Warning: 5th Grade Math Can Kill Your ACT Score

Published on Thursday, July 11th, 2013 by

A warning to anyone who is having some trouble with the math section of the SAT or ACT (or with high school math in general): Chances are, your difficulties started far earlier than algebra II or geometry. Students often have difficulties with these advanced subjects when they also have trouble doing the basic operations of math, such as multiplication or division.

At the high school level, these problems often get covered up because calculators are used.   Unfortunately, you aren’t going to be able to solve all the problems on the ACT or SAT, and you’re certainly not going to be able to tackle complicated geometry or algebra problems, until you fully understand the basics.

The Basics

The basics of math are addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  Everything builds on these four operations.

In modern education, schools rarely make students memorize material. Some textbooks and teachers emphasize that you need to actually understand what you’re studying in math and why it works. They say it’s more important to be able to figure things out instead of just remembering formulas. However, schools know that you get access to a list of formulas on your standardized tests. They don’t expect you to memorize these things.

That being said, there are at least a few things that you have to memorize, or you just won’t be able to keep things simple in your head to solve a complicated math problem.

Among the things you should completely memorize, to the point where they are hardwired into your brain and you can practically do them in your sleep, are the four core operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. When you’re solving a problem, you shouldn’t have to wait and think about these things. You just have to know them.

How Well Do I Have To Know My Fifth Grade Math?

Let’s just say that you should be able to answer the question “What’s 11 times 12?” as quickly as you could answer the question “What’s your name?”

Furthermore, you should be able to churn through more complicated arithmetic problems (such as multiple digit addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) with a great deal of speed and certainty and no mistakes.

There’s no point in learning how to putt in golf unless you know how to get the ball from the fairway to the green. Likewise, not having your basics down to a point of excellence in math will keep you from succeeding on the SAT and ACT.

Tips For Improving Basic Math Skills

One great trick for improving multiplication is to build times tables. First, pick a box and look at the head of the column and row for that box, multiply them together, and put your answer in the box.  This is a very easy way to quiz yourself on over 100 multiplication problems all at once.

Then randomly fill in the top row and first column with numbers, instead of neatly numbering them 1 through 12.  Solve them all again.  Keep at this until you can do it extremely quickly. Long after you can do it well, you can keep doing this exercise and improving.

Give yourself math problems.  This might sound crazy, but you have a real advantage if you can make up your own math problems. This can be as simple as creating random numbers to add or divide on the page, or as complicated as making a similar word problem to the ones in your textbook. It’s easier to study if you’re able to test yourself like this.

Repetition is a key to memorization.  It’s not the only key, but it’s a significant one.


2 Responses to “Warning: 5th Grade Math Can Kill Your ACT Score”

  1. Great article. I am sharing it with my Facebook friends. Keep up the good work!