The section on the ACT that provides the highest percentage of difficulty for most students is the ACT Math test. It’s the longest section both in time allotted (60 minutes) and in the number of questions (60 questions). Logic would tell you that this mean you should spend an average on 1 minute per question. While this logic stands mathematically, it does not apply to the actual test. There will be questions that take you twenty seconds to solve, and some that will take up to 3 minutes.
The ACT Math test is the only ACT section where the questions have 5 multiple choice answers. The other three tests have four answer choices. Don’t be overwhelmed by 60 questions in 60 minutes, all the math material on the ACT coincides with material taught through 11th grade curriculum. This means you know everything that will be on the test. There won’t be any surprises on the test. Know your basics, and you will be fine.
Let’s take a closer look at the topics that will be covered on the ACT Math test. We can break down the concepts into six main categories:
Pre-Algebra, which covers Percentages, averages, ratios and proportions, and exponents. Elementary algebra which covers simple equations and evaluating basic algebraic expressions. Intermediate Algebra, which covers quadratic equations, solving simultaneous equations, and functions and logs. Coordinate geometry which covers distance, slope, and formulas of shapes. Plane geometry which covers angles, area and perimeter equations, and volume. And, finally, trigonometry, which covers trig identities and basic Trig in right triangles.
Check out TutorMe’s ACT Preparation Course for in depth breakdowns and strategy for each of these categories.
It’s helpful to know in advance what topics are your weaknesses. Identify and focus on these topics during your preparation. The ACT Math test is very rigid, meaning it never strays from the specific topics it covers. If you study the test, you will know exactly what to expect.
Now, let’s lay out your plan of attack for test day. Always start with the basic problems. Don’t speed through these, it is imperative to get most of the basic problems correct. Remember, one or two correct answers can make all the difference for your score, so racing through the basic problems and making careless mistakes on them can be very detrimental to your score.
Remember, all the questions are worth the same amount of points, so it behooves you to ace the basic problems as opposed to wasting time trying to crack the most difficult questions, which, by nature, are going to be harder to solve. These early points are the points that should be easily achievable, but students who rush through the beginning will often make careless mistakes.
Skip any problems that you don’t know. Make sure to circle them on your answer sheet so you can easily return to them once you’ve gone through the test once. As we discussed, never spend too much time on one problem. Remember, all questions are worth the same amount of points. Don’t spend all your time on the ones you can’t figure out.
Once you reach the end of the ACT Math test, return to the problems you have skipped. Never leave a question blank, there are no penalties for wrong answers, meaning leaving a question blank will only hurt you. There’s no downside for guessing.
You can write all over the test, don’t try and do all the calculations in your head. There will be a space labeled “do your figuring here”. Self-explanatory.
Always distill each question down to its essence, by asking the following questions: What is the question asking? What variable are you solving for? What are you being asked to find? Cross out the inessential information in each problem to make it easier for yourself. Break down the problems into parts. This is especially important on word problems, which will often be long and feature plenty of extraneous information.
Calculators are allowed on the test. Make sure you bring one on test day. You will absolutely need it for graphing and trigonometry questions. Use your standard graphing calculator from school. Your calculator should be proficient in: graphing functions, fractions, exponents, linear equations, and slope intercept (AKA Y=mx + B).
An important note: don’t use your calculator as a crutch on the ACT Math test. You won’t need your calculator on every problem. Don’t waste time using it for basic arithmetic. Remember, your use of time is the most important factor to succeeding on the ACT Math test, most of the time, mental math is safer for basic arithmetic. Typing everything into your calculator can add up to two minutes to your total time, which could cost you a question or two. These questions could make a difference of a whole point on your composite score.
Remember to check out TutorMe’s ACT Preparation Course for in depth breakdowns and strategy on every aspect of the ACT Math test. Good luck!