Here’s a cautionary tale for those of you who don’t have trouble finishing ACT Reading on time.

One of my students who had been doing quite well (around a 30) on ACT Reading suddenly started to see his score drop down into the low 20s. I wasn’t hugely concerned; it was finals week, he was stressed and exhausted, and it was normal for him to be less focused.

Nevertheless, I asked him to do a passage while I watched, just so I could see how he was working through things. I didn’t time him, but after maybe four or five minutes, he got convinced that he was running so far behind that it would be impossible for him to recover.

When I looked at the wrong answers he was choosing, they all seemed to be of the “half-right half-wrong” variety. It occurred to me that he was freaking himself about time, then rushing and missing questions he would have gotten right had he just spent a little bit more time on them.

So I asked him to try an experiment: I would time him on a passage, but I also wanted him to completely forget about time — even go a bit more slowly than normal — and just work carefully. Not only did he did he finish with 45 seconds to spare, but he also got every single question right. He was shocked.

So the moral of the story is: don’t rush. Even if you feel like you’re running out of time, you might not actually be doing so. Perception is not necessarily reality. It’s more important to work carefully and not get through all the questions than to get through all of the questions and get a lot of them wrong.

The ACT Reading curve is huge. Huge. Even if you don’t get to finish the last couple of questions, you can still get a score well above 30. You’re better off leaving a few questions blank and ending up with a 32 than you are trying to answer everything in pursuit of a 36 and ending up with a 28.