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ACT Math Strategies and What’s On the ACT Math Test

In this post, we’ll introduce you to what’s on the ACT Math test and share ACT Math strategies you’ll learn and practice during your Summit ACT tutoring program. Please keep in mind that the best way to decide between the ACT and SAT is to take a practice test of each, then compare the scores and your test taking experience.

The ACT Math test includes content from pre-algebra to pre-calculus, a broader range of topics than the SAT’s math sections. Yet, compared to SAT math, the ACT requires a relatively basic understanding of that wide range of topics. Students can use ACT-approved calculators for every question on the Math test.

ACT Math is always the second section of the test. It’s 60 minutes long and has 60 questions. The questions are in increasing order of difficulty. Later questions will require more time per question, as these often require multiple steps to solve and involve more advanced concepts.

act math sample problems

Question Types

All Math questions fall into two categories–Preparing for Higher Math and Integrating Essential Skills. In addition, some of the questions are further categorized as Modeling. More than half of the questions on ACT Math are Preparing for Higher Math.

Preparing for Higher Math questions cover a broader range of more advanced content including algebra, geometry, statistics, functions, vectors, and matrices.

The Integrating Essential Skills category includes fractions, proportions, rates and percentages, average and median, and geometry fundamentals like angles. Most students learned these concepts before high school and may need to review them with their tutor.

Modeling questions involve real-world applications and are usually related to statistics, algebra, or geometry. Many word problems fall into this category, in which students might be asked to produce, interpret, evaluate, or improve mathematical models based on context.

Your Summit tutor is an expert at the ACT Math test. Each one-on-one session is tailored to your needs, whether it’s to brush up on older material, learn new content, or work on pacing strategies. They’ll also teach you how to recognize question types and best approaches for solving them.

ACT math question types

Pacing

Because timing is such a challenge on the ACT Math section, efficiency is critical. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all timing strategy for the Math test. Time is tight, and how you spend it is an important skill to learn. Keep in mind that even though the test questions are in increasing order of difficulty, there’s no guarantee that you and the test-makers agree on what counts as hard. For example, questions involving vectors and matrices appear in the latter half of the test because they are not often part of high school math curricula, not necessarily because they are difficult to solve.

3 Strategies for Taking the ACT Math Test

Use a two-pass approach – Work through the test once answering everything that comes readily, and don’t get bogged down in anything that seems difficult. Remember, every question is worth one raw point, so you want to ensure that you get to all of the questions that are within your range. A question about the unit circle, for example, would likely appear toward the end of the test because it’s a more advanced topic, but if you’ve just learned it, or you happen to be good at it, that question will be a breeze for you. You wouldn’t want to miss it because you spent too much time wrestling with a probability concept that you never learned.

Make Sure You’re Answering the Question Asked – The ACT includes “attractors,” plausible answer choices meant to trap unsuspecting students. These can be particularly devious on multi-step problems. You may have to solve for x, then plug that value into another equation to get y, for example—don’t be distracted if you see the number you got for x listed among the answer choices. Remember to answer the question that is actually being asked and not the question you think is being asked.

Consider Alternate Methods – Don’t get hung up on solving problems the “real” way, and don’t be afraid to let your calculator do some of the work. You want to get as many questions right as possible, so you should solve each question in the fastest and most accurate way, whatever that may be for you. The best approach can vary widely by question type and by test-taker. Your Summit tutor can help you figure out which strategies are best for each question, and how to recognize those question types.

How the Math Test Impacts Your ACT Score

The Math section accounts for 25% of your ACT score: the English, Math, Reading, and Science sections are weighted equally and are averaged to determine your composite score. Because all four sections are equally weighted, maximizing your score on a section that you find easier takes some pressure off the other three. If Math is a strong subject for you, this would be a good section to target in increasing your composite and super scores. If you struggle with the Math section, you may want to use one or more of the other three sections to compensate.

Take a free practice ACT

Students can take our proctored practice tests in-person or remotely.

As a complimentary service, Summit offers free proctored practice tests and a no obligation consultation to analyze the Score results in detail and provide guidance on your testing plan. Taking practice tests under realistic conditions gives students exposure to the test question types and pacing in a no-risk environment.

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