By The P&P Test Preparation Team, Prepped & Polished, LLC
The ACT math section gives you 60 minutes to answer 60 questions on a broad range of topics that extend all the way from pre-algebra to basic trigonometry. Each question has five possible answer choices that are listed in order from least to greatest value. Unlike the SAT, the ACT has you tackle the entire math on the test in one marathon session and does not include any free response questions. The math section is graded on the same 1 to 36 scoring system as the other portions of the test and accounts for one fourth of your composite score. The variety of topics covered by this section can be daunting, but in the end it is the easiest section to prepare for, because you know what topics will be tested. The following tips will help you study effectively and deal with the unique challenges presented by ACT math.
1. Know the test layout:
Simply put, you must know what topics are covered by the math section before you can study effectively. There is no point studying calculus and advanced trig because they are not on the test. The exam covers all math up to and including basic trigonometry but no more. You must understand how long the test is before you can gear up mentally. 60 minutes is a long time to do only math. As a result, any good preparation system needs to include long practice sessions to help you prepare for the strain. Lastly, you need to know that the questions increase in difficulty as you go along. The first 30 questions are easy, the next ten or so a little harder, and the last 20 are genuinely difficult. This bit on information will help you get a better sense of how to pace yourself through the test.
2. Know what you are good at:
The section’s order of difficulty is not the final word on which questions you will find easier or harder. You will be better at some concepts than others and you can use this to your advantage. For example, if you are near the end of the section and are looking at the last 15 difficult questions, you should glance over all of them and single out the ones that deal with topics you are comfortable with. By doing this you will be able to use your time more efficiently and boost your score as a result.
3. Do not be afraid to go back to Middle School:
If you are an 11th or 12th grader who gets good marks in math class, then you will likely be well prepared for the more difficult topics on the ACT math section, because you deal with those topics in your day to day classes. You may also be caught off guard by questions testing elementary math concepts you have not looked at since 8th grade. It is natural for unused skills to deteriorate. Fortunately, it is easy to get back on top of old math topics. Just devote a few hours reviewing your old books or notes and it will all come back, plus you will not have to deal with the embarrassment of being a good student who gets two of the first five questions wrong.
4. Do not waste time:
The most rewarding thing about math in the real world is facing down a difficult problem and finally overcoming it through great effort, unfortunately this is not the case on the ACT. You only have an average of 60 seconds to answer each question. You do not receive extra credit for solving more difficult problems and should always try to pick up every possible point in the easier portions of the test before devoting five minutes to a question in the 50’s. You also need to be willing to leave a question and move on if you have been working on it and do not see a path to the answer. You can always return to questions later if you have time.
5. Stay confident:
In my experience, this section induces more mental breakdowns than any other. Students face so many different questions and topics that they are almost certain to go blank on a few. You need to have a short term memory for this section. Individual defeats happen, but they cannot be allowed to affect your psyche and performance on following questions.
Bonus: There is no guessing penalty on this or any other ACT section. You should never leave blank questions on your scorecard. The ACT does not do you any favors and you should avoid doing any favors for it.
Did you find these ACT Math tips helpful? Which tip resonated with you the most?
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