ACT Math Is About More (and Less) Than You Think
What the ACT Math section is NOT:
ACT Math is not an opportunity to show your work.
ACT Math is not a good place to lay out a math proof.
ACT Math is not a pre-calc exam.
ACT Math is definitely not a calculus test.
ACT Math is not designed to trick you.What the ACT Math section IS
ACT Math is an exercise in working problems quickly.
ACT Math is a very general overview of what you’ve done from 7th grade until now
Math is a chance to demonstrate mastery of basic math concepts you
already know, not an opportunity to ponder questions you do not know.
ACT math is simply a compilation of your last six year’s worth of math knowledge! The test starts with the easiest concepts and moves gradually to harder questions, which just means the first 30 questions are easier than the last 30 questions. Countless students tell us “I learned that so long ago! What’s the formula again ?” We’ve heard students say this when they get to a question that asks for a remainder in a division problem or an even prime number (i.e., the number 2) or the least common denominator or even the difference between a rational and irrational number.So how should you study for the ACT Math section?
Specifically for ACT math, here’s the point we want to stress:You get one point for answering the easiest question on the test. You get one point for answering the hardest question on the test. You don’t get points for showing your work, as you often do in school. You don’t get partial credit for working a problem correctly up to a certain point, as you often do in high school. There is no “A” for effort here, folks. You only get credit when you get a question right.
Why, then, do so many students race through the first twenty questions, trying to leave enough time to work on the last ten horribly impossible questions, only to get most of those wrong anyway?
It's one of the biggest mistakes students make on the ACT test. Do not fly through the first 20-30 problems at a house-on-fire pace, because you will invariably make a bunch of careless computation errors. We’ve seen it happen a hundred times.The Best Way to Study for ACT Math
6 steps to success1. Get 3 full-length practice exams in one of the following ways: ask your high school counselor for a handful of practice tests (usually free), order them online directly from the ACT at www.act.org (maybe 5 bucks),borrow an old test or prep book from a senior who has no interest in ever seeing an ACT test again (free), or go to the nearest bookstore and find the massive shelf of ACT prep books and gbuy one (about 20 bucks). There’s no need to buy a whole stack of expensive prep books; there’s also no need to spend the extra money on a fancy CD --which many books include--because this is NOT a computer-based test. Ever. It won’t do you any good.
2. Pick a time and a place to study 2 hours every week for 6-8 weeks leading up to the test.
3. Time yourself when you sit down to work on a math section. You have exactly one hour. The first 60 minutes should be devoted solely to completing as many problems as you can.
4. The SECOND hour should be spent as follows: first, check your answers and give yourself a grade by looking at the scale on the back of every practice test, usually about page 50 or 52. There’s no reason not to be honest. Don’t let yourself think, “Gee, I would’ve gotten that problem right had I stuck with my first choice, so I’m just going to assume I would’ve gotten it right on the real test.” The question is either right or wrong. Remember, there’s no A for effort. You’re only graded on performance.
5. During the second hour, make a complete list of the formulas you missed or were incomplete as you proceeded through the test. Keep that list next to you for the next practice test. Questions about certain problems? Keep your laptop handy and look up the concept online right away: there are scads of fabulous websites that can answer your question immediately. We personally like www.khancademy.org for its beautiful explanations, but you may also choose an online resource recommended by your high school math teacher. If that doesn’t work--although it should if you spend a full hour after every practice test-- ask your parents to get you a tutor for a few hours and explain the hard questions to you more thoroughly.6. Do it again in another week. Do it again the following week. Especially do it the week of the exam.
Always time yourself the first hour. Always grade your exam the second full hour. Review your missed questions and add to your own customized formula page. That IS your cheatsheet. Don’t short yourself by walking away from the table after the first hour and going to text your friends or play XBox or watch Honey Boo Boo. You haven’t learned anything. At the very least you won’t improve. You need two full hours every week.
That’s what we require when we tutor our students. That’s when we see 3-6 point gains in composite scores. It works. It’s a proven method.