ACT Math Scores, Content and Questions

The basics you need to know for the ACT math section

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Does algebra leave you confused? Does the thought of geometry giving you anxiety? Maybe math isn't your best subject, so the ACT Math section makes you want to leap into the nearest volcano. You're not alone. The ACT Math section can seem really frightening to someone who isn't an ACT Math expert, but it really isn't anything to stress out about. It simply tests you on math you've learned during your junior and senior years of high school.

You can still do well on this test even if you'd didn't pay a lot of attention in your trigonometry class. Here's what you need to know to master it. 

ACT Math Details

If you haven't taken the time to read ACT 101, you should do so. If you have, you know that the ACT Math section is set up like this:

  • 60 multiple-choice questions – there are no grid-ins on this college admissions exam
  • 60 minutes
  • Grades 9 through 11 math

You can also use an approved calculator on the test, so you don't have to try to figure out all those math questions on your own. 

ACT Math Scores

Just like the other multiple choice test sections, the ACT Math section can earn you between 1 and 36 points. This score will be averaged with the scores from the other multiple-choice sections –English, Science Reasoning and Reading – to arrive at your Composite ACT score.

The national ACT composite average tends to stay right around a 21, but you'll have to do much better than that if you want to be accepted by a top university.

Students attending the top colleges and universities in the country are scoring between 30 and 34 on the ACT Math section. Some, like those attending MIT, Harvard and Yale, are getting closer to 36 on the ACT Math test. 

You'll also receive eight more ACT Math scores based on different ACT reporting categories, and a STEM score, which is the average of the ACT Math and Science Reasoning scores.

ACT Math Question Content

Is it imperative that you take an advanced math class before taking the ACT Math test? You'll probably fare better on the exam if you've taken some trigonometry, and you may have an easier time with the more advanced concepts if you've practiced a bit for the test. But basically, you'll have to brush up your skills in the following categories. 

Preparing for Higher Math (approximately 34 - 36 questions)

  • Number and Quantity (4 - 6 questions): Here, you must demonstrate your knowledge of real and complex number systems. You'll have to understand and reason with number quantities in many different forms, such as integer and rational exponents, vectors, and matrices. 
  • Algebra (7 - 9 questions): These questions will ask you to solve, graph and model many different types of expressions. You'll solve equations with linear, polynomial, radical and exponential relationships, and you'll find solutions to systems of equations, even when they're represented by matrices. 
  • Functions (7 - 9 questions): These questions will test your skills with f(x). Questions may include – but are not necessarily limited to – linear, radical, piecewise, polynomial and logarithmic functions. You must manipulate and translate these functions, as well as apply features of graphs. 
  • Geometry (7 - 9 questions): You will encounter shapes and solids, finding congruence or similarities on things such as surface area or volume. You will have to demonstrate your ability to solve for missing variables in circles, triangles and other figures using trigonometric ​rations and equations of conic sections. 
  • Statistics & Probability (5 - 7 questions): These types of questions will showcase your ability to describe center and spread of distributions, and to understand and model bivariate data and calculate probabilities including related sample spaces.  

Integrating Essential Skills (approximately 24 - 26 questions)

According to ACT.org, these "integrating essential skills" questions are the types of problems you'd probably tackle prior to 8th grade. You'll answer questions related to the following:

  • rates and percentages
  • proportional relationships
  • area, surface area, and volume
  • average and median
  • expressing numbers in different ways

Although these seem pretty simple, the ACT warns that the problems will become increasingly complex as you combine skills in more and more varied contexts. 

ACT Mathematics Practice

There it is – the ACT Math section in brief. You can pass it if you take the time to prepare properly. Take an ACT Math Practice Quiz to gauge your readiness, like those offered by the Khan Academy. Then launch into these 5 Math Strategies to improve your score. Good luck!

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Roell, Kelly. "ACT Math Scores, Content and Questions." ThoughtCo, Sep. 26, 2017, thoughtco.com/act-math-scores-content-and-questions-3211600. Roell, Kelly. (2017, September 26). ACT Math Scores, Content and Questions. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/act-math-scores-content-and-questions-3211600 Roell, Kelly. "ACT Math Scores, Content and Questions." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/act-math-scores-content-and-questions-3211600 (accessed January 23, 2018).