Top 5 Tips for ACT Math

Albert Einstein said, “Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics, I assure you that mine are greater.”  While Einstein’s mathematical woes were weighty, the challenge of accurately completing 60 ACT math questions in 60 minutes appears equally serious to most test takers.

The ACT math section covers fundamental skills, algebra, geometry, and basic trigonometry.  The questions begin easier and become progressively harder as you work through the section.  Some students prefer the ACT math because it seems more like problems they see in school and tends to be less tricky that SAT questions.  But don’t be fooled, ACT math isn’t easy.

Here are 5 tips to improve your ACT math scores:

1.  Know your formulasYou will not be given any formulas on the test, so be sure to review area, circumference, triangles, and basic math equations you usually look up on the  SAT or other standardized tests.

2.  Plan for the 4 or 5 trig questions.  Students who are taking pre-calculus or trigonometry in school should be fine.  You need to know sin, cos, tan; the sin & cos curves; and the unit circle.  If you have not studied these topics in school, I’d suggest you “letter of the day” these questions and move onto problems you are more likely to get right.

3.  Remember it is multiple-choice math.  Before you begin long, complex calculations, look at the answer choices.  Could you test these five options by plugging them into the problem?  Can you eliminate some choices using estimation?  The answer is on the paper; you just need to find it.

4.  Bring an approved calculator.  ACT calculator rules are stricter than those for the SAT.  You may NOT use calculators with built-in computer algebra systems, cell phones, computers, or tablets. TI- 89s, TI-92s, HP 48GIIs, HP 40Gs, 49Gs or 50Gs are NOT permitted.  According to ACT, “using the TI-89 is the most common reason students are dismissed fro the ACT for prohibited calculator use.”  Make sure your calculator is permitted.

5.  Write it out.  Do not attempt to do all the math in your head.  I’m a math person by nature.  (Maybe you didn’t know this, but I was captain of my high school math team!) I understand how tempting it is to do all the calculations in your head.  You may be able to answer some of the easier questions at the beginning with no calculations, but by the time you reach the middle of the ACT math section, problems require multiple steps and students who write out at least part of the problem, earn higher scores.  Avoid careless errors, increase your accuracy, and improve your score by working problems in the test booklet.

Remember to apply strategies such as the “letter of the day” because accuracy and educated guessing are key to your ACT success.  As Paul R Halmos said, “”To be a scholar of mathematics you must be born with talent, insight, concentration, taste, luck, drive and the ability to visualize and guess.”

4 replies
  1. megan
    megan says:

    Thank you, Melodee. Sometimes thinking you are “bad at math” can undermine your performance on tests. I have a lot of students who have a mental block when it comes to math, but they eventually surprise themselves and open up to the idea that they can do well on the math section of the ACT or SAT.

    Reply
  2. Melodee Forbes
    Melodee Forbes says:

    Wow, I did not know you were captain of the math team! I hated math in school, and I struggled so much on tests. I remember loving Algebra and hating Geometry…does that tell you something about my brain? In regards to tip #4, I knew there was a reason that I preferred the SAT over the ACT.

    Good tips! I think tip #3 is my favorite… process of elimination, the answer is in front of you, you just have to find it!

    Reply
  3. Kristine Louis
    Kristine Louis says:

    Glad those days are over personally, but I now have a son entering high school and tips such as these will be very helpful to him in the future.

    Reply
    • megan
      megan says:

      Thank you, Kristine. A lot of high schools are encouraging 9th and 10th graders to take practice SAT and ACTs, so they will be ready to take the real tests as juniors.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *