ACT Math Section
The ACT Math test is 60 minutes long and includes 60 questions. ACT Math exercises are generally self-contained, but there are some groups of questions based on an individual chart or graph. The total score for the ACT Math test is on a scale of 1 to 36, and there are also eight reporting category scores that reflect specific mathematical abilities. The ACT Math test is always the second section to be taken, and students are given a short break afterwards (approximately 10 minutes). Calculators are allowed for the entire ACT Math test (unlike the SAT, which has calculator and no-calculator portions).
The ACT Math test evaluates mathematical skills taught through the junior year of high school. ACT has grouped these skills into three broad areas: Preparing for Higher Math, Integrating Essential Skills, and Modeling. Preparing for Higher Math (34-36 questions) features five "subcategories" dedicated to number and quantity (4-6 questions), algebra (7-9 questions), functions (7-9 questions), geometry (7-9 questions), and statistics and probability (5-7 questions). Students receive reporting category scores for each of the five subcategories and for the Preparing for Higher Math category as a whole. Integrating Essential Skills problems involve basic mathematical concepts such as median and mean, proportions, and calculation of surface area, but these concepts are combined in increasingly challenging ways. The Modeling category requires students to interpret various types of models. Test-takers receive one reporting category score each for Integrating Essential Skills (24-26 questions) and Modeling (about 16 questions), and exercises in the latter area contribute to the scores for other reporting categories.
All ACT Math questions are multiple choice with five answer options. ACT lists four "types of questions" on the Math test: basic math problems, basic math problems in settings, very challenging problems, and question sets. These question types are classified more by difficulty level than the actual mathematical skills tested. Basic math problems involve relatively simple calculations that draw on rudimentary math, algebra, and geometry. Basic math problems in settings (word problems) are more difficult because the student must first decide which calculations he or she needs to perform. Very challenging problems focus on the ability to reason mathematically and to make deductions from the information given. Question sets typically present a graph or chart, from which test-takers must answer multiple questions.
The ACT Math test "measures mathematical skills students have typically acquired in courses taken up to the beginning of grade 12." Certain mathematical skills are assumed, but "recall of complex formulas and extensive computation [are] not required." The main emphasis of the ACT Math assessment is on reasoning skills. ACT Math exercises test fundamental math, algebra, functions, geometry, and concepts in statistics and probability. As noted above, test-takers must be prepared to synthesize several of these abilities in problems of varying complexity.
According to the most recent test-taker data published by ACT, the median Math test score is 19 and the mean is 20.8. Math scores of 34 and above are in the top 1% of all students taking the ACT. More than two-thirds (68%) score 23 or below, while scores of 25 and 30 represent the respective 78th and 95th percentiles. ACT Math scores of 22 and up meet the College Readiness Benchmark for this subject area. Among the most recent group of ACT-tested high school graduates, 41% met this benchmark for ACT Math. This is the second-lowest percentage of the four required ACT sections, above only ACT Science.
Successful applicants to the most selective universities in the United States typically receive ACT Math scores of 30 or above, which is in the top 5% of all ACT-tested students. At the University of Virginia, for example, more than three-quarters of first-year students (77.5%) were at or above this level. At the University of Pennsylvania, the first-year cohort had an even higher percentage of 30+ scorers (79.5%). Harvard University reports a 25th-percentile ACT Math score of 31, and nearly 82% of new Harvard undergraduates achieved ACT Math scores of 30-36. Although elite universities rarely have minimum test score requirements for applicants, testing data indicate that these institutions admit very few low-scoring candidates.