how to answer experimental questions act sat

How to Answer Experimental Questions on ACT and SAT

May 22, 2021

Note: If you haven’t already, you may want to read, What (and Why) is the Experimental Section of the SAT, ACT, SSAT, and ISEE?

The ACT Section 5

Every student who takes the ACT test will see a 20-minute experimental section as their “5th” section. Only test-takers who qualify for extra time are exempt from the section. ACT test-takers will encounter the experimental section just after the Science section, but still before their 40-minute essay, an optional section that many students take. The experimental section can test any topic area but focuses on one subject specifically (English, Math, Reading, or Science). Some of our students have reported seeing a variety of difficulty levels represented in the ACT experimental questions.

Because the ACT is a speed test, particularly in the last two sections, students may be exhausted by the time they reach the fifth section. Despite their fatigue, after this section there is still one more to go for students who have opted to take the essay section.

ACT Experimental Questions
Always appear, except for students receiving special accommodations.
They’re the “5th Section”, after Science and before the Essay.
20 minutes in duration.
All questions are focused on one content area: English, Math, Reading, or Science.

What to do?

While students should take the experimental section seriously, they can relax a bit here. If they don’t complete the section in time, there is absolutely nothing to worry about; the section doesn’t get scored after all. Students should try their best on questions they do have a chance to attempt. If they are tired, they can certainly take small breaks between questions. Hopefully, this more relaxed approach can allow for some recuperation before the fast-paced essay ahead.

The SAT Experimental Section

The College Board gives a 20-minute experimental section to randomly selected groups of students who take the SAT. These questions appear as the “5th section” on the test, just after the calculator Math section.

While some College Board representatives have hinted over the years that the whole 5th multiple choice section only contains pretest items, in 2019, we asked the College Board for specifics and received slightly different information. Their official response was, “The SAT contains some questions that won’t be used to compute student scores. These questions may appear in any section. To give students the extra time to answer more questions, the tests include a fifth section with regular and pretest questions.

SAT Experimental Questions
Randomly assigned to students taking the test.
If your test has a 5th multiple choice section, a portion of your test contains “pretest” questions.
20 minutes in duration.
All questions are focused on one content area: Reading Comprehension, Writing & Language, or Mathematics.

What to do?

We recommend students give it their best effort here. Students should treat the experimental section as if it were any of the prior sections they encountered on the test. Perhaps the most important function of the experimental section is to guarantee fairness on the test across all demographic subgroups and the responses to these pretest questions provide key data points.

We hope this information is helpful and provides at least some relief from the stress of test-taking. We know that the testing and admissions process is often confusing and overwhelming. Please contact us if we can ever be of assistance.


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Sounds like a marketing survey ploy that did not get the students permission or compensate for their effort. Another scam to keep this organization relevant?

100% agree: I just took the SAT this morning and you can imagine my chagrin to see a “5th section” on the test. Literally how much worse can college board get.