What Is and Isn’t Covered on the ACT Math Test

By Lisa Zimmer Hatch, Scott A. Hatch

One of the four tests of the ACT is the one‐hour Mathematics Test. Here are the topics that it covers, as well as the ones it doesn’t.

This 60‐minute test features 60 questions (which makes figuring out your time per problem convenient, no?). The questions fall into pretty standard categories:

  • Pre‐algebra. (Normal people refer to this as arithmetic.) About one‐fourth of the questions cover basic arithmetic, including such concepts as fractions, decimals, and subtracting negative numbers.

  • Elementary algebra. You learn this type of material in your first semester or two of algebra. These questions test your ability to work with variables, set up algebraic formulas, solve linear equations, and do the occasional FOIL problem. About one-eighth of the questions cover elementary algebra.

  • Intermediate algebra/coordinate geometry. A little less than half of the questions cover more difficult quadratic problems, as well as inequalities, bases, exponents, radicals, and basic graphing (finding points on an x, y–coordinate graph).

  • Plane geometry and trigonometry. A little over one fourth of the questions cover plane figures (what you think of as “just plain figures,” like triangles, circles, quadrilaterals, and so on) and trigonometry. The trig questions make up no more than 10 percent of the test, so if you haven’t had trig yet, don’t despair. At least half of the trig questions are very basic, covering trig ratios and basic trigonometric identities.

Instead of obsessing over how awful the ACT Mathematics Test is, focus on a few of its good points — namely, what isn’t on the test:

  • Calculus. The ACT does not test calculus. You don’t even have to know how to pronounce calculus to get a good ACT Mathematics Test score. It helps to be familiar with foundational trigonometry concepts, and a little pre‐calculus experience may help you work more quickly through one or two questions. Yes, about 10 percent of the test covers trig concepts, but if you answer the other questions correctly, your math score should be outta sight.

  • Traps. Many standardized math exams are full of nasty old traps. The ACT is not. It’s not out to getcha, like other tests. Here, the questions really test your math knowledge, not your patience. You don’t have to be quite as paranoid on the ACT as you do on some other exams.