How to Prepare for the ACT Math Test

Photo of a young child using a pen to draw ACT math equations on a table
August 28, 2023
10 min read


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/31/22

Improving your ACT Math score is key to achieving a higher composite score. Read on to learn how to make the most of your prep with ACT Math strategies! 

The ACT is one of two standardized tests you can take to apply to colleges. While the SAT and ACT both have a math section, the content you’ll see on each exam differs. 

We’ll walk you through actionable strategies you can implement to make the most of your ACT practice, including understanding the section’s format, taking practice tests, reviewing foundational concepts, and incorporating test-taking strategies sure to help you achieve an excellent score. 

ACT Math Section Format

ACT Math has 60 multiple-choice questions that you must answer within 60 minutes. ACT Math topics cover a lot of ground regarding your foundational math knowledge required for college success. Nine individual scores are reported in ACT Math: these are the approximate percentages devoted to each reporting category. 

Preparing for Higher Math 

This category encompasses more than half (57-60%) of the content you’ll see in ACT Math. Generally, this category encompasses content and strategies students have learned recently through junior and senior courses. This main umbrella of content is further broken down into five sub-categories: 

Number & Quantity: These question types make up approximately 7-10% of Preparing for Higher Math. Your job is to display your understanding of real and complex number systems, handling numbers in many forms, such as exponents, integers, vectors, and matrices. 

Algebra: Algebra questions make up 12-15% of this category and require you to solve, graph, and model expressions. Be prepared to explore equations and linear, polynomial, radical, and exponential relationships. 

Functions: Also making up 12-15% of this category, function questions task you with manipulating and translating functions and identifying and applying important graph features. You may see linear, radical, piecewise, polynomial, and logarithmic functions. 

Geometry: Approximately 12-15% of questions in this category deal with geometry. You'll deal with themes like shapes, solids, surface area, volume measurements, and more. You’ll answer questions about shapes, circles, and triangles (trigonometric ratios and equations of conic sections included). 

Statistics & Probability: The last sub-category makes up 8-12% of questions. You'll calculate probabilities, describe distribution spreads, analyze data collection methods, and more. We have calculated that there is a 100% probability you'll perform your best in the ACT Math section by reviewing these categories! 

Integrating Essential Skills

Integrating essential skills means measuring how well you apply foundational math knowledge to more complex problems. Many concepts fall under this category, including: 

  • Rates and percentages
  • Proportional relationships
  • Area, surface area, and volume
  • Average and median
  • Expressing numbers in numerous ways
  • Solving complex problems involving combined skills in multiple steps
  • Applying your skills in varied contexts
  • Understanding connections
  • Demonstrating mathematical fluency 


Modeling is a broad category referring to questions in the ACT Math section that involves producing, interpreting, understanding, evaluating, or improving models. Modeling questions also fit into the above categories.

Understanding the questions and formatting of ACT Math helps you tailor your studying to concepts you'll see on the actual test. 

Preparing for the ACT Math Test 

Tips on how to prepare for the ACT math test

Dedicating time to adequate ACT Math prep helps you prepare for the exam. These are some ways you can take your prep to the next level. 

Take an ACT Math Practice Test 

Taking ACT Math practice tests is a surefire way to prepare for test day. Studying this way allows you to review under test-day conditions and can help you identify a target score, your areas of improvement, and which concepts you solidly understand. 

Looking at sample questions in ACT Math practice tests helps you feel more confident with the material. You can find ACT Math practice test sample questions like this one on the ACT website. 


Screenshot of an example ACT math practice question about quadrilateral shapes

Practice really does make perfect. You'll want to take a few practice tests throughout your review to measure your progress and increase confidence in the weeks/months leading up to test day.

Learn From Your Mistakes 

Let's be honest: you may not know where your improvement areas are or how much you need to improve when you begin studying for ACT Math. While you may be able to ballpark how you're doing, you won't know for sure until you pick up your pencil and start reviewing. 

Making mistakes is integral to learning how to be great at something. When you make mistakes, try not to get frustrated, even if that's your first instinct. Try to see every mistake you make as an area for opportunity and growth. 

When you make a mistake, you can identify where you went wrong and what you can do to avoid it next time. Keep doing problems with the same concept you didn't quite get the first time. This is the best strategy to ensure you don't fall into the same pitfalls on test day! 

Review Foundational Concepts 

Reviewing your foundational concepts is integral to your ACT Math practice. ACT guides can help you lay the foundation for what you’ll need to succeed. Based on the section’s format, your ACT Math study guide will likely include themes such as: 

  • Trigonometry 
  • Logarithms
  • Functions
  • Linear equations and systems of linear equations
  • Exponents 
  • Polynomials 
  • Number properties and working with numbers 
  • Pre-algebra topics include area, perimeter, ratios, percentages, solving equations, and mean/median/mode
  • Analyzing visual elements like graphs and pictures 
  • Geometry topics such as area, circumference, radius, and diameter 

Many other concepts are related to this list, but this is an excellent starting point for your review. 

ACT Math Strategies

ACT Math tips

Learning and incorporating test-taking strategies during your ACT Math practice will help test day feel like a breeze. These ACT test-taking strategies can help you get the correct answer quicker, saving precious time.

Memorize Formulas Your Way

Unfortunately, unlike SAT-takers, you won't have access to a formula sheet on test day. However, committing formulas to memory doesn't have to be agonizing. The chances are that you may have memorized many of them already!

