The Format of the Math Test
The format of the ACT Math Test is straightforward. ACT
simply lumps all the problems into one big list of math questions.
The only visible quirk in formatting is that all the questions are
printed in the left half of the page, while the right half is reserved
for “your figuring.” We’ll discuss this empty space and what you
should do with it in the Strategies section of this chapter.There
are two other aspects of Math Test questions that you should keep
in mind. We’ll describe them to you below.
Five, Not Four, Multiple Choice Answers
Unlike the three other ACT Subject Tests, the
Math Test offers you five, not four, multiple choice answers. You
should be aware of this fact when filling in the bubbles on the
answer sheet. If you are answering choices D or J, don’t automatically
fill in the last bubble in the row because you’ll really be filling
in E or K. Again, this is just another reason to verbalize to yourself
which blank you want to be filling in as you actually fill it in.
Guessing with the Extra Answer Choice
The additional answer choice will also affect
your chances of guessing the right answer. If you plan to guess
blindly on a math problem, your odds of getting the correct answer
are one in five, or 20 percent. On the other Subject Tests, your
chances are higher: one in four, or 25 percent. This difference
of 5 percent really isn’t that big of a deal and shouldn’t change
your guessing strategy. You should still guess on any question you
can’t answer. Guess blindly if you have no clue about how to answer
the question. But your best bet is always to eliminate whatever
answer choices you can and then guess.
Question Types: Basic Problems and Word Problems
There are two kinds of questions on the ACT Math Test:
basic problems and word problems. Word problems tend to be more
difficult than basic problems simply because they require the additional
step of translating the words into a numerical problem that you
can solve. Of course, a basic problem on a complex topic will still
likely be more difficult than a word problem on a very easy topic.
Basic math problems are exactly how they sound: basic.
You won’t see any complicated wording or context in these problems.
They simply present you with a math problem in a no-frills fashion.
If you encounter a basic math problem that asks you to calculate
what two plus two is (you won’t), the question would look like this:
That’s pretty straightforward; you shouldn’t have a problem
figuring out what this question wants you to do.
Word problems are so named because they use words to describe
a math problem. These questions are by nature more complicated than
basic math problems because you have to sort through the words to
figure out the math problem beneath them. In essence, you have two
steps: figuring out what the math problem is and then solving it.
For example, if you were asked for the same calculation
of two plus two as a word problem, it might look something like
has two green marbles, and Beth has two red marbles. Together, how
many marbles do Jane and Beth have?
This question isn’t exactly complicated, but
it is certainly more complicated than the basic version of the problem.
The setting of the problem, rather than elucidating the question,
only adds to its complexity. Your job on this and all word problems
is to sort through the muck and translate the words into a straightforward
math problem. A question like “Together, how many marbles do Jane
and Beth have?” really means “Jane’s marbles plus Beth’s marbles
equals what?” or ultimately “Two plus two equals what?”