By Sean Alexander

The math section is a stumbling block for many students who take the ACT. Even strong math students can get tripped up by the ACT. However, if you know what to expect and put in the time to practice, you can improve your math score.


Improve Your Math Skills With Expert ACT Math Tips

Although there’s no shortcut to building a strong foundation in math, understanding how the ACT math section works, how it’s scored, and where you should focus your attention can help you score higher. Here are five ACT math tips for getting a great score.

1. Master Your Basic Math Concepts

The ACT math section only covers math questions through the beginning of 12th grade, so you don’t need to have mastered calculus to do well. However, if you have gaps in your math knowledge, your first step should be to fill them.

The math itself isn’t that difficult on the ACT, but you need to thoroughly understand the underlying concepts. The questions are designed to trick you, and you’ll have a hard time focusing if your working memory is overloaded with trying to remember how to solve a quadratic equation. If you’ve forgotten significant math topics, look into taking a refresher course or working with a tutor to hone your skills.

2. Understand and Memorize Relevant Formulas

You won’t have a reference guide for ACT math formulas, so you'll have to memorize the formulas you will likely need. Fortunately, you probably already have many of these formulas committed to memory from your previous math courses. Make sure you understand when you should use each one and can apply it quickly.

For the formulas you don’t know, use a spaced repetition flashcard program such as Anki to memorize them. If you’re more comfortable with physical flashcards, you can use index cards and the Leitner method to accomplish the same thing.

3. Get Real Test Practice

There’s no better way to prepare for the ACT math test than by using real practice questions. Answering questions from practice tests will give you a good idea of what to expect on test day.

Practice Time Management

One of the most challenging aspects of the math portion of the ACT is the pace. There are 60 questions, and you have 60 minutes to answer them, giving you an average of one minute per question. Doing a lot of ACT math practice questions will help you develop an effective strategy for managing your time well. For instance, with practice, you can quickly identify easy and difficult questions and decide which ones require extra time.

Don’t Be Afraid To Skip Harder Questions

In general, the questions on the ACT math test start off easy and progressively get more difficult. The harder questions are not worth any more than the easy questions, so you’ll be better off skipping one hard question if it gives you time to get the correct answer on two or more easier questions.

Work On Real ACT Practice Questions

During your practice test sessions, work on real ACT math questions. Using questions from previous ACTs will give you experience with the types of questions and answer choices you’ll encounter on the real test. You won’t be surprised by trick math questions because you’ll know what to look for.

Familiarize Yourself With the Different Types Of Questions

If you work enough ACT practice math questions, you'll start to see a pattern in the types of questions. The ACT math test questions are divided into two categories: preparing for higher math and integrating essential skills. This usually works out to the following question types:

  • 14 pre-algebra questions
  • 10 basic algebra questions
  • 9 intermediate algebra questions
  • 14 plane geometry questions
  • 9 coordinate geometry questions
  • 4 trigonometry questions

4. Review and Analyze Mistakes and Learn To Overcome Them

Analyzing your mistakes is one of the best methods for learning how to get better at math. After you finish an ACT math practice test, look at your wrong answers. Review each one and categorize it according to why you missed it, such as careless mistakes, conceptual errors, or time management.

Develop a study planbased on your errors. For instance, if you missed a problem because you didn’t know how to answer, determine what concepts you don’t understand and work on those. If you run out of time, focus on answering the easiest questions first and practice taking timed ACT math tests to increase your speed. Take note of any careless errors so you can avoid repeating them.

5. Work on Mental Math Skills

Being proficient in mental math will give you an edge on the ACT math test. Ideally, you should be able to answer 40 simple basic math facts in one minute. Practically, this means you shouldn’t have to think about the answer to a math fact — it should just pop into your head. Achieving this level of automaticity during your ACT math prep will make it easier to solve problems quickly on the real test. If you have to stop and think about the answer to 7 x 8, you’ll get bogged down in the problem.

In addition to math fact automaticity, it’s a good idea to commit fractions, decimals, and percent equivalents to memory, such as ¼ = 0.25 = 25%. However, mental math isn’t all about memorization. You should also work on developing fluency and flexibility with numbers. If you’re solving a problem and you reach a step where you need to subtract 39 from 123, having to write that out and solve it by regrouping can be time-consuming. If, instead, you can think 123 - 39 is the same as 124 - 40, the problem will be much easier to solve — whether you solve it in your head or write it out on paper.

Preparing for Your ACT Test Has Never Been Easier With Online Tutoring

At Alexander Tutoring, our experts work with all types of students to develop an individualized study plan for ACT math success. Whether you’re looking to tweak your test-taking strategies or you need to work on closing gaps in your learning, we can help you succeed. Reach out today to learn more.


  • Sean Alexander

    COMMAND PILOT, OWNER Sean has been a professional educator for 15 years and has taught math, physics, and astronomy at all levels.  His experience ranges from working at a high school for severe learning differences to teaching advanced physics at Stanford.  After completing his graduate work in theoretical physics Sean founded Alexander Tutoring, with the mission of revealing the deep connections between math and nature to as many students as possible. 

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