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“I Forgot My Calculator for the ACT!”

About the author: I’m Karli Ching and I graduated with C.K. McClatchy High School’s Class of 2015.  I attend University of California, Davis as a biological sciences major pre-med student.

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When I was taking the ACT for the second time during my senior year in October, I was taking it to improve my math score because I was applying to competitive schools and wanted to increase my chances to be accepted.  The night before the I had laid everything out on the kitchen table: pencils, erasers, water, granola bar, and calculator; but in the morning pre-test panic, I grabbed everything except for my calculator.  I didn’t realize this until I sat in the desk, preparing for the test.  Every little bit of fear I contained within me filled my body and I broke into a cold sweat.  

I honestly thought I had completely diminished my chances of getting into a competitive school.  I was freaking out like never before, and I sat and thought that even though I was calculator-less, I still had another chance in December of my senior year to retake the ACT if I did horribly this time.  This helped me calm down and bring my focus back to the test.  Going through the test without a calculator was scary because I didn’t have my usual crutch to check “2+2” even though I knew it better than the back of my hand.  I constantly used the calculator to check even the simplest math because I was so scared to put down the wrong answer because I could have miscalculated the easiest thing and it could ruin my score.

I felt like I had struggled from problem to problem, continually doubting my math.  It was devastating thinking that I had done so horribly on the car ride home, but a month later, my results came back, and I scored 29 on the math portion, which matched my previous score.  Receiving the same score proved to me that it is in fact possible to score decently on the ACT without a calculator, and that all of my self-doubt is only mental because the ability to achieve the same score is proof that I know how to do the math if I can give it my full, undivided attention.  

In retrospect, although I didn’t have a calculator, it helped my thinking process during the test because I no longer had to spend time thinking about what I should do with my calculator on a problem, or thinking about whether or not I actually needed the calculator.  I believe that without my calculator I was able to spend a little bit more time thinking about the problem itself, giving it my full focus, rather than contemplating what I can do with my calculator while trying to complete a difficult problem.  The third time I took the ACT in December, I was able to keep this lesson learned in mind, and I only used the calculator to assist me in completing some of the more complex problems, enabling me to score 32 on the math portion.