Common Sense Tips for Acing the ACT Math Test

By Lisa Zimmer Hatch, Scott A. Hatch

You’ve done multiple‐choice math problems all your life. In fact, you probably don’t have much more to learn about doing multiple‐choice ACT math questions. However, the following common‐sense steps can help you stay focused as you move quickly through the Math Test.

  1. Identify the point of the question.

    Yes, even the stupid word problems have a point. Each question is trying to get you to supply a specific piece of information. It helps to read the end question first to determine what you’re solving for. Does the question ask you to find the circumference or an area? Do you have to state the value of x or of 2x? Circle precisely what the question asks for. After you finish the problem, go back and double‐check that your answer provides the circled information.

  2. Budget your time and brain strain: Decide whether the problem is worth your time and effort.

    You don’t have to do every math problem in order, you know. Read the question and then predict how time‐consuming it will be to solve. If you know you have to take several steps to answer the question, you may want to skip the problem, mark it, and go back to it later. If you’re not even sure where to start the problem, don’t sit there gnawing at your pencil as if it were an ear of corn (unless you’re Pinocchio, wood really isn’t brain food). Guess and go.

  3. Look before you leap: Preview the answer choices.

    Look at the answer choices before you begin doing any pencil‐pushing. Often, the choices are variations on a theme, like 0.5, 5, 50, 500, and 5,000. If you see those answers, you know you don’t have to worry about the digit, only the decimal. Maybe the answers are very far apart, like 1, 38, 99, 275, and 495. You probably can make a wild estimate and get that answer correct. But if you see that the answers are close together (like 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12), you know you have to invest a little more time and effort into being extra careful when solving the problem.

  4. Give yourself a second chance: Use your answer to check the question.

    Think of this step as working forward and backward. First, work forward to come up with the answer to the question. Then plug the answer into the question and work backward to check it. For example, if the question asks you to solve for x, work through the equation until you get the answer. Then plug that answer back into the equation, and make sure it works out. This last step takes less time than you may think and can save you a lot of points.