This one thing can help students get a higher ACT, SAT score

Kreigh Knerr is a test-preparation tutor, author of “Tips from the Top: A Tutor to the 1% Reveals His Tricks” and creator of two test-prep apps, QuotEd Reading Comprehension and QuotEd ACT Science

When students are preparing for their ACTs and SATs, they often ignore the most important thing: efficiency. I define efficiency as the number of questions a student selects the best answer for out of however many questions are seen.

Students almost universally think they need to see every single question in order to perform well on their ACT or SAT. The crazy part is that they don’t. What they need is to be more efficient with the questions they do see.

Take the reading section of the ACT’s 2016-2017 official practice test for an example. The “game day” pace is eight minutes and forty-five seconds per passage, including bubbling in your answers. Suppose you work through the entire section at that swift pace and bag 50 percent of the questions (20 out of 40). On this ACT, that would land you a Reading score of a 20.

» Explore The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's interactive guide to Georgia schools here

Now suppose you focused instead on your efficiency. Let’s say your pace is 10 minutes per passage and you bag nine out of every 10 questions: That’s 27 of the 40 questions in 30 minutes, with five minutes to spare. Even with only 27 answers right, a rare case of extremely bad luck, we would land a reading score of 24 on this ACT.

That also means your overall ACT score would be 1 point higher, just from focusing on efficiency!

For the self-studier, focusing on efficiency can be key to making improvements. Most students, though, simply focus on going faster or getting to the harder questions at the expense of the easier questions.

One incredibly destructive myth about the ACT and SAT is that the tests give more points for harder questions. They don’t!

Thus, improving your score is often as simple as making certain that you don’t miss any easy questions. That is, improving your efficiency. Don’t try for hero points by getting all the hard questions when it’s costing you the easy ones. Unless you’re capable of scoring perfectly on an ACT or SAT, you don’t need to worry about the very hardest questions. Look at the ACT and SAT’s conversion tables and see how many questions you need to bag to reach the score you want. Odds are that your desired score won’t require you to see every single question on the test.

» Look up which school in your district has the highest SAT score here

Even if you are seeing every question on the test, though, an understanding of your efficiency can benefit you in other ways. Let's say you're taking the PSAT or SAT this October. On the Reading Test, you'll always have "One passage or a pair of passages from either a U.S. founding document or a text in the great global conversation they inspired." Guess what, most students stink at this portion of the Reading Test.

Maybe you’re a student who likes science. Great news! The SAT and PSAT will also always have two reading passages on science. If you’re good at science passages, though, and you end up bogged down on the U.S. founding document/great global conversation passage of death, you may find yourself rushed or barely seeing the one of the two sections you’re the best at. On the Reading Test, don’t kill yourself on a passage you aren’t as strong on.

So how should you handle your worst passage(s)? Save them for last. Do the passages you can do the fastest and most efficiently first. Save your worst for last.