The right strategy on test day can make a substantial difference when it comes to your ACT score.
While you probably already know to get enough sleep, eat a big breakfast, and avoid cramming, these tips can help you strategize specifically for the ACT math section.
Skip questions you don’t know immediately
While the ACT math sections order their questions from least to most difficult, the order may not reflect their difficulty for you. The ACT allows a minute to answer each question, so make sure not to waste five minutes on a troublesome one. If you’re unsure how to approach a question, skip it. Once you’ve finished the questions you did know how to answer, return to the harder questions.
Don’t leave answers blank
The ACT doesn’t dock any points from incorrect answers, so it’s important not to leave any blanks on your scantron. If you’re truly at a loss for the correct answer, take one more quick scan of the options in front of you and take your best educated guess.
Turn word problems into something clearer
Whenever possible, reconstruct ACT word problems into an equation or a diagram. For example, if a question tells you that someone went for a walk, draw a diagram of the direction and distance that they walked so you can visualize the geometry of the action. This process will help you determine exactly what the question is asking you to solve, and often gives you a familiar visual that will help you stay stress-free without taking too much time.
Read and write carefully
Avoid careless mistakes by reading through instructions and problems completely and looking for keywords within the question, such as “not” or “incorrect.” Diagrams that are drawn to scale will be marked as such. Also, make sure to circle answers in the test booklet as well as filling them out on the scantron; this way you can double-check your scantron for skipped or duplicated answers.
Know important formulas
While the SAT has listed relevant or common formulas before each math section, the ACT does not do so. Take the time to memorize and review formulas like the quadratic equation and common triangle-angle configurations.
Use your wrong answers as a study guide
When preparing for the test, incorrect practice test answers will be more helpful than correct ones. Review all of your incorrect answers and analyze why you got those wrong. Did you simply misread the question, or were you unfamiliar with the content? Maybe you knew the content but simply took the wrong approach and cost yourself time. Create a plan for similar future questions based on your analysis before taking another practice exam. You could even do all this on-the-go using a free ACT mobile app.
Know your weakness
Usually, students score lower than they had hoped due to one of two reasons: not having enough time to finish the test, or unfamiliarity with the content. Always time practice tests to help determine which is your biggest weakness. If you get most of the answers right but don’t finish them in time, work on recognizing different types of questions and skimming questions for important information to help you speed up. If you finish early or on time and miss answers, you may just need to brush up on content.
Taking practice tests and using helpful prep books will be some of the best ways to prepare for the ACT, especially if taken under timed conditions and followed up with close analysis of your results. Paying close attention to the test’s structure and instructions while studying will make them second nature on the day of the test and leave you with more room to focus on the questions themselves.