ACT Math: How to Solve Problems With Exponents

Of the basic order of operations, exponents can be tricky to handle, especially when ACT test-makers deliberately try to confuse you on ACT Math. It is very important to get the hang of these because it lays the foundation for more advanced topics, such as logarithms and roots.

exponents on the ACT -magoosh

The basics of exponents

There are two parts to an exponent: the base and the value of the exponent itself. The base tells you what is being multiplied by itself, and the value of the exponent tells you how many times the base gets multiplied.

For example, 54 is equivalent to 5*5*5*5. The 5 is the base, and the 4 is the exponent. Laid out like this, it is easy to see why exponents can be simplified. Since we are combining large amounts of the same numbers being multiplied together, we can easily group them.

Most problems that have to do with exponents on the ACT test you on your ability to simplify correctly. Therefore, it is vital that you know the rules on how to combine exponents in order to turn complicated expressions into something more manageable.

With careful practice and repetition, you won’t have to rely on memorizing rules. Instead, it’ll become almost second nature, allowing you to concentrate on deconstructing more difficult problems and concepts.

How to tackle exponents on the ACT

Dividing Exponents With the Same Base

In order to divide two terms containing the same base, subtract the exponents and keep the base.

For example, 35 – 33 = 32.

Multiplying Exponents With the Same Base

In order to multiply two terms containing the same base, add the exponents and keep the base.

For example, 35 + 33 = 38.

Raising Exponents to a Power

In order to raise an exponent to a power, multiply the exponents and keep the base.

For example, (35)5 = 325.

Evaluating Negative Exponents

In order to solve for negative exponents, take the reciprocal of the base and exponent. After that, change the sign of the exponent from negative to positive.

For example, x-5 = 1/x5.

Evaluating Fractional Exponents

Evaluate the numerator of the exponent like normal. Evaluate the denominator of the exponent as you would a radical.

For example, x(5/2) = the square root of x5.

Squares and Cubes

Squaring a number means to multiply the value by itself.

Cubing a number is taking it to the third power.


  • 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.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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