Overcome Your Math Fears and Ace the ACT

Article-Photos12The ACT Mathematics Test can be daunting. It is the longest section on the exam at 60 minutes, and its questions involve a wide variety of material. But preparing using these steps can simplify this portion of the ACT:

Step 1: Familiarize yourself with the material

Don’t go into the ACT wondering what sort of information you will be tested on. The math section consists of six subjects: pre-algebra (23% of the exam content), elementary algebra (17%), intermediate algebra (15%), coordinate geometry (15%), plane geometry (23%), and trigonometry (7%). Identify which question types you struggle with most, and hone in on them. Do not leave your performance to chance—the ACT outlines exactly what you should expect.

Step 2: Appreciate the test’s predictability

At times, the ACT’s math problems are formulaic, in that the authors of the exam create them by utilizing different numbers in very similar templates. You may not encounter precisely the same question on a test as you did while preparing, but you will very likely see a problem that is structured in exactly the same way, with the same words. Once you learn how to answer certain kinds of questions, you have essentially earned free points on the exam, since you are very likely to be presented with a similar problem come test day.

Step 3: Time yourself appropriately

You must complete 60 questions in 60 minutes, but this does not mean you allot one minute to each problem. This portion of the ACT grows in difficulty, so aim to finish the first half of the section in 20-25 minutes. You can then devote additional time to the more difficult questions at the end.

Step 4: Remember that each problem is worth one point

You do not earn a greater number of points on more challenging questions. Depending on your skill level, you may find it wise to focus on answering, say, the first 40 problems correctly. These questions are typically more manageable, and it is better to answer 35 of 40 correctly than lose easy points by stalling on difficult problems. Quality over quantity!

Note: there is no wrong answer penalty. Answer every question!

Step 5: Know your strengths and weaknesses

This is extremely important. ACT anxiety often stems from uncertainty or unpreparedness, but it is simple to study for this test. There are a number of ACT math resources, and they can provide you with an excellent sense of where you stand. Ultimately, once you acclimate to the exam, you will realize that it is limited in scope. Determine which questions you are ready for, and make flashcards for the types you must review further. You’ll then be able to walk into the testing room feeling confident and prepared.


This article was written by Caleb Zimmerman

Caleb Zimmerman is a professional writing and test-prep tutor for Varsity Tutors. He graduated from The King's College in New York City in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in politics, philosophy, and economics.

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