How to Prepare for the ACT, ACT Math Study Tips: Improving Math Score

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What is the ACT Math Test?

The ACT Mathematics Test is the second section of the ACT. Like the English section it follows, the ACT Math Test is multiple choice. Unlike the other multiple-choice ACT sections, each math question contains five answer choices instead of four. You can expect to answer math questions pertaining to topics most students learn between 7th grade and 11th grade. The score range for this section is 1 - 36. Your Math section score will be averaged with the 3 other multiple-choice section scores from English, Reading and Writing to form your composite score.

How is the ACT Math Exam Structured?

The ACT math section includes 60 multiple-choice questions in 60 minutes. The questions are divided into three categories of assessment: Preparing for Higher Math (35 questions) , Integrating Essential Skills (25 questions) , and Modeling (22 questions) .

To be successful on the ACT Math Test, you will need to know:

  • Pre-algebra (about 23 % of the exam or 13 - 14 questions)
  • Elementary algebra (about 17 % of the exam or 10 questions)
  • Intermediate algebra (about 15 % of the exam or 9 questions)
  • Coordinate geometry (about 15 % of the exam or 9 questions)
  • Plane geometry (about 23 % of the exam or 13 - 14 questions)
  • Trigonometry (about 7 % of the exam or 4 questions)

How Can I Improve My ACT Math Score?

Use these strategies to improve your ACT Math performance:

  • Read each question carefully – Be sure you understand exactly what the question is asking. Some questions may be worded in a way that makes it hard to tell what they are asking at first.
  • Show your work – Seeing your work written out can help you catch incorrect answers before accidentally marking the wrong choice on the test form.
  • Use your calculator – it՚s very easy to make a mistake when doing mental math, and using your calculator may also save you time.
  • Keep track of your pace – Spending too much time on an early problem may make time short at the end.
  • Attention to Detail: Noticing small details is essential to scoring well in ACT Math. So many ACT students will say they missed math questions due to “stupid mistakes.”
  • Minimize Calculator Use and Use it Wisely: Mental math or estimation can get you to the right answer almost instantly and writing a few problem steps on scrap paper increases your accuracy.
  • Practice Every Skill: Prioritize topics that give you problems, and give the ones that come easily to you a break.

How Much Time Should You Spend on Each ACT Math Question?

STUDENTS TAKING THE ACT have just 60 minutes to complete 60 questions on the math section. It is therefore understandable that test-takers may fail to answer all the questions in the allotted time frame, or that they might feel compelled to unwisely rush through them. Follow these tips for managing your time on the ACT Math section:

  • Start at the beginning, but don՚t be afraid to skip questions. Questions are arranged roughly from easy to hard. Move on from questions that are too hard or will take too long.
  • Remember that each question is worth the same amount. Prioritize questions you can answer, so that there is time to return to unanswered ones after you՚ve completed the others.
  • Use formulas and let your calculator work for you. Practice so that you know what you need to work out by hand and what your calculator can help you with.
  • Set and follow an answering pace. Stay on track by checking the time every 10 questions; each set of 10 will ideally take 10 minutes or less to answer.
  • Predetermine which functions to complete by hand vs. on a calculator. When used wisely, a calculator can save you valuable time on ACT math problems and serve as a quick way to verify your answers. When overused, however, dependence on a calculator can waste time and cause careless mistakes.
  • Develop a system for marking questions. Students should immediately fill in the corresponding answer bubble when they feel confident about their solutions. While some students may wait until the end of a section to fill in their answer sheets, this method can result in more mistakes.

What if You Get Stuck on ACT Math Questions?

  • Use the answer choices. By plugging in the answer choices, you can often find the correct answer. But remember, this is usually only faster if you don՚t know how to solve the problem.
  • Substitute in real numbers. don՚t let variables confuse you. If you see variables in both the question and answer choices, you may be able to substitute real numbers in for them.
  • don՚t panic! If you still don՚t know how to solve the problem, guess and move on. don՚t let yourself get bogged down on a difficult problem. it՚s better to take your best guess and move on and come back to it if you have time.

Can You Use a Calculator on the ACT Math?

Unlike the other ACT sections, the ACT Math Test allows the use of a calculator.

These guidelines can help you understand what makes a calculator acceptable for the exam. Allowed calculators:

  • Cannot be able to do algebra
  • Must not have a QWERTY keyboard
  • Cannot be a calculator on your phone
  • Must not make any noise during the exam

it՚s worth noting that TI-89s and TI-92s are not allowed. The ACT website has a comprehensive guide about which calculators are allowed — double check that your calculator meets the requirements. it՚s important to make sure that you have a permitted calculator ahead of test day. Plan to practice ahead of time with your permitted calculator so you are comfortable using it during the test.

Do They Give You a Formula Sheet on the ACT?

There is no provided formula sheet for the ACT Math Test. You will need to learn and memorize a number of formulas before you take the test so that you can easily recall them. Regular preparation with practice questions will help you naturally memorize what you need to know and feel confident applying it.

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