The ACT Part 3: Math

This is the third in a six-part series on the ACT. Read: Part 1 – Intro, Part 2 – English.

The second section on the ACT is Math. It is the longest section (one hour) and the only one that gets harder as you go on. There are 60 questions, so you have one minute per question, but many of the early questions will take less than one minute while some of the later ones might take a little more.

ACT Math
60 questions
60 minutes
1 minute per question, but later (harder) questions may take longer

The test covers not just algebra and geometry, but higher-level concepts including quite a bit of trigonometry. There are also a few questions on relatively obscure topics like imaginary numbers, matrices, and logarithms.

There are no formulas provided. Here’s what you need to know.

The last ten problems are pretty tough. Students who struggle in their math classes at school might be better off spending the full hour on the first 50 questions and guessing on the last ten. (Remember, when you’re guessing, to bubble your answers in a straight line: A, F, A, F, A, F, etc.)

A few tips:

Most trig problems can be solved with SOH CAH TOA. If a problem gives you a right triangle and tells you that:

sin equation



rewrite the equation like this:

sin equation 2



Some problems contain irrelevant information. Take a look at #34 on p. 458 of the Official ACT Guide. This problem is easy, but many students get confused because of all the distracting information. All you have to do is plug in 50 for d in the formula and put it in your calculator; all the other numbers are irrelevant.

Show your work! This is good advice for doing math generally. Showing work is important for a couple of reasons. First, writing things down helps you think. When I’m doing a math problem for the first time, I usually don’t come up with a multi-step plan and then follow it through. Instead, I just write down what I know (I’ll even re-write equations given in the problem) and go from there. Showing your work will also help you minimize arithmetic errors. You are much more likely to forget to distribute a minus sign, for example, if you do everything in your head.

Also, when you review missed problems (the key to improvement when training for any standardized test), if you don’t have anything written down, you can’t retrace your thought process. You won’t know where your mistakes occurred. So show your work, and make it nice and neat! Try to make your steps look like the steps in a math textbook. Anyone else should be able to look at your work and follow your thought process.

If you make good grades in your math classes, you will probably do just fine. The math section really does test what you learn in school. If you feel under-prepared, get a copy of the Official ACT Guide, and work through a couple of the math sections, looking up the answer explanations to any problems that give you trouble. Most of the problems are pretty basic if you understand the concepts being tested. Unlike on the SAT, the ACT Math has very few trick questions and trap answer choices.

The next post will cover what many students find to be the most challenging part of the ACT: the Reading section.

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