Many of my students struggle with time on the ACT Math test. After all, it’s a 60-minute, 60-question test, and average students often don’t finish the test. Or–and this is a critical point–they finish the test but make errors each step of the way. Today, I’m going to talk about beating the ACT Math time limit. Read on to learn the best strategy for conquering the ACT Math test!

First of all, it’s important to know the questions occur roughly in order of difficulty. That means the first 20 or so questions should be “easy,” followed by 20 “medium” questions, and finally, 20 “hard” questions. I’ve put these words in quotation marks because different students will certainly find different questions easier and harder than other students will. Still, though, this is a useful observation.

Three problems students have with ACT Math

Students’ struggles with ACT Math boil down to three problems, which I’ll discuss here in order from most serious to least serious. Luckily, though, the most serious problems are the easiest to fix, and the least serious problem fixes ITSELF within time. Trust me!

ACT Math Problem #1: Making careless errors, missing easy and medium questions

Even THE best and brightest test-takers, students who love math, are guilty of this problem: they’re so eager to get to the hard questions that they race past the easy and medium questions and make sloppy mistakes along the way.

Here are some classic reasons why students miss easy and medium problems:

  • Mental math mistakes
  • Mistakes with negative signs
  • Mistakes with FOILing
  • Typing incorrectly in the calculator
  • Solving for the wrong thing
  • Not checking your work

Don’t let yourself be guilty of one of these mistakes! It’s VITAL that you get the easy and medium points. Trust me, you’ll have an ABOVE AVERAGE score if you get the first 40 questions right and bubble RANDOMLY on the last 20. That’s much better than racing through the test and getting only 30 questions right!

You’d be surprised how many students want to learn the most difficult math concepts when they’re still missing question 2, question 11, question 26. That’s a sign that you’re not READY for difficult math.

The best strategy for ACT Math testers and students doing tutoring for ACT Math is to pick up ONE point at a time, solidly, correctly, and unambiguously–even if that means spending a second or two more on each problem. That’s the wiser path. Believe me!

ACT Math Problem #2: Gaps in math knowledge, lack of exposure to content

Unlike the previous error, this is actually a forgiveable error. Tutors have to act as coaches to keep students on track and hope that they avoid ACT Math Problem #1, but they love when students come to them with ACT Math Problem #2. When a student doesn’t know how to solve a problem because he or she is unfamiliar with the concepts the problem is testing, it’s the tutor’s job to teach the student that concept and expose him or her to a wide variety of problems testing the same concept. Pretty soon, the student will be doing these problems with confidence and ease! ACT Math Problem #2 is absolutely fixable.

ACT Math Problem #3: Time management

Believe it or not, time management actually ranks as the LEAST serious problem, but it’s also the most difficult to fix. Why is that? It’s because in order to TRULY fix it–without employing cheap tricks or gimmicks–students need to first address ACT Math Problem #1 (Careless errors) and ACT Math Problem #2 (Unfamiliar content). Once students cultivate mindful habits–checking their work, methodically picking up all of the easy points, all of the medium points, and as many hard points as they can, SPEED WILL FOLLOW.

Accuracy first–then speed!

Easy first–then medium! Then hard!

With patience, diligence, and a willingness to try (and fail) and try again, my students are able to conquer ACT Math Problems #1 (careless errors), #2 (unfamiliar content), and time and time again, they make great strides toward conquering ACT Math Problem #3 (time management).

That’s the secret to beating the ACT Math time limit!

* * *

That’s it! For more information on the ACT, as well as on the SAT and college readiness, check out the rest of our blog. Looking for 1-on-1 test prep tutoring or small group classes? Let us know how we can help!

Share This