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ACT Mathematics Basic Strategy Outline

Format and Timing:

60 questions in 60 minutes

Because the questions go from easier to more difficult, timing is more complicated than simply staying on a one minute per question pace.  If you hope to score in the high 20s or above, you should spend no more than 20-25 minutes on the first 30 questions, but you must also remain accurate during these problems.  If you are trying to score in the mid-20s or below, do not worry about falling behind this pace, as the problems towards the end are likely too difficult for you anyway.  Work carefully through the problems you can do while taking educated guesses on the ones you cannot.  Never let any problem take up too much of your time, and make sure you have time to randomly fill in bubbles if you are running out of time.


General Tips

• Questions are arranged roughly from easier to more difficult.

• Despite what is stated in the directions, all figures tend to be drawn to scale.

• Do not let any one problem take up too much of your time.  If you think you can get it correct but are worried about how long it will take you, take a guess and fill in the bubble, mark the question so you can go back if you have time leftover, and move on.

• If you are uncertain of how to solve a problem, think about it instead of just starting to do math.  Although thinking may seem like a waste of time, it will save you time.  If you can’t think of a good way to solve it, take a guess and move on.

• When guessing, guess intelligently.  Take guesses that make sense according to the problem or according to the diagram instead of guessing randomly.  Use your estimating skills when guessing.  On geometry problems with diagrams, you can often get it down to only one or two possible answers just by looking at the diagram.

Three great ways to avoid careless errors:

1) Make sure your answer makes sense (according to the diagram, according to the problem, and according to your number sense).

2) Make sure you are answering what the question is asking, since it is easy to answer something one step away from what the question is asking.

3) Look out for situations in which you could see yourself making a careless error, so you can slow down and avoid making the error.

Three great non-traditional ways of solving problems:

1) Plugging in the answer choices is a great way to solve difficult “solve for x” problems.

2) Graphing on your calculator can help you solve a wide variety of problems.

3) Making up your own numbers can help you figure out certain problems, especially those with one or more variables in the answer choices.