Translating ACT Math Word Problems

By Lisa Zimmer Hatch, Scott A. Hatch

Part of ACT For Dummies Cheat Sheet

When you see a word problem on the ACT Math Test, you may feel a little lost at first. Straightforward math equations seem so much more, well, straightforward. Even though word problems are written in English, they may seem like they’re written in a foreign language. To help you with the translation, here are some of the more common words you encounter in word problems and tells you what they mean (and look like!) in math terms.

Plain English Math Equivalent
More than, increased by, added to, combined with, total of, sum
Add (+)
Decreased by, diminished by, reduced by, difference between,
taken away from, subtracted from, less than, fewer than
Subtract (–)
Of, times, product of Multiply
Ratio of, per, out of, quotient Divide
Percent Divide by 100
Is, are, was, were, becomes, results in Equals (=)
How much, how many, what, what number The unknown, usually a variable (x, y)

Subtraction phrases such as “taken away from,” “subtracted from,” “less than,” and “fewer than” require you to switch the order of the quantities you’re subtracting. For example, “Ten decreased by six” means 10 – 6 (which equals 4), but “Ten subtracted from six” means 6 – 10, or –4.