Keep ITS Straight

Don't mix up it's (it is) with its (possessive pronoun) on the ACT and SAT. You may also see its' - don't be fooled! Its' does not exist!

Always Guess!

"NEVER leave blanks on these tests! If you do not know the answer, or are unsure, pick NO ERROR in the grammar section.  For the other sections pick a letter and use the same letter every time.  You are NOT penalized for wrong answers.

Short and Sweet

Often the shortest answer is the correct answer in the grammar (and reading) section. Remember: Shortest is sweetest! Long, flowery answers are attractive, but often make no sense.

Watch for commas!

Be observant of these pesky punctuation marks on the SAT (and ACT)! Two sentences can never be separated by a single comma.

Do Not be Afraid to Pick No Error

Do not be afraid to pick NO ERROR in the grammar sections. There will be sentences given that are indeed grammatically correct - so pick No Error if you can't find a mistake!

Zero or Two

Many times the answer to the comma questions contains zero or two commas. Not one! One comma will be the answer if the question is asking about an introductory phrase.

Look for Detail

In the grammar section, if a question asks the reader to add DETAIL, you often do not need to go back to the passage. Instead, look for the answer choice that is the most specific, descriptive and detail oriented.

Think Traditional

Paragraphs and passages on the ACT and SAT are organized in a traditional, straightforward way. Hence, with the rhetorical questions in the grammar section, focus on the placement of the thesis, topic sentences, details, and the concluding sentences.

Do Not Be Afraid to Pick No Change and Omit

Do not be afraid of picking "No Change" or "Omit" on the English section. These answers are correct 1 in 5 times.

Duo of Dashes

On the ACT, often a dash is correct if and only if there is a second dash immediately before or after it.

Confusing Colons

Colons can be used for a variety of reasons. Rather than memorizing all the colon rules, pick colons by default, if nothing else works! (The ACT likes answers containing colons.)

Shortest is Sweetest!

Redundancy is a major problem on the ACT. Eliminate repetitive wording by choosing the shortest answer

Skip the Context

The context questions usually require more thinking than the usage and mechanics questions. Skip the context questions and do them at the end of each passage! (There are 5 passages per English section.)

Who’s vs. Whose

Don't mix up who's (who is) with whose (possessive pronoun) on the ACT.

Simple Semicolons

The semicolon is grammatically the same as a period. Only choose a semicolon as the answer if it separates two complete sentences.

Use the Formula

"Don't let geometry trip you up on the SAT or ACT. Remember that geometric formulas are found on the website under KEY INFO.  Memorize this formula sheet! Refer back to the formula page for triangle problems, circle diagrams, etc. This tip is a MUST!

Saving Time on Math Questions

"A good trick to keep in mind on the math sections is to notice the answer choices. Lots of of times the answer choices are numbers listed in order. Try the middle number first! If it's too small, then you only have the 2 answer choices that are larger to try. If it's too big, then you only have the smaller answer choices to worry about."

Know When to Pick Numbers

Whenever you see variables in both the math question and answer, pick a number for each of the variables. Use your numbers to calculate a "target" number. Then go through the answer choices plugging in the chosen values for the variables and see which answer gives you the "target" number.

Pick Numbers

Rather than working with variables, try to pick numbers instead. Pick a number that is easy to work with, and use this number to solve the equation. Don't pick 0 or 1, though, because these may lead to some subtle problems.

Sketch it!

Draw diagrams in the math section. Visuals are the key to solving many geometry and trigonometry problems.

Work Backwards

This is a multiple choice test. Therefore, one- and only one- answer choice must be correct. Plug answers back into the equations presented in the questions whenever possible.

Know Yourself

Although pacing is important, spend the needed time and be sure to ace the first 30 questions. Don't stress if you run out of time and don't get to the last few questions.

Know Your Formulas

There are several must-know formulas for the ACT math section. Unlike the SAT, the ACT does not give you these formulas. Make sure to know all of your basic geometry area formulas, SOCAHTOA and Pythagorean, at a bare minimum.

Jump Around!

After the first 30 questions, the math gets increasingly difficult. But, typically the last few problems of the entire test are easier! Jump to the end and get those questions done!

