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4 Steps To Deciphering A Tricky ACT Math Question

Math on the ACT can be particularly challenging. It tests advanced math concepts and incorporates tough word problems. Here are four steps to follow when you get stuck on a math problem.


  • Know the question


Read through the problem and underline the actual question. There may be a lot of information given and upon first reading the question will feel unclear. Go back and look at the information and figure out exactly what the question is looking for.


  • Eliminate unnecessary information


Once you know the question, block out any extraneous information. In a word problem, there may be details that are not useful to answering the questions. Cross out unnecessary details or circle the details that you do need to solve the problem so that you can refer to them quickly.


  • Use the answers as clues


If you don’t know where to start, look at the answers. You can find clues in units given, decimals, fractions or a series of numbers. Make sure the answers provided correlate with the problem you are trying to solve.

You can also eliminate answers you know are not true. Taking out some of the answer possibilities improves the probability of guessing the right answer, should you need to guess.

If you are solving a formula, start plugging in the answers. See what works and doesn’t work. You may not need to get very far into the problem to see a clear, correct choice.


  • Do something or move on


Start somewhere. Start manipulating the numbers, plugging in answers or solving formulas. Even if you don’t know exactly where you are going, doing something will help you get there. If you feel totally stuck and don’t know what to do to start, or it is taking you too long to get to a point where you can eliminate some answers, skip the question and go back. The time crunch on the ACT is intense, so you don’t have time to stare at a problem until a revelation comes. Move on to a problem you can complete. Answering problems might give you confidence to go back and answer the question. If you just can’t come to a conclusion, make an educated guess. You won’t be penalized for guessing, so it won’t hurt to just pick your best guess.

Practicing real ACT math questions will help you have a better understanding of how the questions are presented. You can practice working through information and deciphering word problems so that you can demonstrate your math skills without being bogged down by the details.


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