What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Common ACT Mistakes

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You’ve practiced and prepped, but when it comes time to take the ACT, it can be difficult to remember everything you need to do. Don’t panic! CollegeVine has plenty of advice how how to keep your cool. Read on for tips on common mistakes to avoid, and check out our guides to the ACT for more help with the test.


Common Overall Mistakes


  • Rushing. You’re more likely to make errors if you rush through the test. Take plenty of practice tests so you know relatively how long it takes you to finish each section. If you’re worried you won’t have enough time, answer the easier questions first, and then go back and respond to the rest.


  • Not filling in answer bubbles. There’s no guessing penalty on the ACT, so you should answer every question. If you do end up skipping questions, make a careful notation in your test booklet so you can return to the question later, and be sure to skip the row on your answer sheet. Keep an eye on the time so you know how much time you have to return to unanswered questions at the end. If it looks like you’re running out, guess on the questions you don’t know.


Common English Test Mistakes


  • Avoiding the “No Change/Error” option. Sometimes it’s the correct choice!


  • Not reading the entire sentence. Make sure to read the sentence twice to catch any errors you may have overlooked.


  • Answering questions on the entire passage too soon. Read the whole passage in its entirety before answering any questions.


For other tips, check out 4 Common Mistakes to Avoid on Your English ACT.


Common Math Mistakes


  • Not answering the right question. As we discussed earlier, if you skip questions, make sure to make a notation in your booklet and skip the question on your answer sheet. Note the question number and answer sheet number every time, and double check to make sure they line up correctly. You could also answer questions in your booklet before filling them in on your answer sheet to avoid making this type of error. However, if you’re worried about time, that may not be the best strategy for you.


  • Not using your calculator enough. You probably don’t need to use your calculator for every question—that might slow you down—but checking your answers with a calculator is a good idea. Be very careful when using your calculator, because some answers may reflect common calculator errors. Always double check. Also make sure your calculator is approved by the ACT.


  • Not writing down your work. When you go back to double check your answers, having your work written down will allow you to check for errors, rather than having to do the entire problem again. Writing down your work will also keep you from rushing or doing the problem too quickly and will help you avoid careless errors.


For other tips, check out 5 ACT Math Mistakes to Avoid.

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Common Reading Mistakes


  • Only reading the passage once. Reading is reading comprehension. If you’re a quick reader, skim the passage once. Then try to slow down on your second read-through to make sure you’re reading carefully and understanding the passage. While it may be tempting to skim the text and then go back to read certain sentences relevant to particular questions, keep in mind a question pointing to a specific sentence often requires you to understand the entire passage.


  • Inferring too much. The correct answer will reflect exactly what the passage says. Don’t assume any knowledge that isn’t written. An answer choice might be too specific and reflect a common assumption, and therefore be designed to trick you.


  • Not noticing transitions. You should catch transitions when you do your second reading. They can be easy to miss, and an answer choice may reflect that error. For instance, a question may ask which person/character/object/place matches a particular characterization, and if you’ve missed a transition, it’s easy to select the wrong answer.


Common Science Mistakes


  • Mixing up labels and data. The science section requires reading comprehension skills; read to read all passages and visual data (graphs, pictograms, and so on) carefully so you understand what everything means.


  • Not noticing NOT/EXCEPT in questions. One strategy to avoid making this error is to fill in every answer option in the blank (in your mind). If two or more work, then you know you’ve read the question incorrectly.


Common Essay Mistakes


  • Not addressing each perspective. You’re going to ultimately argue one perspective (which could be a combination of the ones provided, none of them, or one in particular), but you still need to acknowledge the other arguments provided and offer counterarguments to them to bolster your own argument.


  • Not having an argument. While you don’t need to fully agree or disagree with any one argument provided, you do need to have a solid argument. What you say is less important than how you say it, so make sure your argument is clearly defined and stated.


  • Straying too far from the question. Staying on topic is critical. No matter how refined your writing skills are, if you’re not addressing the question, you won’t achieve a top score. You can (and should) use examples, but make sure they support your argument and that the argument directly addresses the question itself.


Check out 5 Tips to score a 12 on Your SAT Essay for more advice.


The Takeaway


Taking the ACT is different from preparing for it. Don’t let your nerves get the best of you. Keeping common mistakes in mind will help you ensure that you don’t make them.


For more tips on acing the ACT, check out these posts:


A Guide to the English Section of the ACT

A Guide to the Math Section of the ACT

A Guide to the Science Section of the ACT

A Guide to the Reading Section of the ACT

A Guide to the Optional ACT Writing Section


Want to know how your ACT score impacts your chances of acceptance to your dream schools? Our free Chancing Engine will not only help you predict your odds, but also let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and which aspects of your profile to improve. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to gain access to our Chancing Engine and get a jumpstart on your college strategy!

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.