Rely on your calculator

Use your calculator so that you avoid simple arithmetic errors. Push the buttons and get the answers!

Pace Yourself

The math section is in order of increasing difficulty. Strong math students should make sure to allow themselves enough time to finish the more difficult questions.

Bring Sucking Candy to the Test

"You need a pick-me-up during the reading sections. Get out of the ""fog"" by popping in a hard candy whenever you start a long reading passage. The hard candy will give your mouth a taste sensation and revive you during the reading. Studies show that sucking hard candy during a test increases scores!"

Take the middle road!

Words such as ALWAYS, NEVER, MUST, etc. are too extreme and will usually not be an answer in the reading section. Take the middle, less extreme road in the reading passages.

Read the Italics

In the SAT and ACT reading passages, ALWAYS read the italics above the passage first. Often students skip these few lines, but the italics at the beginning of a long reading passage indicate the main idea and the focus of the passage.

Love the BUT!

Thought-reversers - BUT, ALTHOUGH, YET, HOWEVER, etc. are KEYS to understanding the readings. Whenever you see a thought-reverser, STOP, circle the word, and underline what comes after this word. A thought-reverser changes the direction of a piece and qualifies (slightly changes) a main-idea. An answer is usually found directly following a thought-reverser.

Passage 1 Stands Alone!

In the double passages, always read Passage 1 first and answer the questions pertaining to Passage 1 before addressing/reading Passage 2. Treat both passages separately.

Last Lines!

The last sentence in the SAT and ACT is usually a KEY sentence. Always underline this sentence!

First Words

Focus on the first words in the reading comprehension questions. Often, your eye automatically skims over opening words such as Analyze, Illustrate, Describe, Qualify, etc. These first words are KEY to picking the correct answer, though. Think about what the first word means. For example, "analyze" means to look at something from two perspectives while "illustrate" means to create a picture. These first words have vastly different meanings and if thought about can lead you to the correct answer. So, STOP, and focus on first words in the question choices.

Think COST

For the narratives think COST as you read: Characterization, Overall, Structure, Tone. Quickly jot down the answers to these four things before addressing the questions.

Be a Hunter

You should be constantly thinking, constantly planning, and constantly questioning. Keep thinking, "What is this paragraph about, and what is the main point of this passage?" Many students like to read the conclusion first and then go back and skim the piece.

Skip Questions in the Readings

Skip EXCEPT and ordering/Roman numeral questions and answer these questions last. These questions take the longest and require scanning through the entire passage. Answering other questions will lead you to the answer for these types of questions.

Create a Road Map

Focus on first sentences. In the margins, write a one or two word main point for each paragraph. This strategy is perfect for a reading consisting of many short paragraphs.

Focus on Tone

Always keep in mind the tonality of a passage. Is it Positive? Negative? Sarcastic? Rely on tone when deciding between answers.

Focus on the details

The ACT reading is detail oriented. Try circling names, dates and places as you come across them in the passage so that you can quickly find them later.


Try the various reading strategies detailed under KEY INFO on the Student Homepage. See which strategy works best for you. You may not like them all, but try each strategy at least twice!

Notice Lines!

To save time, do line reference questions first! The answers should be in the lines given. Be sure to keep things in context though, and read a sentence before and a sentence after.

Put Things in Context

When a question refers to a specific line, always read before and after that line. Often, the answer is found in the CONTEXT rather than the REFERENCE.

Read out of order

You will always be presented with four long readings - Prose, Social Science, Humanities and Natural Science. You do not have to read the passages in the order presented! Start with your strongest, and end with your weakest!


"If you are having trouble focusing on a reading passage, underline the first sentence of each paragraph as you read. Skip most of the body paragraphs and focus on the introduction and conclusion of the piece. Use your pencil to stay engaged! Mark the passage up!"

Sometimes you need to Back-Track

Often in the ACT Science Section you skip the text and go straight to the questions. If you don't think there is enough information to answer a question, you need to go back to the text.

Mark it Up

Marking up the charts and graphs helps you avoid careless mistakes. Draw lines on your graphs and circle numbers in your charts.

