation on the reading is 52.5 seconds per question, the student actually has to account for reading an approximately 800 word passage too. It's best to pace at 8.5 minutes per reading passage and the accompanying 10 questions.  Science is a bit trickier. 

Also, students may identify through their diagnostic and prep practice that they can move quickly through certain types of ACT passages while others are more challenging. It's best to tackle the area of strength first. 

Professional tutors have many different strategies to try on to see which works best for the individual student. Fortunately there's good news, identifying the right strategies then practicing them almost always resolves pacing issues. 

Finally, know when to move on. It's better to move on to a question you can answer then to waste precious moments or minutes struggling to answer a difficult question. The name of the game is to grab as many points as possible then go back and answer the more difficult questions. 

4. Build Endurance

Diagnostic and practice tests indicate possible endurance issues from both student feedback, "I was exhausted." "I couldn't stay focused that long." and seeing a trend where they start strong on the English and  go downhill from through the end of the test. 

Being sure to do TIMED practice on test sections AND full length tests is key to training for game day just like a marathon runner builds in short and long runs to prepare for the race. 

LEAP's DIY solution, ACT (and SAT) Perfect Practice is designed for this and we have this same strategy embedded in both our classes and 1:1 tutoring. 

5. Wear an Approved Watch

While online tests have a timer on the screen, pencil-to-paper tests rely on a test proctor to keep students informed which doesn't always happen. Wearing a non-smart watch is may be the way to go. To play it safe and abide by testing rules, LEAP advises to wear a good ole' fashioned analog watch so there's no question that it's approved. 

Ask for Help

Still have a pacing issue you've tried to resolve on your own? LEAP has a solution for you. Contact us to learn more


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