act

Making the most of your calculator on the ACT

Only certain calculators are permitted while you are working on the ACT Math Test. Be sure you check the ACT website for the most updated list of calculators. You could be dismissed from the test for bringing in an unauthorized calculator, such as the common TI-89 graphing calculator. Certain other models of graphing calculators are allowed but note that you can only turn your calculator on during the math section. Remember, if you finish early, you are not allowed to start playing games on your calculator.

The ACT Math Test is 60 minutes long and has 60 multiple choice questions. Of those 60 questions, 24 questions will test you on basic algebra, linear equations and functions. You shouldn’t need to use a calculator for most of these questions. The systems of linear equations on the ACT are generally fairly simple, and with enough practice, you should be able to evaluate them quickly in your head. Try not to waste time using your calculator to solve equations like 8x = 40.

You may need to use your calculator for complicated function questions or to find the value of a number raised to an exponent. Make sure you know where the “square” button is on your calculator or where the “to the power” button is.

Another 18 questions will test intermediate algebra and coordinate geometry. It helps to know how to sketch quadratic and linear graphs without your graphing calculator. Some test takers only use their graphing calculator to construct lists for complicated or long statistics questions with a lot of data points. If a question asks for the intersection point of two graphs, you can actually solve it quite quickly without plotting the graphs at all. Calculator or not, your goal should be to solve the problems as efficiently as possible.

The last 18 questions cover geometry and some basic trigonometry. Your calculator will be the most useful here, especially if you need to find the exact value of the area or circumference of a circle. Make sure you know where the “pi” function is stored. The sin, cos and tan functions should be pretty obvious on your calculator, but you’ll also want to make sure you know where the inverse functions are. You are allowed to write a program to contain your math notes before the test day and store it in your calculator. If you panic and forget the formulas for circumference etc, pull up the program.

For the ACT Math Test, you should try to think of your calculator as a welcome helping hand but not a crutch.  Remember that you do not need a calculator to solve the math problems on the ACT. For example, if you knew the 30-60-90 triangle below, you will probably be able to do any corresponding questions without a calculator.

Screen Shot 2019-02-04 at 1.24.57 PM

It is also useful to know the 45-45-90 triangle.. Believe it or not, writing out your work will save you time. You’ll be able to look over the steps easily if you end up with an answer that doesn’t match any of the choices. You can also work your answers out by hand and then use your calculator to double check your answer.