Math can be one of the trickiest sections to prep for on the ACT because it offers a uniquely challenging blend of difficult content-based questions and aggressive pacing. To prepare, students must balance reviewing the material that’s tested and practicing the most important strategies & techniques. Before even starting the prep process, however, the first step is understanding the structure of ACT Math and what’s actually tested on the section. Inspirica Pros is here with an overview of the ACT Math section to get you started on the road to crushing the test.
Structure of the ACT Math Section
ACT Math is comprised of 60 questions, with students given a nice round 60 minutes to complete them. (If you can’t work out that that gives you an average of one minute per question, then it’s probably time to start reviewing now.)
It’s important to note that Math is the only section on the ACT where the questions scale in terms of difficulty; that is, problem #1 is going to feel noticeably easier than problem #60. With that being said, you definitely shouldn’t expect a consistent, linear increase in difficulty. Part of the reason for that comes from the fact that students’ math strengths & weaknesses vary widely: what’s difficult for you might not be so hard for another test-taker, and vice versa.
Much of the inconsistency, however, is by design. The ACT loves to put difficult questions earlier in the section than they should be located in order to throw off inexperienced test-takers. Remember that the structure of the test is part of the challenge of the test. For more on how to address this challenge, check out our blog post that provides an overview of ACT Math section strategy.
What’s on the Section
The content that is tested on these 60 questions’ worth of fun spans a fairly broad spectrum, ranging in complexity from extremely basic material that you probably haven’t seen in years (such as mean, median, and mode) to advanced topics that many students don’t cover until Precalculus (like matrices). The bulk of the section, however, focuses on core algebra, functions, and plane & coordinate geometry concepts.
One of the most common mistakes that students make when preparing for the ACT Math section is assuming that all they need to do to improve is study math content. This is what the test wants you to think, but it simply isn’t the case. Remember that this section is also assessing your critical reasoning and your test-taking skills. This is true on both a micro level and a macro level.
In the narrow sense, individual questions will test your ability to “think around corners” by giving you both a ‘front door’ method to get the answer, i.e. having a firm grasp of the content, and a ‘side door’ method to get the answer, such as plugging in numbers or graphing an equation. These ‘side door’ techniques can be used on a wide variety of questions and so are actually more important than any individual piece of content knowledge.
In a broader sense, the structure of the ACT Math section is designed to test your ability to prioritize questions and distribute your time effectively. Thinking of this section as one big blob of 60 questions where you have one minute to solve each one is a surefire way to run out of time. As an example, you would expect problem #10 to take you a lot less time to solve than problem #50, right? So you probably shouldn’t go into the section planning to treat those two questions in the same way.
You can see that the question of “what’s covered on ACT Math” is a bit more complicated than it might initially seem. Fortunately, we’ve got an entire post dedicated to the most important strategies & techniques; give it a look for more details about all of the above.
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And there you have your summary: the structure and content of the ACT Math section, demystified. Not too scary, right? Of course, just knowing what’s on the ACT Math section isn’t enough; you also have to learn the best strategies & techniques and practice them consistently. Fortunately, we know some people who can help with that. Head over to Inspirica Pros’ ACT headquarters to learn more about our ACT prep options. Our squad of test gurus would love to help you crush the ACT.