Mastering the ACT: Need to Know Math

Not all math tests are created equal. Take it from someone who teaches a lot of math: The ACT math section is a really, really bad math test. But it's beatable. Almost all the questions are word problems, it covers a mixture of concepts including pre-algebra (think: ratios and percents), algebra I (think: slope-intercept form), geometry (think: triangles, triangles, triangles), algebra II (think: graphing coordinate points), and a tiny bit of trigonometry (think: SOH CAH TOA). Unlike school math tests, you don't spend the week leading up to the exam reviewing the concepts and perfecting the skills that will show up on test day. In fact, many of the math concepts on the ACT you won't have encountered since 7th or 8th grade. Anyone remember how to find the GCF or LCM? Luckily, most of the concepts and questions are much easier than what you experience at school. There's no need to be a math genius to have success on the math ACT. Just review the main concepts tested below and learn how to read word problems for the important information. You'll do great!

Remember, the math section is 60 minutes long and features 60 multiple choice questions. That sounds like you only have 1 minute per question. However, some questions are MUCH easier than other questions.

Here are a few tips:

  1. The easier problems tend to be earlier in the test. And guess what? They’re worth exactly the same as the hard problems. Focus on getting all the easy questions right.

  2. Almost all the problems are story problems. The more complicated or longer the story is, the more likely they are trying to make an easy problem seem hard. Focus on determining what the question is asking you to do and don’t get lost in all the extra words.

  3. The key part of the question often appears at the very end of the story problem. If you’re having a difficult time understanding what the question is asking, go to the end and work backwards.

  4. Use your answers. The best part of multiple choice tests is that the answer is always on the page. Before you start doing a ton of work to solve the problem, look at the answers and see if there is an easier way to get the problem right.

  5. The answer choices are almost always ordered from smallest to largest or vice versa. If you’re plugging in answers, start with the answer in the middle. If that doesn’t work, it should help you save time by eliminating answer choices as being either too large or too small.

  6. Don’t get stuck on hard questions. Instead, hunt for problems you know how to do and focus on getting them right. If you get stuck on a problem, skip it and come back if you have time.

Master These Formulas

  • Area of a square: ​

  • Base X Height

  • Area of a rectangle:

  • Length X Width

  • Degrees in a rectangle:

  • 360°

  • Area of a trapezoid:

  • 1/2(Base 1 + Base 2) X Height

  • Volume of a rectangular prism:

  • Length X Width X Height

  • Area of a triangle:

  • 1/2 Base X Height

  • Degrees in a triangle:

  • 180°

  • Pythagorean Theorem:

  • A² + B² = C²


  • Sine 𝜣 = Opposite / Hypotenuse

  • Cosine 𝜣 = Adjacent / Hypotenuse

  • Tangent 𝜣 = Opposite / Adjacent

  • Area of a circle:

  • ℼ X radius²

  • Circumference of a circle:

  • 2 ℼ X radius or ℼ X diameter

  • Degrees in a circle:

  • 360°

  • Formula of a circle:

  • (x-h)² + (y-k)² = radius²

  • Center of circle:

  • (h, k)

  • Equation of a line:

  • y = mx + b

  • Slope:

  • m = (y₂-y₁) / (x₂-x₁)

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