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Minh Nguyen

ACT Algebra: Everything You Need to Know

Of the 60 questions on the ACT math section, about 21 of them will consist of algebra problems. That’s about 1/3 of the total math test, so you’ll ned to have a firm grasp on the concepts listed here in order to do well.

Below you’ll find everything you need to know conveniently listed so that you can go through and pick out the topics you need to work on.

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Photo by felixleong

ACT Math: Elementary Algebra Topics

Solving Expressions With Substitution

Here you need to be very comfortable to manipulating equations, solving a problem with given expressions and numbers, and plugging in numbers. This is your basic bread and butter of algebra,.

Simplifying Algebraic Expressions

Know how to combine like terms and how to factor. In order to do this, you’ll
need to know basic math properties such as the associative and distributive

Writing/Solving Expressions and Equations

On some problems, you’ll need to take a word problem and convert it into
simple linear equation or expression in order to solve it. To solve equations,
the most reliable way to get to the answer is by isolating the variable on one
side of the equation and the numbers on the other side.

Multiplying Binomials

When you see a binomial, the first thing you should think about is FOIL. This
stands for First, Outer, Inner, and Last.


You can treat these the same as equations, but remember that the sign flips and points the other way whenever you multiply or divide both sides by a negative number.

ACT Math: Intermediate Algebra Topics

Quadratic Equations

Most of the time, you can factor a quadratic equation problem on the ACT. However, you should know the quadratic formula just in case you need it.

Systems of Equations

There are multiple ways to solve a system of equations – so make sure you
know how to do it several ways. Depending on the problem, one way will be
quicker than another.

Relationships Among Variables in an Equation

You’ll sometimes come across some tougher questions that ask you to think
about what happens to one variable as another variable increases or
decreases. If you aren’t sure, you can try plugging in a few values and
check the answer. Beware of variables to a power higher (or lower) than 1.


The ACT likes to throw in multistep problems that involve figuring out the answer to one function and then plugging that answer into a second function. Make sure you don’t confuse one function with the other!


You won’t see too many of these on the ACT, but make sure you know how
they work and the basics of logarithms.


Again, it’s a topic that is not tested very often, but make sure you familiarize
yourself with them so that you don’t waste too much time trying to remember
how they work.

ACT Algebra Review: What to Do Next

Now it’s time for you to put your head down and study hard. If you have a mountain of studying to do, don’t despair! I strongly recommend that you break it down into manageable, small sections so that you can learn effectively while avoiding burnout.

Good luck!

Ready for more advanced stuff? Check out our ACT Trigonometry guide!

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About Minh Nguyen

Minh's passion for helping students succeed grew during his time as a career counselor at the University of California, Irvine. Now, he's helping students all over the world by spilling SAT/ACT secrets through blog posts on Magoosh. When he's not busy tutoring or writing, he enjoys playing guitar, traveling, and talking about himself in third-person.

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