A Simple Guide to ACT Math Prep

Mar 2024

7 Minute Read

Tagged as: ACT

An overview on how to prepare for the ACT Math test including how to prepare for efficiency, using calculator, and the topics to study

What should you focus on in your ACT Math prep?

Time management

With 60 questions to be completed in a 60 minute time frame, test-takers have approximately one minute per question on the ACT Math section. The math questions are roughly ordered from easiest to most difficult, meaning that the questions at the beginning of the section are generally easier to solve than those towards the end of the test.

How a test-taker should allocate their ACT Math prep time varies from student to student. Students with practice scores in the teens or low twenties should allocate a larger percentage of time on the earlier questions, because the difficult questions at the end of the test may be out of range for these students. Therefore, it’s best to spend sufficient time on the easier questions to guarantee as many points as possible. High school students with scores in the high twenties or low thirties, however, should get through the beginning questions quickly. Then they have more time to spend on the more difficult questions at the end.

Don’t underestimate the role that time plays on the ACT Math test. The ACT is a performance – it doesn’t matter that you know all the math if you can’t do the math in the time you’re allotted! When you’re practicing, time yourself. If you find it impossible to finish 60 questions in 60 minutes, try giving yourself 75 minutes to start, and reduce that time with each subsequent practice test you take. When you’re reviewing your answers, don’t just look at which questions you got right or wrong, but consider the amount of time you spent on each question. Eventually, you’ll begin to notice patterns that will allow you to use your ACT Math prep time more strategically. If you’re spending lots of time on trigonometry questions but only getting half of them right, it may be in your best interest in the short term to skip trigonometry questions altogether so you can use that time on questions you’re more likely to get correct. It also helps to use full length official ACTs for your ACT mathematics test prep.

Strategic calculator use

You can use an approved calculator on the ACT Math section. Although every question can technically be solved without the use of a calculator, strategic calculator use saves students a considerable amount of time. Don’t bother solving algebra out in longhand, and don’t risk making a silly mistake by trying to complete a math question in your head! Make sure you’re using a calculator in your ACT Math prep. Make sure it’s the same calculator that you’re going to use on the real thing. As your ACT Math prep gets more advanced, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with some of the more unusual functions. The factorial function, for instance, really comes in handy on questions about combinations and permutations.

Topics to study

How you should choose which topics for your ACT Math prep first will depend greatly on your current mathematical strengths. Students with scores in the teens or low twenties would do well to study up on basic algebra (including pre algebra), basic geometry (including plane geometry and coordinate geometry), and functions. Once you see improvements in your scores, we suggest you move on to trigonometry and some of the topics that occur less frequently. Only when you’re finally scoring in the thirties should you learn a rare topic like matrices. You might never see a matrix question on a practice test, but being familiar with these rarer topics could be the difference between a 35 and a 36 on the ACT Math section.

What's next?

Read our Ultimate Guide to ACT Test Prep — it summarizes everything you’ll need to know, whether you are preparing to take the ACT next month or in a few years. You can also find free ACT Math practice.

In need of more ACT Math prep? Our new app Wend has over 450 free test prep questions for the SAT and ACT. Download Wend on the App Store for free test prep, essay writing tips, and more!

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