How to Improve Your ACT Math Score

Student writing on paper preparing to improve the ACT Math Score
August 28, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 3/23/23

Are you wondering how to improve your ACT math score? We’ve got you covered! Read on to learn about ACT math strategies from some of the top experts in the US.

The ACT is a standardized test commonly used by colleges in the USA and Canada to assess applicants for undergraduate admission. It is one of the two most popular tests for high school students to take for college applications, with the other being the SAT. 

The ACT intends to measure how well students have learned high-school-level courses, especially the prerequisites for entry-level college courses. The ACT is composed of four subject tests and one optional writing test. The four subject tests include:

  • English 
  • Mathematics
  • Reading
  • Science

This article will go over some excellent ACT math tips and help you to improve your scores for the ACT Math test. 

How Are You Scored on ACT Math?

Like the other sections, the score of your ACT Math ranges between 1 to 36. It is determined by the number of questions that you answer correctly. This means there are no penalties for guessing. 

In the previous section, you can see that the ACT Math is broken down into different sections and subsections, each of which takes up different parts of the ACT Math test. Therefore, each section weighs differently in respect to the final overall score of the math test. The breakdown is shown as the following:

  • The “Preparing for Higher Math” section questions take up around 57% to 60% of the final score
  • The “Integrating Essential Skills” section questions take up around 40% to 43% of the final score
  • The five subsections of the “Preparing for Higher Math” section can be broken down into the following:
  • The “Number & Quantity” sub-section questions take up about 7% to10% of the final score
  • The “Algebra” questions take up about 12% to 15% of the final score
  • The “Functions” questions take up about 12% to 15% of the final score
  • The “Geometry” questions take up about 12% to 15% of the final score
  • Questions in “Statistics & Probability” take up about 8% to 12% of the final score
  • The “modeling” section is not its own section, so all the questions in this section are distributed throughout the previous two sections.

ACT Math Tips to Improve Your Score

Tips to improve your ACT Math score

Now that we have covered important things to understand about the ACT Math test and score, let’s jump into specific ways you can improve your performance on the ACT Math test.

Know What The Test Covers

Familiarizing yourself with the content of the ACT math test will help you learn what you need to prepare for specifically. Below is a list of some essential concepts, skills, and practices for each section of the ACT Math test. 

One key aspect to remember is that you should never neglect the basic concepts! You might think the fundamentals are easy, so you don’t need to spend a lot of time studying them, but forgetting the basics is a sure-fire way to make mistakes that could have easily been avoided. 

Without further ado, here is a compilation of everything crucial for you to know in the ACT Math test. 

Preparing for Higher Mathematics

Number and Quantity

  • Understanding and knowledge of real and complex number systems, including:
  • Natural numbers
  • Integers
  • Rational Numbers
  • Irrational Numbers
  • Real numbers
  • Complex numbers (such as the square root of negative one)
  • Knowledge of basic number concepts such as rounding, order of digits, pattern identification, primes, greatest common factor, and so on
  • Ability to understand, reason with, and perform operations with different forms of numerical values, which includes:
  • Integers
  • Decimals and rational numbers
  • Rational exponents
  • Vectors
  • Matrices


  • Understanding of the following types of algebraic equations, including:
  • Linear
  • Polynomial
  • Radical
  • Exponential
  • Ability to calculate algebraic equations and expressions 
  • Such as combining like terms, similar to 2x + 5x
  • Ability to solve, graph, and model these types of algebraic expressions
  • Ability to find solutions for systems of algebraic equations
  • Understanding of simple algebraic inequalities, such as x > 3


  • Understanding of various kinds of functions, such as:
  • Linear
  • Radical
  • Piecewise
  • Polynomial
  • Exponential
  • Logarithmic
  • Ability to identify and define functions
  • Ability to understand and use a coordinate plane
  • Understanding the notion of functions
  • Know how to graph and represent functions 
  • Understand how to translate and manipulate functions on graphs


  • Understanding of shapes and solids: what they are, their structures, and compositions
  • Questions about triangles take a significant proportion of this category
  • Ability to calculate missing lengths of a geometric figure by using given information about the figure
  • Ability to calculate perimeters, surface areas, and volumes without errors
  • Ability to use trigonometry to perform calculations without errors
  • Understanding and applying concepts such as congruence and similarity
  • Understanding angles associated with parallel lines
  • Exhibit knowledge of basic angle properties and special sums of angle measures

Statistics and Probability

  • Understanding the ability to calculate essential values in statistics, such as average, median, and mode
  • Understanding of statistical distribution and standard deviation
  • Ability to read and interpret graphs, tables, and charts that present data
  • Ability to extract specific required values and perform calculations with them
  • Calculate the missing data value, given the average and all other data values
  • Ability to calculate probability
  • Understanding of the terms “and,” “or” and “not”

Integrating Essential Skills

  • Able to use multiple concepts, skills, and practices together to solve questions that are more complex than those of the previous section
  • Ability to apply concepts, knowledge, skills, and practices into real-life situations
  • Understanding of numerical values and measurements commonly used in real life, including:
  • Rates
  • Percentages
  • Area, surface area, volume, length of sides, etc
  • Average, median, and mode
  • Ability to decide which concepts and practices to use based on context
  • Ability to link different knowledge areas and skill sets to solve non-routine questions

Search The ACT Website

The ACT website provides helpful information for test preparation, which includes guides, online lessons, and practice tests. Some of these tests are full length, and can serve as effective ACT simulations. The website itself offers a few free tests, but you can order more if you need more practice. 

