Even if Math is your least-favorite subject, you can still ace the ACT Math test, through a combination of hard work—i.e., lots of practice tests—and the right problem-solving strategies. To help you improve your ACT Math score, I’ve listed a few of these strategies below.
To ace the Math test, you need to memorize those important equations and formulas, ditch your calculator and problem-solve step-by-step with pencil and paper, prioritize your time, and—as always—take lots and lots of practice tests before exam day.
More details on these Math test strategies below. For even more expert help on the Math test, consider taking an ACT prep course with Prep Expert.
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Write Out Your All Problem-Solving Steps
Do your problem-solving with pencil and paper, writing out all the steps as you work toward an answer.
If you’re a self-styled math whiz or addicted to your calculator, you might be in the habit of not writing in your exam booklet very much as you work your way through the Math test. However, writing out all your problem-solving steps will prevent you from making simple mistakes, like entering the wrong number into your calculator, or giving the answer for x when you’ve been asked for 2x.
This approach also leaves work for you to check, should you finish the test with time left and have the opportunity to look your answers over.
Use Your Calculator To Check Your Work
Don’t be dependent on your calculator for problem-solving—just use it to check your work.
As mentioned, with pencil and paper, you’ll solve problems with greater confidence, and thus complete the test with greater speed and accuracy. Your calculator is a great tool for checking your work, but if you use it as a substitute for detail-conscious, step-by-step problem-solving, it can be counterproductive.
Not to mention, there’s always the risk your battery dies in the middle of the exam—don’t set yourself up for this nightmare scenario!
Be Sure Your Calculator Is Allowed
Be sure you check the ACT website before the exam to ensure your calculator is permitted.
You won’t be able to use your smartphone as a calculator, nor are you allowed to use a calculator that makes noise. Most of the Texas Instruments (HI) calculators used in high school Math classes are allowed, but some of the more advanced versions might not be—so it’s best to double-check.
And, of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a backup battery for exam day—no exam-day surprises or crises needed!
Don’t Rush On Easy- and Medium-Level Difficulty Problems
All the problems on the Math test are worth the same number of points. Don’t rush on easy- and medium-level difficulty problems just to finish the test on time.
Many students think they have to finish the entire Math test before the allotted 60 minutes are up, without guessing on any questions. However, problems on the Math test get more advanced and difficult as you progress—leading these students to rush through the easier questions, so they have more time at the back end to tackle the tougher ones.
But there’s a problem with this strategy, particularly for students who aren’t strong in Math. Working too quickly at the beginning of the Math test can cause you to make a lot of simple mistakes—and thus get lots of questions wrong. Then—even though you have more time left at the end of the test—you get even more questions wrong because you’re not able to answer the more advanced problems correctly.
The sum total of this approach: lots of points lost.
A better approach, particularly if you’re looking for a big improvement in your Math test score, is to take your time at the beginning of the test, and make sure you answer as many of the first 40 problems correctly as you can. Remember: all the problems on the test, regardless of their difficulty, are worth the same number of points.
You should still have enough time to dig into some of the remaining 20 questions, but the last 10 questions are extremely difficult—and most students get them wrong anyway. So, if you’re gonna guess, you might as well guess on these ones.
Wear A Wristwatch To Keep Track Of Time
Wear a wristwatch to pace yourself and track your problem-solving progress.
If you’re hoping to get a 36 on the Math test, you’ve got to solve all of the problems correctly—which means you need to leave yourself enough time to finish. You should budget about 30 minutes, give or take a few minutes, to answer the first 40 questions, and 30 minutes to answer the last 20 questions.
While there will be a clock in the test center, and your proctor will make the occasional time announcements, I’ve found that it’s best to have a wristwatch to keep your own time. This way you can ensure you keep the right pace, and make the progress, you need to finish the test on time.
Skip Over Problems You Can’t Solve
If you haven’t made any progress on a problem after 10 seconds, circle it and move on.
If you’re baffled by a tricky problem and know only one step you can take—say, factoring, or combining like terms—take that step, and see if it opens the problem up for you. If it doesn’t, circle the problem number and move on.
Fixating on a vexing problem wastes precious time and can be extremely anxiety-provoking, dragging down your performance on the rest of the test.
Try Plugging The Answer Choices Back Into The Problem
If you’re stuck, try inserting the answer choices back into the problem and see if one of them works.
This trick doesn’t always work, but if it does—there’s your answer! When doing this, make sure to plug in all the answer choices, to be sure you haven’t made a mistake. Remember, this is something you should do as a last resort—because it’s so time-consuming, it’s not a great first problem-solving step.
Don’t Be Intimidated By Advanced Math Topics
Even if you have trouble with Math in school, you’ve probably already learned the most advanced topics covered in the ACT—with some solid studying, there’s no way you can’t handle ‘em.
The most advanced Math on the test is limited to some basic trigonometry problems. So, if you’re in Precalculus or higher-level Math now, you likely already have a good handle on all the Math you’ll need for the ACT. And, if you haven’t learned any trigonometry yet, there’s no need to worry—none of the concepts are too difficult to learn on your own.
Complete Lots Of Practice Tests
The more practice tests you complete before exam day, the higher you’ll score.
Even if you’re not so great at Math, if you take lots and lots of practice tests, you’ll acquire enough familiarity with the topics covered, and the best (and quickest) approaches to solving problems, to put yourself in a position to score a 36 on the test.
Of course, if you don’t like Math, the test will still be a slog, and there will always be a question or two here and there that proves particularly tricky. But, there’s truly no ceiling on your Math test score, regardless of how you’re doing right now, if you’re willing to work hard.
Consider Taking An ACT Prep Course
Prep Expert offers an ACT prep course and tutoring that will guarantee you a higher score.
Maybe your geometry teacher wasn’t so great, or you slacked off in algebra class, and now you’re struggling. If this is you, and you need to get a handle on Math concepts in short order, then a test prep class might be your best option. Prep Expert’s ACT prep course will review all the Math concepts you need to know for the test, as well as arm you with a variety of strategies and tips to tackle the exam and go for that 36.
Prep Expert’s courses, offered both in-person and online throughout the year, and in locations across the country, have helped thousands of students improve their ACT scores.
Prep Expert also offers one-on-one tutoring for those looking for more individualized help. And it has plenty of options to fit your busy schedule—online classes, for example, can be watched On Demand, so if you can’t make a lecture due to soccer practice or an upcoming Physics final, you can find your own time to watch.
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