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Rachel Kapelke-Dale

ACT Math Tips

The ACT Math Test

As you prepare for the ACT, you may find—at some point or another—that you’re running up against a wall. You might hit a plateau, and keep getting similar scores, whether on one test (the ACT refers to its sections as “tests,” by the way) or on the exam as a whole. Or maybe there’s just one question type that keeps stumping you, every time! No matter what the problem is, there are a few tips that can help you crack the ACT math exam with less stress and more efficiency.

Take an ACT Practice Test

At this point, the last thing you might want to do is spend time taking a practice exam—shouldn’t you be studying content, rather than filling in more bubbles? Here’s the thing: you can’t be sure you’re studying the right content—in fact, you probably aren’t—unless you’ve taken a diagnostic test that will help you identify the areas on which you need to focus.

Diagnose Your Affliction(s)!

Don’t worry about the score of this diagnostic test; instead, go right to the answer sheet, accompanied by the notes and scratch work you took during test. Now, go back through each problem—the ones you got right, and the ones you got wrong—and identify why you got them wrong—and why you got them right!

Common things to look for:

  • Were you guessing?
  • Did you forget, or perhaps never learn, content in this area?
  • Did you make a careless error?
  • Did you run out of time?


Remedy the Problem

Moving forward now becomes a lot easier. Look over your answer sheet and tally the most common reason that you missed questions. If it’s timing, time your practice—give yourself more time per question than you need (maybe 1.5-2 minutes per question), slowly working down to slightly less time than you’re given on test day (60 questions in 60 minutes—but then, you knew that from your practice test!). If it’s careless errors, make yourself take extra long on each question, until you’re really paying attention to every aspect of it and not missing the basics.


With every section on the ACT, every student will have his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Diagnosing what’s going on and working to address it can take time—but it will also help you make that mental shift to reach the next level of your ACT career!

General Tips for the ACT


Identify Your Math Strengths

If you’ve hit a plateau in your studying, one thing to keep in mind is to keep practicing with questions in your strongest areas. Why? Because those are points you absolutely want to get on test day. If you don’t keep up practice in those areas, you might forget a principle, or start to take more time on them. We’re not saying ignore your problem areas—just don’t work on them to the exclusion of your strengths, either.

Start With the Math You Know Best

When given a list of problems, we’re used to approaching them from #1 and proceeding sequentially. Guess what? You might actually do better on the ACT if you skim the section in front of you and then approach the areas you know best first. This particularly applies if you tend to run out of time in the section. Make sure you’re getting the “easy” points before you go after the “hard” ones!


We’d never recommend that guessing be your first strategy—but sometimes they can be a great too. Of course, educated guesses are far better than blind guesses—and the more answer choices you can eliminate, the more likely you are to get the answer correct. But take note: if you only have three minutes left in the section and have ten questions left to answer, you probably won’t have time to work through all of them. Putting in a random answer for the remaining questions—pick your favorite letter and go with that—will most likely provide you with greater benefits than trying to scramble through one last problem will. The ACT doesn’t penalize students for wrong answer choices, so don’t be afraid to guess!

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About Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel is a TOEFL and SAT/ACT blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and is currently a doctoral candidate at University College London. She has taught the TOEFL for six years, and worked with nearly 1,000 students in that time. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. When she’s not teaching or studying, she’s either riding (horses), or writing (fiction), a pair of activities that sound so similar that it confuses even native English speakers. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!

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