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Thomas Broderick

ACT Math Tricks: Backsolving

ACT studying making you a little groggy? Here’s something to help you perk up: in this post, we’re going to be talking ACT math tricks. In particular, a BIG TRICK you can use to make your time on the ACT Math a little less stressful.


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Bright-eyed and busy-tailed now?


Today’s Lesson: ACT Backsolving

You may know backsolving by another name. But no matter what you call it, performing this ACT math trick is crucial to getting your Math scores up. So let’s get started with this short, simple, and valuable lesson.

What is Backsolving on the ACT?

In short? Backsolving is plugging possible answer choices into an equation to find the correct answer.

You may already be doing this and asking why I’ve devoted a whole blog post to it. BUT. There’s actually a certain amount of skill to backsolving. It’s a little like chess. You can learn how to play it in five minutes, but it can take a really long time to do well.


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Backsolving on the ACT Math is actually a lot easier than chess.


How Do I Backsolve on the ACT Well?

Here’s where the trick comes in. On the ACT Math Test, you will have five possible answer choices. Find the number that falls in the middle of the other options. Plug that number in. If that’s the answer, great. Next question! But if not, you’ve automatically eliminated another 2/5 possible answer choices. Why two, and not just one? Here’s a simple example:

6x = 60  What is the value of x?

  • 4
  • 6
  • 8
  • 10
  • 12

If we plug in 8, we get 48, which is lower than sixty. That means answer choices A and B are also incorrect, as they also result in answers less than sixty. From that point we only have to backsolve D and E to realize that the correct answer is D, 10.

Though the problems you will encounter on the ACT Math test will be significantly more difficult than ‘6x=10 What is the value of X?,’ The same trick applies in all questions where you can backsolve.

When Can I Backsolve on the ACT?

Good question. As my simple example included an ‘x’ value, the short answer is some Algebra questions on the ACT Math Test. Pre-Algebra and Elementary Algebra may make up to 45% of the test questions. In a lot of these cases, you can backsolve, because backsolving works on any question where there is only a single variable.

When Can’t I Backsolve?

If there is more than one variable in the question (like algebraic equations with both X and Y), I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not impossible, but you should rely on other skill sets to solve more complex algebraic equations.

Now that you know the right way to backsolve, apply it to some ACT practice tests. You’ll quickly discover when backsolving is and isn’t the best way to solve a problem. With practice, it should become second nature.

Happy studying, ACT scholars! I’ll see you next time.

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About Thomas Broderick

Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

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