Last week I wrote about “triage”: a strategy that will help you to make the best use of your time on the test. This week, I’ll share a strategy called “the process of elimination” (POE). I’ll also talk about straight-up guessing on the ACT.
For more information on these and other strategies, see The Princeton Review’s Cracking the ACT guidebook!
No Penalty for Guessing
Imagine for a moment that you are a game show contestant. It’s the final, big deal of the day. The host asks you, “Do you want curtain number one, curtain number two, or curtain number three?” As you carefully weigh your options, the members of the audience are screaming out their suggestions, but you can bet there is one suggestion no one in the audience is going to shout at you.
“Skip the question!”
It wouldn’t make sense. You have a one-in-three shot of winning, and there is no penalty for guessing wrong. (Okay, you might have to cart home a lifetime supply of toilet paper.)
On the ACT, you don’t even have to worry about the toilet paper because there is no guessing penalty at all.
You Must Fill in an Answer for Every Single Question on the ACT
There are 215 questions on the ACT. If you went into the test room, filled out your name, and then went to sleep for the entire test, your composite score would be just about what you might expect: 0.
If, however, you went into the test room, filled out your name, went to sleep for most of the time, then woke up and picked answer choice (B) or (G) 215 times, your composite score would be a 12!
We would not recommend random guessing as an overall strategy (unless all you need is a 12, and that’s only the first percentile), but you can see that it is in your interest to guess on every question you either can’t answer or don’t get to in time.
Ah, but there’s guessing, and then there’s guessing.
How to Score Higher on the ACT
Try the following question:
1. What is the French word for “eggplant”?
What? You don’t know? Well then, you’d better make a random guess, right? (By the way, there are no questions about vegetables, French or otherwise, on the ACT. We’re just using this question to make a point.)
If you really don’t know the answer to a question, you should always guess. But before you choose an answer at random, take a look at the problem the way you would see it on the ACT.
1. What is the French word for “eggplant?”
- A. Macaroni
- B. Ham
- C. Aubergine
- D. Sushi
Suddenly the question looks a lot easier, doesn’t it? Because the ACT is a multiple-choice test, you don’t have to come up with the actual; answer—you just have to identify the correct one from among the four or five choices provided.
You may not have known the correct answer to the question above, but you certainly knew three answers that were incorrect.
The process of elimination (POE for short) enables you to make your guesses really count. Incorrect answer choices are often easier to spot than correct ones. Sometimes they are logically absurd; sometimes they are the opposite of the correct answer. If you find a wrong answer, eliminate it. While you will rarely be able to eliminate all of the incorrect answer choices, it is often possible to eliminate one or two, and each time you can eliminate an answer choice, your odds of guessing correctly get better.
Try another question.
1. What is the capital of Malawi?
- A. New York
- B. Lilongwe
- C. Paris
- D. Kinshasa
This time you could probably eliminate only two of the answer choices. However, that meant you were down to a fifty-fifty guess—much better than random guessing.
The Process of Elimination is a tremendously powerful tool. We at The Princeton Review use it often.
Letter of the Day
Which makes more sense—guessing the same letter every time or switching around? If you think you’re better off switching around, think again. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, you will pick up more points consistently if you always guess the same letter. Sure, you won’t get all of your random guesses correct, but you’ll get some points. On the contrary, if you vary your guess answer, you might get some correct, but you might miss all of them just as easily.
It doesn’t matter what letter you pick as your Letter of the Day. Contrary to popular opinion, you won’t get more questions right if you guess (C) rather than any other choice. Go crazy, guess (A) or (F) on the next ACT you take. Just be consistent.
Check IN next week for additional ACT strategies!