When students apply to college, they will have to submit their scores from either the SAT or the ACT. Which test a student decides to take depends on which test they think they'll do better on based on the content of the test, and many students take into consideration how much math they will be examined on.

The ACT has less math than the SAT, but it's also different. Understanding more about the ACT Math section can help you not only choose what test is right for you, but hopefully help you to score higher on this section and the entire test overall.

About the ACT Math Section

The ACT Math section is one of the four sections that you will have to take on the ACT examination. According to PrepScholar, the ACT has four sections, English, Math, Reading and Science, and each section is worth the same amount. If math is your strong point, then you can boost your overall score, but if you struggle in this area of academics, then it's a good idea to spend significant time studying the material.

The Differences Between Math on ACT vs. SAT

If you're trying to decide whether or not you should take the ACT or the SAT based on how comfortable you are with math, then it's important to consider the overall differences between these tests, as well as the specific differences when it comes to their math sections. While the ACT only has one math section, the SAT has two: one with a calculator and one without a calculator.

Even though the SAT as a section that requires you to do the math without the help of a calculator, you can use a calculator (as long as it follows guidelines) during the entire ACT math portion to help you complete the questions that much faster.

That being said, despite the fact that the SAT has two math sections, students are given more time than the ACT to complete each of those questions. While the ACT gives students a minute to solve each question, the SAT gives students 75 seconds a question for the no calculator section and 87 seconds a question for the section with the calculator, according to PrepScholar.

Also, unlike the SAT, which has only four possible answers on the math multiple choice questions, the ACT has five answer choices per question. Therefore, even though the "no guessing policy" applies to both tests, your chances of guessing wrong on the ACT are higher than guessing wrong on the SAT.

There are also some other differences to consider:

  • The SAT provides students with a math formula reference guide, while the ACT doesn't.
  • The ACT puts more of an emphasis on geometry than the SAT.
  • On the ACT, the math section counts as a quarter of your final score, while on the SAT, it counts for half of your total score.

ACT Math Topics

Another way to determine which test is better for you is to familiarize yourself with what to expect in terms of the ACT math topics. In addition to having a heavy focus on geometry, the ACT tests students on their knowledge of various algebraic concepts. According to PrepScholar, the ACT math section is broken up into several areas in terms of what you will be tested on:

  • Pre-Algebra: About 12 to 15 questions on concepts like basic operations, place value, ratios, absolute value and number order.
  • Elementary Algebra: About nine to 12 questions on concepts including, but not limited to, properties of square roots and exponents, solving algebraic expressions through substitution and solving quadratic equations by factoring.
  • Intermediate Algebra: About nine to 12 questions testing you on everything from the quadratic formula and systems of equations, to roots of polynomials and rational and radical expressions.
  • Coordinate Geometry: About nine to 12 questions, including graphic equations, graphing inequalities and distance and midpoints.
  • Plane Geometry: About 12 to 15 questions asking about properties and relations of plane figures, properties of shapes, transformations and proofs and proof techniques, just to name a few.
  • Trigonometry: About three to six questions about right triangles, trigonometric functions and solving trigonometric equations.

How Long Is the ACT Math Section?

The entire ACT is two hours and 55 minutes long and three hours and 35 minutes long with the essay. The math section of the ACT is 60 minutes long, with 60 multiple-choice questions to answer. This doesn't give you too much time to answer each question, so it's important to pace yourself accordingly.

The math section of the ACT comes after the English section and before the reading section. According to PrepScholar, there is only one break on the ACT, which is a ten-minute break that comes right after the math section, before the reading section begins. So be sure to use the bathroom, and eat your snack before the test starts so that you can get through the first half of the test without any distractions.

Preparing with ACT Math Practice

In order to prepare for any standardized test, you'll need to spend a lot of time studying, with a focus on the areas that you feel you need to prepare for the most. For many students who feel that math can be a challenge, it's necessary to prioritize studying for this section as much as possible.

No two people will study the same way. But there are some study and test-taking strategies which seem to lead to positive results:

  • Sign up for an ACT prep course, using free materials online, books, a private class or tutor or an online course.
  • Review the types of questions and various approaches to those questions.
  • Try the trial and error approach to certain questions by plugging in answers, but only do this if you are unsure of how to solve the problem otherwise.
  • Understand what your biggest challenge is, whether that's time management or the content itself.
  • Practice your timing by taking the ACT Practice Test.
  • Skip over questions that you're having trouble solving. Remember, you only have a minute for each question, so don't dwell on a question if you don't know the answer right away. Mark it and come back to it.
  • Try to leave some extra time at the end of the math section to go back and double check your answers.

What's a Good Score on the ACT Math Section?

Sometimes, it helps students to study better when they know what score they should be aiming for on the ACT. By looking at your target schools and seeing what they recommend for an ACT score among their applicants, you can get a good idea of how you'll need to do on the test overall.

The highest score you can get on the math section of the ACT is a 36, as is the case for each of the sections (excluding the writing section). The score you get on each section will be added together to get your composite score, which is between one and 36. The highest score you can get on the ACT overall is also a 36. This would be a perfect score, and although schools will certainly look upon their applicants favorably who have a this score, you don't need to necessarily aim for that.

According to PrepScholar, the average ACT score is a 20.8, while a "good" ACT score would be a 29, which would put you in the top ten percent. That being said, what's considered a "good" ACT score depends on your abilities and the school you want to get into.

Students can look up recommended scores online and try to score within the 75th percentile of that school's score range. If you feel that you struggle in the math portion of the ACT, then work as hard as you can on the other sections to lift up your overall score. Remember that while it's important to study hard for the ACT, college admissions takes into consideration many other aspects of your application when making the decision about whether or not you'll be admitted.

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About the Author

Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer from New York, currently living in Mexico. She has spent the last 5 years traveling the world and living abroad and has lived in South Korea and Israel. Before becoming a writer, Hana worked as a teacher for several years in the U.S. and around the world. She has her teaching certification in Elementary Education and Special Education, as well as a TESOL certification. Hana spent a semester studying abroad at Tel Aviv University during her undergraduate years at the University of Hartford. She hopes to use her experience to help inform others. Please visit her website, www.hanalarockwriting.com, to learn more.