What is ACTUALLY Tested on ACT Math?

What is ACTUALLY Tested on ACT Math

AlsoWhat is ACTUALLY Tested on ACT Math?

If you’ve started preparing for the ACT, you’re probably wondering what exactly is tested on the ACT math section. For many students, the math section is the most difficult because of timing and scope of material covered.

In this article, we will discuss exactly what to expect on the ACT Math test, provide sample questions, and give you necessary resources that should be used in your studying to get YOUR best possible score.

What is the Format of ACT Math Section?

The ACT Math section is always the 2nd section of the exam – it comes after the ACT English section and before ACT Reading section. There is a total of 60 questions and you have 60 minutes to answer all of them – this means that, on average, you have 1 minute per question. Every question is multiple choice with 5 options, and there is no guessing penalty. However, if you are aiming at a perfect score, you need to complete every question and you have to do it quickly.

The biggest challenge most students have with ACT Math is pacing. Pacing is tricky because you have to answer questions as quickly as possible without losing accuracy. Math questions are not ordered by topic, so you need to be able to switch between topics such as algebra, statistics, and geometry. In addition, you have to be able to identify ways to solve problems, eliminate answers based on information provided, and work faster and more strategically than you do in math class.

What Does the Test Contain?

The ACT tests math skills that most students have learned by the beginning of senior year (i.e. nothing beyond Algebra 2 or Math 3 for Common core students). If you are an advanced math student, ACT math content will be very straightforward.

The Content Breakdown for ACT Math

  • Pre-Algebra (20-25%)
  • Elementary Algebra (15-20%)
  • Intermediate Algebra (15-20%)
  • Coordinate Geometry (15-20%)
  • Plane Geometry (20-25%)
  • Trigonometry (5-10%)

Read on to see detailed explanations and sample problems for each type of question as well as discussion on how each section is scored.

You can use a calculator, but it has to be a permitted one. However, you are not required to use a calculator which means all of the problems on ACT can be solved without one.  If you do use a calculator, make sure it is one that you are familiar with and, if possible, try to not rely too much on your calculator because it might actually slow you down.

Unlike the SAT, ACT does not provide you with a formula sheet, so you have to know basic math formulas (y=mx+b, the area formulas, the quadratic formula, the distance and midpoint formulas, etc.)

What are ACT Math Subscores?

Your ACT Math score is based on raw score, or how many points (out of possible 60) you earn. This raw score is converted to a section subscore between 1 and 36.

You also receive three subscores based on six content areas: pre-algebra and elementary algebra, intermediate algebra and coordinate geometry, and plane geometry and trigonometry. These subscores give you a more detailed information about your performance, but are generally not reviewed closely by colleges (your overall math section score and ACT composite score are most important).

However, you can use the subscore area to focus your studying by math topic. You might find that you are very well prepared in one area, but need to focus your practice on specific topics like geometry or trigonometry.

Keeping this in mind, we still encourage you to take full ACT practice tests to become familiar with what the ACT math section is really like.

#1: Pre-Algebra / Elementary Algebra

Pre-Algebra (20-25%) 

  • Basic operations using whole numbers, decimals, fractions, and integers
  • Place value
  • Square roots and approximations
  • The concept of exponents
  • Scientific notation
  • Factors
  • Ratio, proportion, and percent
  • Linear equations in one variable
  • Absolute value and ordering numbers by value
  • Elementary counting technique
  • Data collection, representation and interpretation
  • Understand simple descriptive statistics
Pre-algebra example

Pre-algebra example


Elementary Algebra (15-20%)

  • Properties of exponents and square roots
  • Evaluation of algebraic expressions through substitution
  • Using variables to express functional relationships
  • Understanding algebraic operations
  • The solution of quadratic equations by factoring
Elementary Algebra example

Elementary Algebra example

#2: Intermediate Algebra / Coordinate Geometry

Intermediate Algebra (15-20%)

  • The quadratic formula
  • Rational and radical expressions
  • Absolute value equations and inequalities
  • Sequences and patterns
  • Systems of equations
  • Quadratic inequalities
  • Functions and modeling
  • Matrices
  • Roots of polynomials
  • Complex numbers
Intermediate Algebra example

Intermediate Algebra example


Coordinate Geometry (15-20%)

  • Graphing and the relationship between equations and graphs, including points, lines, polynomials, circles, and other curves
  • Graphing inequalities
  • Slope
  • Parallel and perpendicular lines
  • Distance
  • Midpoints
  • Conics
Coordinate geometry example

Coordinate geometry example

#3: Plane Geometry and Trigonometry

Plane Geometry (20-25%)

  • Properties and relations of plane figures, including 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
  • Applications of geometry to three dimensions
Plane geometry example

Plane geometry example


Trigonometry (5-10%)

  • Trigonometric relations in right triangles
  • Values and properties of trigonometric functions
  • Graphing trigonometric functions
  • Modeling using trigonometric functions
  • Use of trigonometric identities
  • Solving trigonometric equations
Trigonometry example

Trigonometry example

Where to Find Practice Test Materials

Now that you know what is actually tested on the ACT Math section, the next step is to start practicing. The most important way to prepare for the ACT is to take practice tests. Here are links to free, official online practice tests to get you started. If math is your only problem area, you can just practice Math sections. However, we encourage everyone to take full timed practice ACT exams and get an idea of how well you would perform on the entire exam, as well as build endurance and get experience taking such a long test.

Also, a prep book can be very helpful when studying for ACT Math. Especially if there are specific concepts you are having trouble with. It is important to get a high-quality book, and here is a guide to the best ACT prep books on the market.

Next Steps

Do you know what your target score should be? Find out the type of score you should be targeting based on your dream colleges and learn what a good, a bad, or an excellent score is.

Not sure what formulas you should know for the ACT Math section? Find out here.

If you want to see a video related to this video, please follow this link: https://youtu.be/Lf2qn1RAuq8

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