The ACT website is also where announcements and updates about the test are posted, so it is crucial to make a habit of visiting the site frequently. Overall, the ACT website is an excellent place containing many useful resources for those preparing for the ACT. 

Solve the Questions First

When you start working on a question, you would most likely read it first. But after reading the question and understanding what is being asked, do not check out the choices you are given just yet. Instead, solve the question on a scrap piece of paper first, and then select the answer according to what you get. 

If you check the choices first, you could be misguided while attempting to solve the question. Solving the questions yourself while completely ignoring the given choices will allow you to do the questions without distractions. 

Furthermore, if none of the choices matches your solution, it will hint that you may be doing something wrong and that you should go back and check your work carefully in case of mistakes. Do not panic, even if you cannot seem to get a correct answer. You can always skip the question and go back to it.

Do Easy Questions First 

The questions on the ACT Math exam are not ranked in any particular order, which means the difficulty of the questions is randomized from start to finish. Therefore, try not to get discouraged when you are off to a rough start. If you’re stuck on a question, or if something seems difficult to comprehend, skip it first and come back to it later. 

Doing easy questions first will serve three beneficial purposes. Firstly, you need to remember that you have 60 minutes to answer 60 questions, which means you have an average of one minute to answer one question. You don’t need to feel stressed about this timeframe, but a minute per question is not a lot of time, either. 

Finishing the easy questions first will save you lots of time, as these easy questions take less time to complete. You will be able to maximize the number of questions you can answer, and you can give yourself more time to answer the more challenging and complex questions.

Second, doing easy questions first will increase your confidence, thereby improving your mindset. In a long and grueling ACT, your psychological condition plays a big part in your performance. 

Panicking and getting frustrated will make your mind less clear, which will increase the likelihood of making mistakes. Doing the easy questions is an effective way to make yourself feel better and calm yourself down. 

A third way this helps is that the easy questions might give you clues on how to solve the hard questions that you’re stuck with. So stay optimistic and deal with the hard questions later!

Do Well in School

At this point, you should have already noticed that almost all of the topics in the ACT Math test are covered in the math courses at school. After all, the ACT was intentionally designed to examine how well your high school education has prepared you for first-year college mathematics. So, why not use this to your advantage and take the opportunity to get better?

If you are doing well in your current math classes, you will certainly have a higher chance of taking that success to the ACT. Your current coursework can also act as additional practice for math questions on the ACT. 

By extension, you can always ask a math teacher for help, especially on topics and areas that you struggle with. Their job is to teach high-school-level mathematics, so they can undoubtedly provide help for improving your math section score. So stay connected with your math teachers, and don’t hesitate to reach out and seek help.

FAQs: Improving Your ACT Math Score

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about ACT tips for math.

1. Are calculators allowed for ACT Math?

Yes, but only the ones that contain nothing more than calculating functions. Graphing calculators and calculating apps on other devices, such as phones and personal computers, are all prohibited. Further instructions about the calculator policies for the ACT can be found here

2. What Math Is on the ACT?

The math section of the ACT covers a range of mathematical concepts typically taught in high school. Here are some of the main topics that are tested on the math section:

  • Pre-Algebra
  • Elementary Algebra
  • Intermediate Algebra
  • Coordinate Geometry
  • Plane Geometry
  • Trigonometry

It is important to note that the math section of the ACT does not include any calculus or other advanced topics beyond what is taught in high school.

3. How Many Questions are on the ACT Math Section?

The ACT Math section consists of 60 multiple-choice questions and has a time limit of 60 minutes. This means students have an average of one minute to answer each question. 

4. What Is A Good Score for the ACT Math Section?

The ACT Math section is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, with 36 being the highest possible score. What is considered a good score on the math section depends on the college or university you are applying to and their admissions requirements. However, a good score on the ACT Math section is typically considered to be in the range of 25 to 30 or above.

5. Is A 21 on the Math ACT Good?

A score of 21 on the ACT Math section is slightly below the national average of 20.4%. While it is not a particularly strong score, 21 is still considered a passing score and may meet the minimum requirements for admission to some colleges and universities.

Final Thoughts

It is undoubted that the ACT test is essential for students looking to apply for colleges. The ACT Math test is one of the four mandatory subjects, so doing well in this section could determine your chances of getting offers of admission. Fortunately, the ACT Math test is not too difficult, but it certainly requires lots of time and hard work if you wish to do well. 

The ACT Math test material consists of concepts you have likely already learned in school, so you can utilize school work to practice and improve your performance, and, chances are, you have your trustworthy teachers available. If you put in the time, effort, and eagerness, improving your score is certainly achievable, and you’ll be able to get a test score you’re satisfied with!

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