Once known as the college entrance exam of choice for strong math students, the ACT has always demanded both broad and deep mastery of math concepts learned from grade school to high school. The SAT may currently hold the crown for the test best suited for math whizzes, but ACT Math is tough and getting tougher. Understanding the new ACT Mathematics Reporting Category provides useful insights into the test maker’s assessment goals for this part of the test.
Preparing for Higher Math
Of the 60 questions on the ACT Math test, roughly 36 (57-60%) of them evaluate what is considered high school math, spanning the point where students learn to use algebra as a general way of expressing and solving equations to advanced topics in Algebra 2 and Trigonometry:
Number & Quantity (7–10%)
Students must demonstrate knowledge of real and complex number systems, integers and rational exponents, and vectors and matrices.
Students must be able to solve, graph, and model multiple types of expressions, using different kinds of equations, including but not limited to linear, polynomial, radical, and exponential relationships.
Students must demonstrate knowledge of function definition, notation, graphing, representation, and application, across linear, radical, piecewise, polynomial, and logarithmic functions.
Students must demonstrate knowledge of shapes and solids, such as congruence and similarity relationships or surface area and volume measurements, and solve for missing values in triangles, circles, and other figures, including using trigonometric ratios and equations of conic sections.
Statistics & Probability (8–12%)
Students must be able to describe center and spread of distributions, apply and analyze data collection methods, understand and model relationships in bivariate data, and calculate probabilities, including the related sample spaces.
Integrating Essential Skills
The other 24 or so (40-43%) ACT Math questions address concepts typically learned before 8th grade, such as rates and percentages; proportional relationships; area, surface area, and volume; average and median; and expressing numbers in different ways. This portion of the math test offers hope for every student, even those who struggle with math in school. Essentials Skills concepts are relatively simple and familiar, even if word problems testing them can be wordy and complex.
This additional category does not introduce additional questions, but instead quantifies achievement on those Higher Math and Essential Skills questions that involve producing, interpreting, understanding, evaluating, and improving models. Modeling skills across mathematical topics is tested through word problems, though not every ACT Math word problem counts as a modeling problem.