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How to Improve Your ACT Math Score

How to Improve Your ACT Math Score

Want to improve from 21 to 36 on the ACT Math test? Read on!

Learn the math concepts.

The ACT Math test doesn’t test everything you’ve learned during your math career, but it does touch on quite a bit of material. You might be familiar with some of the material from your math classes. You might need to refresh your memory on other topics, and some others may be completely unfamiliar to you. Whatever your level, everyone can afford to spend the time reviewing the math concepts, rules, and formulas you’ll need to do well on the test. One resource that might help you is the ACT Math Bootcamp – you can check out some sample videos here.

Memorize all necessary formulas.

Unfortunately, you will not be given a list of formulas for use during the test, so any formulas that you’ll need (slope, area & volume, etc.) will need to be stored in your memory banks. I cover all of these formulas and how to use them in the ACT Math Bootcamp.

Get used to the questions.

ACT Math tests the same stuff in the same ways again and again, so part of the trick at getting better at the section is just simply getting use to the test itself. You can accomplish this by doing a bunch of ACT Math tests (real tests, only!). It’s also critical to get used to the Order of Difficulty of the test – as the questions go from #1-60, they generally get more challenging. You might find, for example, that you rock the first forty questions, but the next twenty give you a lot of trouble. Or you may find that you do fine on the last twenty but make silly and avoidable mistakes on the first forty questions. No matter your issues, the key is to identify them in the first place, and the only way to do that is with consistent practice!

Pick up specific strategies.

Since the ACT Math section is more focused on relatively straightforward testing of math rules and concepts, this section is a bit more resistant to strategies compare to tests like the ACT Reading and Science. However, there are some “best practices” that can maximize your performance.

Time is a precious resource on the math section, for example – many students run out of time and are forced to guess on the last set of questions – so managing your time effectively is one skill that you can develop. One way to do this is to use a strategy I call “Circle & Return.” The point of this strategy is to ensure that you’re using your limited time to the best effect by doing all the “easy” questions before you invest a ton of time into the hard questions. This strategy is especially important for the Math section, where students often find themselves getting bogged down on a question in the middle of the test because they feel they “have to” finish it before the move on.

Here’s the basic idea: Whenever you come upon a a) problem that is difficult and can’t be answered immediately, or b) a problem that you can answer but requires more time to confirm the answer, don’t spend the time during the middle of the test working that single problem. You don’t have the luxury to get bogged down in a single question, especially if it’s at the beginning or middle of the test. So bubble in the answer you have up to this point (if any), circle the question in your test booklet, and return to it after you’ve completed the ACT Math section. This will ensure that you’ve completed all the other questions, and any other time you have remaining can be used cleaning up these circled questions. It may not sound like much, but trust me – too many students get stuck on questions before they’ve completed everything else. In the best case scenario, getting stuck like this can just throw you off your game and raise your anxiety level. In the worst case scenario, students spend so much time fiddling with a single question that they run out of time on questions later in the test, questions that might actually be easy to answer! This is a terrible trade-off and must be avoided at all costs. So circle…and return!

Note: Whenever you skip questions, be careful to bubble in your answers correctly. If you skip #36 but then bubble in the answer to #37 in the bubbles of #36, and then the answer for #38 in the #37 space, and so on…you’re gonna have a bad time. 🙁

Take practice ACT Math tests.

The only reliable way to improve on this section is to work real ACT Math practice problems. It’s best to do these questions as part of an entire section (or even an entire ACT test), and you must do them under the time limits (60 minutes). You can download four real ACTs here in addition to learning more about the ACT Red Book, a source of another five real practice tests from the makers of the ACT. Video solutions for the four real ACTs can be found in the ACT Math Bootcamp; you can also find question-by-question, choice-by-choice solutions to the five Real ACT Prep Guide (Red Book) tests here.

Once you run out of real tests, you can move on to “third-party” sources like Princeton Review, Barron’s, etc. But be careful with those resources – sometimes they can test concepts in a way the ACT won’t, and sometimes they may even test things that the ACT won’t at all! So just keep in mind that books and resources from third-party companies may not be perfect facsimiles of real ACT tests.

Get help.

The ACT can be self-studied, but many students find that getting some extra help from a knowledgeable teacher, tutor, or friend can make a big difference. Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have. You also might be interested in becoming a member of Reason Prep for full access to all the ACT Study videos and resources. You can learn more about the Members Area here.

Robert Schombs

About the Author:

I’m Rob Schombs, the founder of Reason Prep, creator of these videos, and your test prep tutor. I earned a BA in Chemistry (2006) and an MA in Science and Technology Studies (2009) from Cornell University. In 2010 I started tutoring SAT, ACT, math, chemistry, and writing full-time, and Reason Prep followed shortly after!

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3 comments on “How to Improve Your ACT Math Score”

  1. Arnold Shetler

    I am concerned about a junior who got a very low Math score on the ACT and what the best route is to help her out.

    Reply