ACT Math Test Prep: Here’s What You Need to Know

Here are some ACT math test prep tips for you on your test day!

Source: Flickr user scubasteveo.

It’s the spring semester of your junior year–April to be exact. Bright and early one Saturday morning you wake up, head to your testing site, and begin to mentally prepare yourself. The next three hours of your life will be spent filling in bubbles and wracking your brain for things you learned way back during freshman year.  

Forty-five minutes later, and you have made it through the English section. Your brain is already in desperate need of a break. You know what is coming next… the dreaded triangle with one angle measurement and length of a leg. Or, perhaps it’s your old friend the quadratic equation. The testmakers also want you to solve for x, but who remembers how to multiply and divide fractions?!  

You can feel the anxiety radiating off your peers in waves. But you are good to go. You read this article on ACT math test prep, so you knew what to study and be prepared for! With a deep breath, and a sharpened pencil, you turn the page and begin the mathematics section of the ACT test.  

The Mathematics Test section of the ACT is made up of 60 multiple choice questions, and you have 60 minutes to complete it. Using some quick math (see what I did there?), that comes out to exactly one question per minute.

Yes, you are allowed a calculator (no I did not need one for the 60 questions in an hour thing), but the questions are designed so they are answerable without a calculator as well.  

On their website, ACT provides a breakdown of the Math Test.

Here is what you need to know:

Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra (35-45%)

      • Basic Operations (Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally)
        • parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction
      • Linear Equations
        • y=mx+b
      • Descriptive Statistics
        • mean, median, mode, range
      • Factoring (FOIL: First Outside Inside Last)
        • (x+2)(x+3)=x2+5x+6

Intermediate Algebra/Coordinate Geometry (30-40%)

      • Quadratic Equation
        • x=-b±√b2-4ac/2a
      • Functions
        • f(x)=x+5
      • Matrices
      • Polynomials
        • (+2x)×(3+3x+7)
      • Graphing
        • plotting points, parallel and perpendicular lines, slope, etc.

Plane Geometry/Trigonometry (25-35%)

    • Angles
      • corresponding, supplementary, complementary, etc.
    • Properties of circles, triangles, rectangles, parallelograms, trapezoids
      • perimeter, area, and volume
      • radius, diameter, and circumference
    • Trigonometry relations in right triangles
      • sin, cos, tan

While this is not an exhaustive list, it is a great place to start. When you are studying, start at the top (where concepts are simpler) and work your way down. Remember, your math knowledge builds on itself. You cannot work with properties of a circle without first knowing how to do a simple algebraic equation. Master the basics and then move on to the more complex concepts.

The best part is, there are free study materials that you can find in your notes from classes you have already taken!  One of the best places to start is by looking over old homework assignments.  Your teachers are also valuable resources. If you know there are one or two concepts that you really struggled with, or could use a refresher on, go ask them if they can go over it with you.  Teachers also have access to practice worksheets and packets of notes.  

If you are looking for a more structured approach to studying for the ACT, there are many ACT test prep resources available online. ACT is launching a new, individualized Online Prep platform this month (December 2015). With the purchase of a year-long access pass, you also get the mobile app for free. There are also test prep books you can buy from Amazon or your local bookstore.  

If you have any other helpful hints to share let us know in the comments section!  

Happy studying.


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