ACT: What to Expect on the Math Test

The Mathematics Test of the ACT is 60 minutes long and contains 60 multiple-choice questions. This test evaluates your ability to solve mathematical problems by using reasoning, problem-solving insight, logic, and the application of basic and advanced skills you learned in high school.

The basic skills necessary to do well on this section of the ACT include those in

  • High school arithmetic
  • Elementary and intermediate algebra
  • Coordinate geometry
  • Plane geometry
  • Trigonometry

You will also need to demonstrate some logical insight into problem-solving situations, be able to apply math to different situations, and analyze when and why operations will and will not yield a solution.

Don't spend too much time on any one problem on this test. Solve as many problems as you can and return to others as time permits. You're allowed to use a calculator on the ACT. And unless otherwise stated, you can assume all of the following on the test:

  • Figures are not necessarily drawn to scale.
  • Geometric figures lie in a plane.
  • The word line means a straight line.
  • The word average refers to the arithmetic mean.

Tips for getting through the ACT math test

Keep the following in mind as you take ACT practice exams and on test day:

  1. You're looking for one correct answer. Other answers may be close, but there is never more than one right answer.
  2. Since each problem is of equal value, don't get stuck on any one.
  3. Take advantage of being allowed to use a calculator, but remember that some of the problems may be easier to solve without one.
  4. All scratch work is to be done in the best booklet; no scratch paper is allowed into the test area.

The math section of the ACT is slightly graduated in difficulty. The easiest questions are at the beginning of the test and the more difficult ones are at the end. Keep in mind that easy and difficult are relative terms and what's difficult for you might be easy for a friend, and vice versa. But generally, the last questions are the most difficult.  

Do's and don'ts for using a calculator on the ACT

Keep in mind the following suggestions for the day you take the test:

  • Bring your own calculator — you can't borrow one during the exam — even if you don't think you'll use it.
  • Make sure that your calculator has new, fresh batteries and is in good working order.
  • Practice using your calculator in practice ACT tests to find out when and where it will be helpful.
  • Don't let your calculator introduce errors.Watch its display to make sure that you keyed in the right number.
  • Before using your calculator, set up the problem and/or steps on your paper. Write the numbers on paper as you perform each step on your calculator. (It's generally safer not to use the memory function on your calculator.)
  • Be sure to carefully clear the calculator before beginning new calculations.

And be careful that you don't commit any of the following calculator-related faux pas:

  • Don't rush out and buy a sophisticated calculator for the test. Don't bring any calculator to the ACT that you're not familiar with.
  • Don't bring a pocket organizer, handheld minicomputer, laptop computer, or calculator with a typewriter-type keypad or paper tape.
  • Don't bring a calculator that requires an outlet or any other external power source.
  • Don't bring a calculator that makes noise.
  • Don't try to share a calculator.
  • Don't try to use a calculator on every problem.
  • Don't become dependent on your calculator.