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ACT and SAT Test Prep: Test-Taking Strategies for Multiple-Choice Tests

Home » Blog » ACT and SAT Test Prep: Test-Taking Strategies for Multiple-Choice Tests

Thoroughly preparing for the SAT and/or ACT can be highly advantageous for students who are looking to continue their education after high school. A high score on either test can help students stand out on college applications, offset the impression of an imperfect GPA, and earn significant scholarship money. In order for students to reap these benefits, studying the subject areas early and consistently is a must. Additionally, they can further prepare to do well by familiarizing themselves with proven test-taking strategies that work with the format of the SAT and ACT.  

Both the SAT and ACT consist of mostly multiple-choice questions. The only section of the ACT that is not multiple-choice is the optional essay portion. For the SAT, 13 out of the 58 math questions require grid-in answers (i.e., student-produced responses), but the rest of the test consists of all multiple-choice questions. (The optional essay portion was recently dropped from the SAT.)

If you’re a student who wants to excel on your SAT/ACT, you can gain an academic edge by thoroughly studying the subject matter as well as learning trusted strategies for answering multiple-choice questions. 

Here are a few of those strategies to keep in mind as you develop your test prep strategy:

Budget Your Time Wisely

When you take multiple-choice tests that are timed, try not to dwell on questions that you find particularly difficult. Instead, skip the questions that you are unsure how to answer, and move on to the ones that you can easily solve. For both the SAT and the ACT, each correct answer will earn you one point, so it’s in your best interest to try and answer as many questions as you can before returning to the questions that you are less confident about. Pacing yourself strategically can help ensure that you complete each test section and earn as many points as possible. An SAT/ACT-approved watch or timer can help you keep track of time during your test.   

Try Your Best to Answer the Question on Your Own Before Looking at the Answer Choices

After you read a question, try to answer it yourself before looking at the answer choices. If you feel confident that you know the right answer based on your knowledge of the subject, you will be less likely to be distracted or confused by any of the answer options. If you see the answer that you came up with on your own in the list of options, it’s likely the right choice. 

That said, it’s still important to read through all of the answer choices even if you see the answer that you came up with. If you are able to recall the answer from your memory alone, there is a good chance that you are thinking of the correct answer. However, reading through all of the answer choices will help ensure that there is not a more applicable choice. If you see an option that also appears correct, re-reading the question can help ensure that you are accurately interpreting its meaning. 

Use the Process of Elimination 

If you come across a question to which you don’t know the answer, being able to recognize any answers that are incorrect can go a long way in leading you toward filling in the correct bubble. Eliminating the answers that you are certain are wrong narrows down your available options, and when you are able to reduce the amount of choices that you must decide between, you increase your odds of guessing correctly. Additionally, decreasing the number of answer options may help you reframe how you understand the question, and this new perspective can often make the correct answer more apparent.

Read Each Question Carefully 

When you are taking a timed test, it’s easy to feel pressured to rush through the questions, but skimming through the text can lead to careless mistakes. Instead, take a deep breath and read each question thoroughly and slowly. This will help ensure that you don’t overlook important words that are essential to accurately understanding the question, and it will also help you recognize clues that point to which answer is correct. 

Certain things to look out for include: 

  • Double negatives. When a sentence uses two negatives, it can be difficult to understand what it is trying to convey. When you come across instances of double negatives, try to reword the sentence to be more clear. For example, the sentence “I don’t have nowhere to go” can be translated as “I have somewhere to go.”
  • Absolute words. Words that convey extreme exclusivity or inclusivity (e.g., always, all,  never, none, etc.,) can completely change what the question is asking as well as how to view the answer options. Being mindful of the presence of these words will help you accurately understand the context of the question and be able to choose the best answer. 
  • True/false questions. Keep in mind that a statement can only be considered true if every part of it is true. If even a small part of the statement is inaccurate, it is considered false. 
  • Questions with “all of the above” listed as a possible answer option. If you are confident that two or more answer choices are correct, “all of the above” is most likely the right choice. However, if the question is asking for the best or most appropriate answer, one answer choice is often more applicable than the others. 
  • Consistent grammar use between the question and answer. While this is not a failsafe strategy, the correct answer option will often be written in a way that is grammatically consistent with the question, such as by using the same verb tense and demonstrating correct noun/pronoun agreement. 
  • Unfamiliar words. If you don’t know the meaning of a word that you encounter on the SAT/ACT, use context clues to determine the essence of what it conveys. Prefixes and suffixes, along with the content around the unfamiliar word, can provide helpful hints when you’re trying to understand the overall meaning of the text.

Don’t Assume Unstated Information Is Relevant

When you are having difficulty deciding on an answer, keep in mind that the answer should be based on the information stated on the test. If you have to assume that unstated conditions are present in order for the answer to work, it’s most likely incorrect. The answer should completely address the question without you having to guess whether or not other variables are at play. This can be helpful to keep in mind when more than one answer appears correct. 

Don’t Look for Patterns in Your Test Answers

Many students get nervous if they find themselves repeatedly penciling in the same bubble, but the presence of patterns on their answer sheets does not mean that they are answering any questions incorrectly. Answers for multiple choice tests are frequently generated randomly, so if you find yourself filling in the “B” bubble a few times in a row, don’t panic or assume you’ve made a mistake. 

Take SAT and ACT Practice Tests

Taking a practice test is one of the best ways to prepare for any test, and this sentiment easily applies when studying for the SAT/ACT. Taking a practice test allows you to establish a baseline score, which you can use to make your test prep strategy more efficient. Doing so will also allow you to practice these test-taking strategies on a test that is identical to the official version you will be taking in the future. There are many free practice tests that you can find online, and you can also look for an officially proctored practice test if you’d like to reap the advantage of practicing in conditions that mimic the real SAT/ACT experience. 

Closing Up

Hopefully these strategies for acing multiple-choice tests will help you on your journey to preparing for the SAT/ACT. Having a solid grasp on the relevant subject matter plays an important role in doing well, but learning effective tactics that work specifically for this test format can also go a long way in securing success when you encounter difficult questions. If you take the time to consistently study the material and familiarize yourself with these strategies, you should have no problem earning a high score on your SAT/ACT as well as on any multiple-choice tests that you encounter in the future. Good luck!

Take an SAT or ACT Test Prep Course With CollegeDrive!

Taking an ACT or SAT test prep course with the experts at CollegeDrive is an excellent way for you to develop a test prep strategy that will help you earn your ideal test score. Our instructors understand both the SAT and the ACT inside and out, and this extensive knowledge and experience has allowed them to help countless students excel on these tests and beyond. In addition to being experts on the test subject matter, our instructors are also able to provide students with test-taking strategies that are specific to each portion of the SAT and ACT.  

Whether you’re looking to take an SAT or ACT practice test, enroll in a test prep course, or find a private SAT/ACT tutor, we can help. Enroll in one of our classes today, or get in touch with any questions you may have. We are here to help you reach your academic goals!


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