I don’t know about you, but scratch paper is really useful for me when I’m working through a test. You might know that you’re not allowed to bring paper or notebooks in with you when you take the ACT - you also won't get scratch paper. But are you allowed to write on the ACT test booklet?
The short answer is yes, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Here, I’ll go through exactly when and why you’re allowed to write on the booklet. Then, I’ll tell you how you can use the ACT booklet to your advantage by taking the most effective notes possible.
Can You Write in the ACT Booklet?
As I mentioned above, you are allowed to write in the ACT test booklet. You can write all over it, in fact - anything you want.
The real question is what should you write? Here’s what you should know before you go to town on that ACT test book.
You Can Write Wherever You'd Like
Any free space you see is yours to use. There are no limitations - you won’t be penalized for writing on any of the test pages. Since you won't receive scratch paper, this booklet will be the only place for you to take notes or work through problems.
But Nothing You Write in the ACT Test Booklet Will Be Graded
Graders won’t even see your test booklet. This is great if you need to scratch out some notes that no one will understand but you. This is not great if you only record a response in your test booklet and forget to transfer it to the answer sheet.
- Quick tip: You might find it helpful to work through a section just on your test booklet before transferring all your answers to the response sheet at the end. Most students actually save time by bubbling in all their responses after finishing the questions. Worried about timing? Check out our guide to budgeting your time on the ACT.
How Do You Use the ACT Booklet Effectively?
A pristine ACT test booklet is a sad test booklet. Here are the best ways to use this de facto scratch paper to your own advantage.
It's the only scratch paper you'll get, so you might as well use it wisely.
Use Notes to Engage With Reading Passages
Something I see a lot of students struggle with is staying focused while reading passage after passage. This goes for the science section as well. You may end up wasting time if you get distracted and have to re-read passages or sections of passages multiple times.
Actively reading - taking notes and engaging with the passage the first time you read it - may help you save time. If you understand the passage better the first time you go over it, you won’t have to go back and re-read as often. This gives you more time to focus on the questions.
Here are some active reading strategies I like to use:
- Underline topic sentences and thesis sentences
- Circle key terms
- Take notes in the margins alongside each paragraph (just a few words summarizing the main point)
Work Through Math Problems (Especially Word Problems)
When you have to keep track of several variables, writing down your thought process will keep you from getting confused.
You should also mark up geometry diagrams with information that’s provided to you! This is especially helpful when figures are not drawn to scale.
Mark Up Your Answer Choices
You know that only one of the answer choices can be correct. If you use the process of elimination, get a visual of your thought process by crossing off the answers you know to be incorrect (this saves you time if you come back to the question later).
Speaking of coming back to questions later … it’s a great time management strategy if you’re taking too long on a particular problem. Circle those difficult time-suck questions, so you find them again quickly once you've worked through the rest of the section.
Don't Waste Your Time Writing Things That Won't Help Your Score
Don’t worry about explaining your answers (I know it’s a force of habit for many students). There are no points for showing your work.
If you're bored, try not to doodle! Extra time at the end of a section should be used to review your answers.
Can You Write in the ACT Booklet: The Short Answer
Yes, you can write all over the ACT test booklet. In fact, writing on the ACT booklet can help you work through many of the problems on the test.
Just remember that nothing you write (outside of the bubbles on the answer sheet) will be graded, and you’ll be good to go!
There's a lot more to learn about preparing for ACT test day! You can start by taking care of logistical concerns (and taking care of yourself) the night before the ACT. Learn about exactly what to expect the day of the test and how you should prepare.
Want to improve your ACT score by 4+ points? Download our free guide to the top 5 strategies you need in your prep to improve your ACT score dramatically.
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Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.