ACT Math is a real challenge for some test-takers. Sometimes, even students who pride themselves on their math skills can be caught off-guard by the ACT. Below are five tips to help you improve your ACT Math score, whether you’re a “math person” or not.
Tip # 1: Be attentive 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.” In these so-called “stupid” mistakes, test-takers see all the information in a math problem, but they fail to properly recognize certain details.
ACT Math loves to test your ability to notice and correctly interpret every number, symbol, word, or graphic in a math problem. As you practice for the test, teach yourself to scan ACT Math questions for small-but-important-details, such as decimal points, math signs, the wording of story problems, and the components of graphs and charts.
Tip # 2: Approach multiple choice questions strategically
There is no numeric entry in ACT Math, just multiple choice. The correct answer to each math problem will be right in front of you, among the answer choices. When you’re not sure of the right answer, you can always find the correct response by thinking logically and strategically. Learn how to eliminate incorrect answers, and learn the different ways in which ACT Math likes to trick you with tempting-but-wrong choices.
Tip # 3: Research good ACT prep materials
Not all ACT prep materials are created equal. A good set of prep materials for ACT Math is important—think helpful tutorials, good advice, and useful practice materials. Check Reddit for helpful advice and suggestions from other students, and browse trusted ACT blogs for information-packed reading.
Tip # 4: Learn to minimize calculator use
The next time you practice ACT Math, I suggest you play a little game: pretend that you get charged five, maybe ten dollars every time you use your calculator. This turns calculator use into a real decision, doesn’t it? And it should be a real decision!
Yes, the ACT lets you use a calculator on the test, yet excessive reliance on a calculator is a trap! Sometimes mental math or estimation can get you to the right answer almost instantly—much faster than you could if you keyed every step into your calculator. Also remember that writing a few problem steps on scrap paper increases your accuracy. It’s pretty easy to hit the wrong number on a calculator keypad, but much harder to actually write down the incorrect number (and reread it a few times without catching it). Always think carefully about whether you really need that calculator, and look for ways to avoid calculator use.
Tip # 5: Know what’s on the math test, and practice every skill
The #1 mistake students make is not dedicating enough time to all the math topics tested on the ACT. Don’t make this mistake! Especially when there are so many resources guiding you in the right direction. Explore a list of the five most frequently-tested ACT math topics. Prioritize topics that give you problems, and give the ones that come easily to you a break. With the right preparation, you’ll be that much closer to reaching your dream ACT score!
For nearly ten years, David Recine has been teaching students ranging from K-12 to university grads. He is a test prep expert; writing articles for Magoosh that cover everything from tricky SAT vocab words to complex ACT math topics. You can read more of David’s awesome blog posts on the Magoosh High School Blog.