Scavenger Hunt

The ACT science section does not test your understanding of science, but rather your ability to read charts and graphs.  The same type of charts and graphs on the SAT.  Look where the questions tell you to look and find what the questions ask you to find!

Write it Down

If you find a relationship between variables in the science section, write it down as it may save you time on future questions.

Data Questions

Mark up the graphs or tables extensively to find the information. Before you go back to the answer choices, have an answer in your mind that you are looking for.

Read Less

It is often best to skip the reading blurbs and focus only on the charts and graphs in a passage. Use the questions to guide your eyes.

Save the Fighting Scientists for Last

There will usually be one reading passage in the science section.  Skip the reading passage and save it for last - it usually takes longer.

Five Minute Science

Each science passage should take, on average, only 5 minutes to complete. Instilling this 5-minute pace is essential. Time every practice section you take!

Stay tuned for tips in this category.

Take the Time to Outline

"Take 2 - 5 minutes to jot an outline before you begin writing the SAT or ACT essay. The outline allows you to organize the direction you'll be taking - and the essay is graded on organization as well as ideas."   Having an outline will make the actual writing much easier and faster.

Do Not Write the Essay in Pen

If you write the SAT or ACT essay in pen your essay will not receive a score. Therefore, you MUST bring at least 5 sharpened pencils on test day and take the entire test in pencil!

Fill All Pages!

You're given three blank pages to fill on the SAT and ACT essay. Do just that: fill both pages with details, examples, and analysis. Studies have shown that the more you write, the higher your score! But remember, you can't go BEYOND the three pages!

Fill Two Pages!

Longer essays often score higher than shorter essays. Be sure to add development to your paragraphs by providing relevant examples and support of your claims.

Eliminate “you”!

Try to keep "you" and "I" out of the essay. When making claims, change to the more general "students" to sound mature.

Make an Outline

You must make a 5 minute outline before you begin writing. Organize your ideas so that you can present them clearly, logically and persuasively.

Shoot down the opposition!

You will attain a higher essay score if you bring up the opposing side's viewpoint and shoot it down.

Prove your point!

Include 3-4 distinct reasons that prove to the reader you are on the "right side" of the issue in question. Less than three ideas and your argument is weak; more than four ideas and you don't have time to develop each fully.

The Art of Persuasion!

This is a persuasive essay. You must choose a side and convince readers that your side is the "right" side!

Skip, skip, skip to my Lou

Do not be afraid to SKIP! If you do not know an answer, indicate on the answer sheet (a dot, a circle, any type of notation), and jump to the next question. Often, especially with the reading passages, the skipped answer will crystallize as you answer other questions. Go back and answer skipped questions after you have finished the other questions in the passage or you have finished the section.

Don’t Hit a Wall!

"Frustration and anxiety arise when you come to a tough question you cannot answer. It is important to SKIP this question and come back to it a few minutes later. As you take the test the brain develops a natural rhythm and what seemed impossible a few minutes ago might not be so impossible now. Nobody is watching you take this test - answer the questions in the order you want to answer them!"

Erase with Ease

Bring an extra eraser to the test. Erase carefully: neatness counts! If you don't have time to erase, draw a single line through your mistakes on the SAT or ACT essay. No scribbling!

No Mechanical Pencils

Although you can find #2 mechanical pencils, don't bring them to the test. They break, and you have to sit there clicking away waiting for the next piece of graphite. You don't need the added stress of mechanical pencils, so leave them at home.

Be Consistent

When bubbling in "guesses", always bubble the same letter. This increases the probability of guessing correctly.


Bring water to the test -- and drink it! Drinking water keeps your brain functioning fully.

Time it!

The ACT and SAT are time-intensive, and the timing of each section is essential. Make sure you bring a watch to the test and you pace yourself.

Suck on Candy!

Sucking on candy or chewing on gum keeps you activated throughout a long test. Don't forget to bring some sucking candy with you!

Chop Away

This is a multiple choice test. You won't always be able to immediately pick out the correct answer. However, you should be able to chop away at the wrong answers and whittle it down to the best choice.