The ACT doesn't penalize guessing, so you should never leave any answer blank even if you have to take a completely blind guess. Even with this information, students still make one huge mistake. Here we expose the biggest ACT guessing strategy mistake students make, and suggest a much better approach. We've seen students improve 1-2 points immediately after applying this 5-minute strategy.
The Biggest ACT Strategy Mistake
ACT takers already know not to leave any questions blank – after all, the ACT doesn't penalize guessing. But many students take this to mean that they should spend substantial time on each question. These mistaken students think, "if I have to answer all questions, doesn't it make sense to spend at least 20-30 seconds looking at each?" The answer is a big, fat NO.
Let me be clear: you have to give an answer for each question, but you DO NOT need to spend 20-30 seconds looking at each question. I am a strong advocate of blind guessing for many students on many types of questions.
First, What Is Blind Guessing?
Blind guessing is exactly what it sounds like -- guessing on a question without even reading it. Just filling in "C" or "G" at random. This might sound crazy, but for many students this is not a bad strategy.
How and Why to Use Blind Guessing
In particular, you should always blind guess when you encounter a problem way beyond your difficulty threshold. For example if you usually score a 15 on the math section, then most of the problems in the "hard" towards the end of the section will be way above your skill level. You get .20 points (in expectancy) just for blind guessing, which means you have a 1-in-5 chance of getting it right. And it takes 1 second!
Now, since these are hard questions, and you usually score a 15, it may take you 2 minutes just to understand each question, and another 2 minutes to eliminate a couple of answer choices. This is a really bad use of four minutes to just get .4 extra points (in expectancy). Besides, you may not even eliminate correctly.
Who Should Not Blind Guess: High Scorers
High scorers, those with above a 20 on all sections, should not be using Blind Guessing. That's because, to maximize their points, they need to be spending time trying all of the questions. In such a case, since you're reading and understanding all questions anyway, you might as well make a more educated guess by eliminating some answers.
When Everyone Should Not Blind Guess: Easy Questions
For easy questions (those toward the beginning of the section), everyone should be trying them -- even if you're a low scorer, these are the questions that will give you your baseline points. On these questions, blind guessing is a big no-no.
As a recap, a holistic ACT guessing strategy is made up of three parts:
1. Always answer all questions, even if it means blind guessing last minute. Never leave them blank!
2. If you read a question, make an educated guess by eliminating answers you think are wrong.
3. Do not spend time on all questions: for ones that you know are much too hard for you, intend to blind guess.
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Fred is co-founder of PrepScholar. He scored a perfect score on the SAT and is passionate about sharing information with aspiring students. Fred graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor's in Mathematics and a PhD in Economics.