Five Awesome ACT Math Tips

Chase Yano
December 28, 2023
Stardardized Testing

In my last blog post, we talked about some big tips for the ACT English, and today, in typical ACT fashion, we will move on to discussing ACT Math tips. Without further ado, here’s the top ACT Math tips that I have found myself giving out over and over again as a test-prep tutor.

These ACT Math tips are ones that I give in sessions to my students as a tutor here at Dewey Smart. Want to work with me? Set up an appointment here.

  1. Know the concepts

In comparison to the other three sections, the ACT Math requires considerably more rote understanding of concepts. If you have never encountered certain concepts on the math section, there is no shortcut here for diligence. Those who feel like they need to build up their math skills before they build their testing skills should go through a few tests, and don’t even attempt any questions. Instead, go through and take note of all of the questions that you have no clue how to answer, and use the Internet to identify the underlying concepts. Once you have identified a few concepts, it’s time for you to take the time to learn them! For some guidance in this respect, check out this Dewey Smart guide to studying with flashcards and a more generally applicable guide to learning STEM concepts.

Trust in Your TI

First of all, it is essential that you have a good quality calculator for the ACT, specifically one with graphing capabilities and other functions. If you don’t currently have one, I recommend that you get a TI-84 for a couple reasons. One, it is likely the calculator which you have used in school, so you will probably already be comfortable with it. Two, it has all the cool functions of a graphing calculator. Three, and most importantly, it supports third-party programs that you can install on your calculator using the TI Connect CE software that will make solving problems a bit easier.

 I know what you’re thinking: that sounds like it’s against the rules. Surprisingly, the ACT permits programs on your calculator that contain less than 25 lines of code and don’t call on any other programs. So, it’s in your best interest to load up your trusty Texas Instrument with as many programs as will be useful for you specifically. To get you started, here’s a link to my top five most useful programs, including:

  1. Slope Solver
  2. Distance/Midpoint Formula
  3. Triangle Solver
  4. Pythagorean Theorem Solver
  5. Quadratic Formula Solver

And, here’s a short video that will show you how to install these programs. The possibilities are endless here, so go wild with the programs that you add. However, make sure that you use these programs to make you faster, not to substitute for a lack of knowledge because, in many cases, knowing the manual method cold will get you to the answer the fastest.

  1. Guess Better

Next, let’s make sure that your guesses are more sophisticated than the trusty “choose C” method or the chaotic true random guess. Specifically, you want to guess the answer that contains the most elements that are present in other answer choices. 

To illustrate, let’s take a look at some example answers, with no reference to the question that they are supposed to answer:

  1. 2x²
  2.  2x
  3. 3x²
  4. 4x²
  5. 2

To make an educated guess, let’s see which of these answers has the most in common with each of the other answer choices. To visualize this, I’m going to cycle through each choice and list all of the other choices which it shares at least one element with.

  1. 2x²: B. 2x, C. 3x², D. 4x², E. 2 = 4 total similar choices
  2.  2x: A. 2x², E. 2 = 2 total similar choices
  3. 3x²: A. 2x², D. 4x² = 2 total similar choices
  4. 4x²: A. 2x², C. 3x² = 2 total similar choices
  5. 2: A. 2x²,  B. 2x= 2 total similar choices

Since A has the most similar choices, it should be our guess on this question. 

If you prefer knowing the answer to guessing, book an appointment with me here, and we can work together on improving your skills!

  1. Pacing is Key

The next strategy that I find myself sharing with all of my tutoring clients is on how to pace yourself. All questions are not written equally on the ACT Math, and the last 20 questions are typically more time-consuming and difficult than the 40 that precede it. 

Therefore, a good rule of thumb is that you should spend half your time on the first 40 questions and your final half on the final 20. This means 30 minutes on each, give or take. If you’re thinking, “wow, I have to do mental math to pace myself as I’m doing math problems, that sucks,” I completely agree, so I advise you to take a look at our next tip, which applies to both the math section and the rest of the test.

  1. Get a Cool, Gimmicky Test-taking Watch

So, on the one hand, you can use any silenceable wrist watch to pace yourself on the ACT. However, if you’re like me, the idea of having to manually set a timer in between tests or, even worse, do the mental gymnastics of using a stopwatch seems overly-complicatied, you should look into a watch made specifically for the ACT, such as this pacing watch. If you’re a traditionalist or strapped for cash, a normal digital watch will also do the trick.

  1. Practice More Efficiently

When it comes to improving on anything academically, your studying mindset is key; without this, discipline will be hard to build. For a guide to building this important foundation, check out this Dewey Smart blog post on having a black-belt mentality.

First of all, there is no shortcut around hard work, especially when it comes to the ACT Math. If you want a higher score, you should be following a three-step process with practice tests regularly: work, rework, and analyze. 

Obviously, you first need to take the test; make sure you take a whole section under normal time constraints. Also, try to replicate the testing environment as much as possible by using a loose-leaf piece of paper to record all of your answers the same way you would with a scantron while pacing yourself with your handy dandy new watch. 

After you finish your test, go through and grade it by simply crossing out incorrect answers, counting up the number you missed. Next, it is time to retake the test; go through each of the questions you missed and rework them, obtaining a second-attempt answer. 

Quickly check your new answer. If it’s correct, pat yourself on the back and move on; otherwise, keep on trying until you get it right. Reworking your mistakes is essential to correcting them in the future, so skipping out on this step will just make you end up wasting your time.

Finally, once you’ve worked through all of your mistakes, go through and analyze your errors. If you find yourself missing a lot of trigonometry questions, maybe it’s time for a quick Khan Academy review sesh. Maybe you notice that you missed most of your problems in the last 20 questions. If that’s the case, maybe instead of taking full practice tests, you can save time and take the last 20 questions only, giving yourself 25 minutes to keep the time crunch on. 

If you take these five tips and strategies into account in your ACT Math preparation, you will surely notice an improvement. Next time, we’ll be discussing some strategies for the ACT Reading section, so stay tuned!
For more help applying these strategies, book a free consultation to get matched with a test-prep tutor at Dewey Smart!

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