Since 2016, the ACT Math section has undergone some changes that, indeed, have made the section a bit more difficult. The ACT has introduced a wider variety of advanced math topics since 2016, though it has not increased the emphasis placed on difficult questions. Rather, the ACT rotates these topics among the most challenging math questions that typically show up at the conclusion of the section. The bulk of the content remains the same, but you may run into some questions towards the end of the math section that feel more challenging.
ACT vs. SAT Math
While the redesigned SAT has narrowed its focus in the math section and tends to include more algebra (accounting for more than 60% of the math sections!), the ACT has moved in the opposite direction by expanding its scope to include a broader variety of advanced topics. For example, over the past several years the ACT has begun including topics like matrix multiplication, conic sections, asymptotes, terminal sides and coterminal angles — the list goes on.
The range of topics covered by the ACT is looking more and more like that of the SAT Math II Subject Test. The key distinction here, however, is that the ACT is not placing the same degree of emphasis on the hardest math concepts — chances are the advanced topics will show up in small numbers towards the end of the section.
By pushing the upper limits of math content difficulty, the ACT requires students to achieve a higher level of mastery in advanced math concepts in order to attain top scores. This may be part of a larger scheme to more effectively populate the full score range, with more of a tangible distinction between scores in the 30-36 range. Fewer students with perfect scores allows for a broader range of scaled and raw scores.
How Useful Is My Calculator?
Additionally, the ACT writers seem to be crafting problems that render your calculator less useful. By asking more conceptual questions or asking for answers in terms of variables rather than numerical values, the ACT pushes test-takers to more deeply understand the content. The ACT is also directly assessing math vocabulary by asking for the computational definition of independent events in a probability question, for example. Without explicit knowledge of these terms, a student will be less likely to select the correct answer and a calculator will be of no use to you in these cases.
All this is to say: Yes, the ACT is including more difficult concepts in the math section, but not to worry! Every test-taker is experiencing the same increase in difficulty level and scores will be scaled accordingly. For top score hopefuls, mastering the advanced math concepts will be key to working towards that 34, 35, or 36. If math is your strong suit, this may be an opportunity to make your ACT score stand out. If you’re struggling with ACT math content, trying to figure out how to structure your study regimen, looking to take your test scores to the next level, or anything in between, we would be happy to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out! At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!