ACT Math Study Guide

This ACT Math Study Guide includes six steps for improving your ACT Math Test score. These steps represent one approach to preparing for this test. You'll find additional information and suggestions on the official ACT website.


1. Know what to expect on your ACT test date

The ACT Math Test is the 2nd of the four tests you'll take on your ACT test date.

  • Test 1: English
  • Test 2: Mathematics
  • Test 3: Reading
  • Test 4: Science

The Mathematics Test consists of 60 multiple choice problems with 5 answer choices each. You'll have exactly one hour to complete this test, so that gives you an average of one minute per problem. There is no penalty for guessing, so be sure to mark an answer for every question on the ACT Math Test, even if you don't know how to work the problem.

The Math Test is ordered from easiest to hardest in terms of how likely it is that a particular problem will be missed. That is, the problems near the beginning of the test are answered correctly by more students than the problems near the end.

You are allowed to use a calculator on the ACT Math Test. Check the official ACT website to make sure your calculator is acceptable: ACT Math Test Calculator Guidelines

ACT Study Guide Tip: Just because a calculator is allowed doesn't mean you'll need it on every problem. In fact, many of the math problems can be most easily solved without using a calculator.

2. Think about the topics covered on the ACT Math Test

The ACT includes 60 math questions covering the following six areas:

  • Pre-Algebra (about 14 problems)
  • Elementary Algebra (about 10 problems)
  • Intermediate Algebra (about 9 problems)
  • Coordinate Geometry (about 9 problems)
  • Plane Geometry (about 14 problems)
  • Trigonometry (about 4 problems)

These topics can appear in any order on the test, but you'll see more Pre-Algebra and Elementary Algebra problems near the beginning of the test, with the other topics tending to show up toward the middle or end of the test. This is because the test is ordered easiest to hardest, and many students correctly answer the Pre-Algebra and Elementary Algebra problems.

ACT Study Guide Tip: Check MathOnTime's About the ACT Math Section page to see additional content information and tips on the arrangement of the ACT Math Test.

3. Look over the most important ACT formulas

Become familiar with the most commonly appearing formulas for the ACT Math test. However, keep in mind that just memorizing a bunch of formulas won't help much if you don't know how to use them. As you go over formulas, look for example practice problems that use each formula.

ACT Study Guide Tip: Remembering the correct formula and HOW TO USE IT will help you solve many ACT Math problems. Three ACT Math formula pages are included with the video practice test in The ACT Math Test Made Easy.

4. ACT Practice Test #1: Perfect your Pacing

Work through a complete practice test using a one-minute problem-timer. You can continue to work on the problem after the minute expires, but the timer will help you stay aware of just how long you've spent on the problem. After you finish working each problem, immediately go over the solution.

Working at least 60 problems (a complete ACT practice test) with the above approach will help you in the following ways:

  • You'll improve your pacing for the Math Test, since practicing with a one-minute timer will make you more aware of the timing.
  • You'll increase the likelihood of remembering how to work each problem, since going through the solutions immediately helps make it memorable.

As you use the one-minute timer, keep in mind that the earlier problems may take you less than a minute, while the later problems usually take more than a minute. The first step to perfecting your pacing for the ACT Math test is to develop a sense for how much time you've spent on a problem, and a one-minute timer is great for this.

ACT Study Guide tip: Check out the three (free) video problems with a built-in one-minute timer (one easy, one medium, and one hard). Sign up for the full-length 60-problem video practice test to see additional problems in this style.

5. ACT Practice Test #2: Make it Realistic

A critical next step is to work through a complete ACT Math practice test from beginning to end. Print the practice test, gather pencils and calculator, and find a quiet place. Set a timer for exactly one hour and work through the test from beginning to end, without stopping to check solutions for individual problems.

A good strategy is to try to work the easier problems in the first part of the test in less than a minute, thereby saving up some extra time for the later, harder problems. If you come to a problem you can't work in one minute, you may want to circle it and come back to it later. When the hour is up, stop working. Grade your test and go through the solutions to make sure you understand all problems.

You can find a complete ACT practice test and solution in the document Preparing for the ACT, available on the official ACT site. There is also an answer sheet contained in this document so that you can practice filling in the bubbles.

ACT Study Guide Tip: Be sure to mark an answer for every problem, since the ACT Math Test method of scoring does not penalize guessing.

6. Repeat Step 5 with additional practice tests!

Every time you take another timed practice test, you'll become more comfortable with the timing and the topics covered on the ACT Math Test. You can find additional practice tests in a number of ACT prep books, such as the book The Official ACT Prep Guide, which contains actual past ACT tests.