If you're having trouble remembering your formulas, try to remember them in a way that makes sense to you. Maybe you can connect elements of the formula to something you can easily remember, make a mental song (we don't recommend belting one out on test day), make an acronym, or any other method that works for you. 

Some formulas you should definitely know for the ACT include: 

  • Slope-intercept form 
  • Midpoint formula
  • Logarithms 
  • Averages 
  • Percentages 
  • Area and volume of different shapes 
  • Pythagorean Theorem 
  • Properties of right triangles

Finding your own way to memorize formulas means you’re more likely to remember them! 

Translate Language Into Math, or Vice Versa 

Don’t be shy about marking up your test booklet. Looking at a large chunk of text can make it difficult to pull the relevant pieces you’ll need to answer the question. Try circling or underlining crucial information to make things more manageable. You can then write them underneath to see what you have and what you’ll need. 

It would be best if you also were mindful of math language. Phrases such as "the number of," "how much," or "how many" often represent variables. Other phrases, such as "equal to" or "how much more," can tell you more about how to structure an equation. This method can also work the other way if the question calls for it. 

Brush Up on Your Multiple Choice Skills  

Although this is more challenging for math problems than in the ACT's other sections, you may be able to "guess" which options are at least incorrect. If you see a number that seems an obvious outlier, there's a good chance it won't be your answer. 

However, math can always throw a few curveballs your way. Be careful with this method: sometimes, the option you feel is the odd one out is actually the correct answer! 

Backsolve Using Your Options

Plugging answers into an equation may not be your go-to strategy because it can be time-consuming, but it can help you if you're stuck or have enough time to check your work. Backsolving is a fantastic strategy to know with certainty your answer is correct. 

Determine Your Best Strategy to Tackle Questions 

Determining your best strategies is best done before test day while working through practice tests. Do you want to read the question in its entirety first? Or do you look at the answers first before reading? Do you want to hypothesize about a ballpark answer as you read and see if it aligns with an answer? 

Your best strategy may differ from your peers, and that's okay! Working out which way works best for you is personal and can help you achieve speed and accuracy. 

Draw Visuals for Yourself

You may or may not be the next Van Gogh, but quickly sketching a visual element may help you "see" the answer. This can be especially useful for geometry and trigonometry questions. Feel free to go for it if you feel like seeing numbers expressed visually would help you. 

FAQs: ACT Math Preparation 

Preparing for ACT Math doesn’t have to be so intimidating. If you still have questions, check out these answers. 

1. Should I Study for the ACT With My Calculator? 

Studying with your calculator is okay, mainly because you'll have access to it on test day. Feel free to use your calculator as you take practice tests. However, it's probably best to ensure your calculator is ACT-approved first

2. Why Isn’t My ACT Math Score Improving? 

Seeing your score unchanged even after hours of studying can be stressful for students. However, there are many things within your control you can do to improve your ACT score. Ensure you’re: 

  • Learning from your past mistakes
  • Tackling and managing any test prep stress in a healthy way 
  • Sticking to a consistent yet manageable study schedule that doesn’t make you feel burnt out
  • Focusing on your improvement areas 
  • Memorizing all the formulas you’ll need 

3. How Should I Tackle ACT Math Practice Tests? 

The best way to work through ACT Math questions is under simulated test-day conditions. This means timing yourself to keep in line with the 60 minutes you'll have on test day in a (relatively) quiet and distraction-free environment. 

Put your phone away, turn the music off, and ask your family or housemates not to disturb you while you're practicing. 

4. What Does a Consistent ACT Math Study Schedule Look Like? 

A consistent study schedule means you have blocks of time scheduled each week dedicated to studying for the ACT. How much time you should study per session depends on when the test day is, your baseline, and how much you want to improve your score. 

5. Should I Take All My High School Math Courses Before the ACT? 

You should take all your junior-level math courses before taking the ACT. According to, the math section “assesses the skills students typically acquire in courses taken through grade 11.” 

While you don't necessarily need to take senior-level math courses before taking the ACT, it can help you refresh your knowledge and understand the basics. 

6. I Need Help Studying for the ACT. What Should I Do? 

Seeking the help of a professional ACT tutor is an excellent way to break any bad habits, find new strategies, and boost your ACT Math score. ACT tutors help you strategize, study content, identify your areas for improvement, and work through other ACT sections. 

7. Is the ACT Math Test Hard? 

If math isn’t your forte, you may find ACT Math challenging at first; however, with enough practice and effort, you’re sure to improve your score and finish all questions within the hour. 

8. What Math is on the ACT Math Test? 

All questions in ACT Math can fit into at least one of three categories: Preparing for Higher Math, Integrating Essential Skills, and Modelling. Generally, ACT Math focuses on algebra and geometry, although questions cover various other topics. 

9. Is a 29 on ACT Math Good? 

Scoring a 29 puts you in the 93rd percentile (you scored higher than 93% of test-takers), so yes, this score is considered good. However, whether a score is “good” or not depends on your personal goals and the schools you want to apply to. 

10. How Many Questions Are on the ACT Math Test? 

There are 60 ACT Math questions to answer in one hour. 

Final Thoughts 

ACT Math practice doesn’t have to feel intimidating. Understanding the common college assessment format, taking ACT Math practice tests, and learning from your mistakes will help you achieve a high score. 

Don't forget to implement practical test-taking strategies such as marking up problems, backsolving, and identifying your method of answering ACT Math questions. With all this in mind, you're ready to ace ACT Math! 

Access 5 free ACT practice questions here

Access 5 free ACT practice questions here

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