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ACT Math Tips

ACT Math Tips

Taking the ACT but worried about the math? In this article, we'll tell you everything you need know about the ACT math section, as well as our top tips for getting a TOP score!

Lisa Speransky
Lisa Speransky
College Admissions

What is on the ACT Math Section?

ACT Math Sections

Unlike the SAT Math, ACT Math consists of only one section, and you’re allowed to use your calculator for any math question. That being said, when you get your score report back, you’ll notice that your math score is broken down into nine subscores. These subscores correspond to the content and skill areas covered on the test. The main content areas are:

  • Number and Quantity: This topic constitutes 7-10% of the ACT Math section. It covers the building blocks of algebra, before the incorporation of variables: real and complex numbers, vectors, matrices, exponents, roots, and so on.
  • Algebra: This topic requires students to solve, graph, model, and interpret a variety of equations, inequalities, and systems of equations. The kinds of relationships that students might encounter here include linear, quadratic, polynomial, and exponential expressions. This topic alone covers 12-15% of the ACT Math section, and is closely tied to other topics, such as functions.
  • Functions:  This topic tests students’ understanding of function notation, definition, interpretation, representation, transformation, and application. In addition to foundational algebraic relationships, students may also encounter piecewise, radical, logarithmic, and exponential functions, as well as those representing conic sections. It covers 12-15% of ACT Math content.
  • Geometry: The ACT includes questions on coordinate, planar, and solid geometry. These topics cover 12-15% of the Math section and draw on concepts such as congruence, similarity, area and volume, trigonometric ratios, conic sections, and finding missing values in triangles and other figures.
  • Statistics and Probability: This topic, covering 8-12% of the ACT Math section, tests students’ ability to understand and analyze data and data collection methods. You should be able to understand and compute statistics of center and spread of distributions, to model relationships in data, and to calculate probabilities.

The skills area subscores on the ACT measure aspects of your performance that extend beyond and between content areas. Preparing for Higher Math is essentially a score of how well you’ve learned all the content areas above, which cover mathematics that you’ve likely recently learned in school. Integrating Essential Skills is a measure of your ability to combine and synthesize mathematical tools to tackle complex problems. Often, these questions require a student to solve problems that require longer chains of steps, to apply their knowledge to a new context, or to understand connections between areas of math. Modeling reflects a student’s ability to understand, interpret, evaluate, and produce models: graphs, charts, and equations that reflect real-world relationships.

ACT Math Timing

ACT Math Timing

The timing on the ACT is often one of the primary factors that students use to differentiate it from the SAT. In general, the ACT is a faster paced test than the SAT, and this is certainly true for the math section. On the ACT, you have 60 minutes to answer 60 questions, so you should be averaging no more than one minute per question. Since the questions vary in difficulty, you’ll need to be able to answer easier questions much more rapidly than that, to give yourself more time for the toughest questions.

Is Math hard on the ACT?

The biggest obstacle for most students aiming to ace the ACT Math section is the time crunch. The content should primarily cover information that you’ve learned or are learning in school, and, unlike the SAT, you’re allowed a calculator. Conceptually, the questions on the ACT Math section tend to not be as challenging as the SAT no-calculator section, which often require a deeper understanding of the concepts at play. If you had unlimited time, the ACT Math section might not seem so hard. Its fast pace can lead to sloppy mistakes, anxiety, and unattempted problems. Purposeful preparation will help you master not only the content but also the pacing of this section.

ACT Math Score

How is ACT Math scored?

Like the other sections on the ACT, the ACT Math section is scored out of 36. Your raw score – the number of correct answers out of 60 questions – is converted to a scaled score, which accounts for the difficulty of each particular test to make scores consistent and comparable. The translation from your raw to scaled score therefore varies from test to test. Broadly speaking, though, if you want to score in the 30s on the ACT Math section, you’ll likely need at least 50 correct answers out of 60.

What is a good ACT Math score?

As is the case for all standardized tests, a “good” score depends on your particular goals and strengths. The best way to start making a score goal is to determine what kinds of scores the colleges and universities you’re applying to tend to accept. It’s a good idea to aim somewhere above the average ACT score of first-year students at the schools you’re applying to. That being said, more competitive universities usually prefer to see composite scores in the 32-36 range, so it’s a good idea to aim near that range for all sections.

What is a good ACT Math score?

What do you need to study for ACT Math?

To perform well on the ACT Math, you’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable in all the content areas described previously. However, this alone isn’t enough. Standardized tests like the ACT are difficult not because they test difficult concepts, but because they test relatively simple concepts in unusual ways, integrate multiple simple concepts to create more complex scenarios, and add the pressure of a time crunch! Questions you see on the ACT probably won’t look exactly like the kinds of questions you’re used to seeing in school. It is crucially important to practice problems from official tests given in the past, since this is the best way to get used to the particular ACT question style.

Top tips for the Math Section of the ACT

  1. Take official practice tests: The best way to prepare for ACT-style questions is to practice ACT-style questions.
  2. Study your mistakes: Make sure you understand why you got a particular question wrong, and look for trends in the kinds of questions you tend to get wrong.
  3. Start studying early, frequently, and in short sessions: The most effective students start studying well in advance of the test, and don’t try to cram everything into a few long sessions.
  4. Make a score goal, and track your progress towards it: Without having a particular goal in mind, it’s hard to know when you’re ready to take the test. Look into what kinds of scores the colleges you’re interested in will accept.
  5. Practice for speed as well as accuracy: Take timed practice tests to make sure you are on pace to finish the entire section in the allotted time.
  6. Identify and fill content gaps: Some of the topics covered might involve concepts you have forgotten or didn’t learn in school. Make sure you’ve covered all areas that might appear on the test.
  7. Try a question twice before reading given solutions: The best way to learn is by doing.
  8. If you can, aim to finish with extra time: Give yourself a buffer in case of particularly hard questions, and to double check your answers.
  9. Make sure you know what you can bring, and what you can’t: For example, make sure that you have an accepted calculator model.
  10. Memorize common formulas and facts: Unlike the SAT, the ACT doesn’t provide a formula sheet. Make sure you know what you need to answer the questions.
  11. If you have to guess, guess strategically: Even if you can’t answer a question with certainty, try to eliminate answers to raise the probability that your guess will be correct.
  12. Work with a tutor: at IVY, our experienced ACT tutors can help you build a study plan, learn testing strategies, identify and fill content gaps, and empower you to reach your score goals!

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