What To Know About The Math Section Of The ACT

The ACT Mathematics section is designed to assess the mathematical proficiency students have typically acquired in courses taken by the end of the 11th grade.  Students receive an hour to finish the 60-question math section – which boils down to roughly a minute per question.  The multiple-choice problems cover content areas such as pre-algebraelementary algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, plane geometry, and trigonometry.  Students must be comfortable using computational skills and basic formulas, but a knowledge of complex formulas or the ability to perform extensive computations is not required.

The Pre-Algebra questions make up 23% of the ACT math section.  These problems are based on basic operations that use whole numbers, decimals, fractions, integers, place value, square roots and approximations the concept of exponents, scientific notation, factors, ratio, proportion, and percent.  Content will also cover linear equations in one variable, absolute value and ordering numbers by value, elementary counting techniques and simple probability, data collection, representation and interpretation, and assessing how well students understand descriptive statistics. 

Elementary Algebra questions cover the properties of exponents and square roots, evaluation of algebraic expressions through substitution, using variables to express functional relationships, understanding algebraic operations, and the solution of quadratic equations by factoring.  They are 17% of the ACT math. 

Intermediate Algebra problems make up 15% of the math portion.  They assess how well students understand the quadratic formula, absolute value inequalities and equations, radical and rational expressions, patterns and sequences, and systems of equations, quadratic inequalities, modeling, matrices, functions, roots of polynomials, and complex numbers.  

Coordinate Geometry questions involve graphing and the relations between graphs and equations.  This includes points, lines, polynomials, circles and other curves, graphing inequalities, slope, parallel and perpendicular lines, distance, midpoints, and conics.  Coordinate Geometry questions are 15% of the ACT math exam. 

Plane Geometry questions are designed to measure your understanding of the properties and relations of plane figures.  Angles and relations among perpendicular and parallel lines, properties of circles, triangles, rectangles, parallelograms, and trapezoids, transformations, the concept of proof and proof techniques, volume, and applications of geometry to three dimensions are all covered.  Plane Geometry problems are 23% of the math test.  

Lastly, Trigonometry problems are 7% of the ACT math section. These questions cover trigonometric relations in right triangles, values and properties of trigonometric functions, graphing trigonometric functions, modeling using trigonometric functions, the usage of trigonometric identities, and solving for trigonometric equations. 

Can you use a calculator? You may on this part of the exam, but you’ll have to put it away when it’s time for the next section on the ACT. Make sure that your calculator is ACT-approved!  All TI-89 or TI-92 calculators are permitted – as is any four-function, graphing, or scientific calculator.  Any calculators with a QWERTY keyboard are prohibited. 

The ACT Math test is difficult because it assess knowledge that you’ve learned, not just intuited from the problem at hand.  It includes a wide range of material from your middle and high school math courses – and since so many topics are covered, it’s important that you have a strong understanding of all these areas.  

In order to do your best, you can follow some simple tips. These will help you approach the ACT math and the structure of the exam so test day will be a success.  However, these tips can’t replace a good, old fashioned knowledge.  Understanding these strategies and applying them with your math skills will help you reach the score you want. That said….

Review, Review, Review. Give yourself plenty of time to go back and revisit areas you haven’t spent time with in a while, or ones that were tricky in the past.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve gotten straight A’s in pre-algebra through trig – you can still benefit from a full review of material from years past.  The ACT math covers a broad, broad area, and goes into tiny details you’ve probably forgotten, and will be important on the exam. 

Stay in your time frame.  As we said earlier, the ACT math exam is designed to allot you a minute per question.  Spend too long figuring out that trigonometry problem, and you’ll be rushing through the rest of the test.  

Know the simple rules.  The writers of the ACT are trying to trick you, so you have to outwit them.  They want you to forget the basics, so make sure you have those down before test day arrives.  Don’t forget the little things – like what you do to one side of an equation must be done to the other side.  

Memorize your formulas.  Sure, there’s a lot.  But having these down pat saves you from having to plug in answer choices, so make sure you can solve for X all by yourself.  You should be comfortable figuring out everything from the angles of intersecting lines to using the quadratic formula and solving for the area of a rhombus. 

The ACT math section is tough.  But whether you work with a tutor or by yourself, it’s important to make sure you have your math knowledge down; using ACT practice tests is a great way to do this.  Spend time studying and reviewing for the ACT math portion, and you should be able to achieve your target score on test day.