ACT Math Tips

The Math section on the ACT can be overwhelming. It may include any component of algebra (pre-algebra to intermediate), geometry, and trigonometry, and the questions increase in difficulty as you progress through the section. Unlike the SAT, you do not receive formulas, which means you must remember them. However, there are several useful strategies to keep in mind as you approach this portion of the ACT. You may also want to consider taking a few ACT practice tests to help your prepare or enlisting the help of an ACT math tutor.

1.    Conquer easy questions first

Remember, the Math section begins simply and becomes progressively harder. As you earn one point for each correct answer on the ACT, an easy question that you can solve in several seconds has the same value as a difficult one that may require minutes. Skim the section and respond to easy questions first – the ones you know you can answer correctly – and then move on to more challenging problems. Here are some helpful tips on how to prep for the ACT math section.

2.    Use a calculator sparingly

A calculator can be a powerful tool on the ACT, so bring one that you are familiar with and utilize often when completing math homework. However, relying on your calculator for every question will slow your progress, especially on challenging problems with a great deal of calculation. Use this tool wisely and sparingly: it is more useful to estimate than to enter every number into your calculator. When it comes to basic arithmetic and fractions, your calculator will be immensely helpful. 

3.    Eliminate, then guess

On the ACT, and especially on the Math portion, you do not possess sufficient time to completely solve each problem. Utilize a variety of approaches to maximize your score: estimate, work backward from answers, and eliminate responses that you know are incorrect. When answers are struck out, it is easier to choose the correct one. Even if you must guess, the odds are stronger in your favor than if you did not eliminate at all. Try using a prep book to find sample problems to practice.

4.    If there is not a picture, draw one

The ACT tests your ability to interpret geometrical figures, but some questions will describe geometry problems without a graphic. Channel your inner artist and draw your own diagram, paying careful attention to what the question is asking – and label whatever lengths or coordinates you are provided. With a picture, you are closer to the answer and less likely to commit mistakes than without one.

5.    Read the entire question

Questions on the ACT Math section are not straightforward – they’re often written to be complex and misleading. It is important the read the full question to determine what is actually being asked – most likely, there will be a seemingly correct, but wrong, answer for each misinterpretation of the problem. After you decide on an answer, it is useful to revisit the question to confirm that there are no additional steps. This is some great information on how to improve your ACT score.

6.    “Plug in” answers

This technique works especially well with complex problems, but note that it can be time-consuming. If you must use algebra to solve a seemingly straightforward question, but are unsure how to begin, you may be able to “plug in” the answers. Start with the middle choice, and decide whether the problem works with that number. If it does not, try the others.