ACT Math For Dummies

A calculator is a great tool for solving ACT math problems more quickly than you can either in your head or using a pencil and scratch paper. At the same time, however, you want to avoid overusing it for calculations that you can easily and accurately do in your head.

When you take a practice test, notice how you use your calculator. Do you almost forget about it? If so, here are a few tips to train yourself to use the calculator to your advantage:

• Look over the practice test and see whether you performed any long calculations that a calculator could have saved you time with.

• Be sure you know how to use your calculator. If you aren’t familiar with it, you’re less likely to use it when appropriate.

• Consider upgrading to a calculator that can handle things like square roots, powers, fractions, or other types of math that you need help with on the ACT.

On the other hand, do you use your calculator for just about every problem? If so, consider these tips for backing off a bit:

• Notice a few places (especially at the beginning of the test) where you may have done an easy calculation more quickly without your calculator.

• If you overuse your calculator for simple arithmetic, such as for multiplying 6 by 8 or dividing 14 by 2, you probably can benefit from beefing up your basic math skills.

• If you second-guess yourself too much — that is, you do basic math correctly without a calculator but then doubt the answer and check it to be sure — you probably need to convince yourself that you’re on track. Start to notice how often you check simple math and find that your answer was already correct. If you’re almost always correct, you’re spending time using your calculator that could be used in a better way.

Mark Zegarelli is the author of Basic Math & Pre-Algebra For Dummies, SAT Math For Dummies (both from Wiley), and five other books on basic math, calculus, and logic. He holds degrees in both English and math from Rutgers University and is a math tutor and teacher.