ACT Math



ACT has typically used students’ most recent scores for reporting and research purposes. They found that students who retest on the ACT perform better than expected in college based on their test scores, and that traditionally underserved groups receive more fair consideration with the option of superscoring. Read the full blog to see how and why.

Math Readiness Drops to 14-Year Low among US High School Graduates


Readiness in math is trending downward among ACT-tested US high school graduates, falling to its lowest mark in 14 years, according to The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2018, ACT’s annual score report. The report is based on 2018 graduates around the country who took the ACT test.

The percentage of ACT-tested graduates who met or surpassed the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in math—suggesting they are ready to succeed in a first-year college algebra class—fell to its lowest level since 2004; 40% of 2018 graduates met the math benchmark, down from a high of 46% in 2012.

In addition, students’ average score on the ACT math test dropped to its lowest level in more than 20 years—down to 20.5 (on a scale of 1 to 36), continuing a slide from 21.1 in 2012 to 20.7 last year. Student readiness in math was on an upswing from the early 2000s to 2012, but it has gradually declined since then.

“The negative trend in math readiness is a red flag for our country, given the growing importance of math and science skills in the increasingly tech-driven US and global job market,” said ACT CEO Marten Roorda. “It is vital that we turn this trend around for the next generation and make sure students are learning the math skills they need for success in college and career.”

The results are based on the more than 1.9 million 2018 graduates—55 percent of the national graduating class—who took the ACT® test.


English Readiness Also Dropping

Readiness in English has also been trending down over the past several years, dropping from 64% in 2015 to 60% this year, the lowest level since the benchmarks were introduced.

Readiness levels in reading (46%) and science (36%) were both down one percentage point from last year but are showing no long-term trends either upward or downward. Science remains the subject area in which students are least likely to be prepared for college coursework.

More Students at Bottom of Readiness Scale

A growing percentage of students are falling at the bottom of the preparedness scale. Thirty-five percent of 2018 graduates met none of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, up from 31% in 2014 and from 33% last year. These students are likely to struggle in first-year college coursework in all four core subject areas.

In addition, slightly fewer ACT-tested graduates were well prepared for college coursework overall this year than last year. Thirty-eight percent of 2018 graduates met at least three of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in the core subject areas, down from 39% in 2017 but the same as in 2016.

“Innovation is important in improving educational outcomes,” said Roorda. “One big step we can take is to make sure that our learning resources are designed in a way that is more personalized and better fits this generation’s way of consuming information. ACT is committing significant research and resources to this effort.”

Average ACT Composite Score Drops Back Down

The national average ACT composite score for the 2018 graduating class was 20.8, down from 21.0 last year but the same as in 2016.

Hispanic, African American Students Lag Behind

Hispanic and African American students continue to lag behind their white and Asian-American counterparts in terms of college readiness. Asian Americans remain the best prepared group as a whole; their average composite score rose this year compared to last year, while scores for students in all other racial/ethnic groups went down slightly.

Underserved Learners Struggle

College readiness levels remain markedly low overall for underserved learners (low-income, minority, and/or first-generation college students—who make up 43% of all ACT-tested graduates). Once again, fewer than a fourth of underserved graduates were well prepared for college coursework overall compared to slightly more than half of students who were not considered underserved.

“Underserved students often face obstacles that their peers do not,” said Roorda. “We must work hard to ensure they have equal access to a quality education, including challenging courses that focus on college-readiness skills and planning resources to help them create a pathway to success. ACT is focused on improving equity through our Center for Equity in Learning and other efforts.”

During the 2017-2018 academic year, ACT awarded more than 500,000 fee waivers to low-income high school students across the nation, allowing them to take the ACT for free. Unfortunately, 28% of these fee waivers were not used, suggesting that over 150,000 eligible students missed out on an opportunity to take the ACT for free during the past year alone.

STEM Readiness Down Slightly

Twenty percent of graduates met or surpassed the ACT STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Benchmark, which represents readiness for first-year courses typically required for a STEM major. The average national STEM score—a combination of the ACT math and science scores—was 20.9 in 2018, down from 21.1 in 2017.

College Aspirations High, but Often Not Realized

Student aspirations are high. Around three-fourths (76%) of 2018 ACT-tested graduates said they aspire to postsecondary education. Most of those students said they aspire to a four-year degree or higher.

A significant portion of students who hope to attend college, however, don’t actually enroll. While 82% of last year’s 2017 ACT-tested graduates said they aspired to attend college, only 66% actually ended up enrolling. If this “aspirations gap” were fully closed, an additional 322,526 of last year’s ACT-tested graduates would have enrolled in postsecondary education.

Once again this year, only 4 percent of ACT-tested graduates indicated they plan to pursue a career in education. These numbers point to no relief in sight for the US teacher shortage, which is projected to grow to over 100,000 educators by 2021.


ACT’s report provides specific recommendations to help meet its goal for all young people to have access to a high-quality, holistic education that will get them on target for college and career readiness by the time they graduate from high school:

  • Give educators the resources they need to help improve educational outcomes.

  • Assess student learning and implement improvement strategies starting early in students’ educational careers.

  • Provide equitable resources for underserved students.

  • Ensure that students’ education is holistic and addresses the needs of the “whole learner.”

  • Collect, handle, and use assessment data responsibly, with special attention to maintaining its security and quality.

About the Report

The report includes ACT score results from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, including 16 states that required all students to take the ACT as part of their statewide testing programs and another three states that funded ACT testing on an optional basis. It also includes the results from more than 1,100 individual school districts across the country that administered the ACT to all students.

Improving Your ACT Math Score

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ACT Math is a real challenge for some test-takers. Sometimes, even students who pride themselves on their math skills can be caught off-guard by the ACT. Below are five tips to help you improve your ACT Math score, whether you’re a “math person” or not.




Noticing small details is essential to scoring well in ACT Math. So many ACT students will say they missed math questions due to “stupid mistakes.” In these so-called “stupid” mistakes, test-takers see all the information in a math problem, but they fail to properly recognize certain details.


ACT Math loves to test your ability to notice and correctly interpret every number, symbol, word, or graphic in a math problem. As you practice for the test, teach yourself to scan ACT Math questions for small-but-important-details, such as decimal points, math signs, the wording of story problems, and the components of graphs and charts.




There is no numeric entry in ACT Math, just multiple choice. The correct answer to each math problem will be right in front of you, among the answer choices. When you’re not sure of the right answer, you can always find the correct response by thinking logically and strategically. Learn how to eliminate incorrect answers, and learn the different ways in which ACT Math likes to trick you with tempting-but-wrong choices.




Not all ACT prep materials are created equal. A good set of prep materials for ACT Math is important—think helpful tutorials, good advice, and useful practice materials. Check the official ACT website for helpful advice, tools, and resources.  




Yes, the ACT lets you use a calculator on the test, yet excessive reliance on a calculator can be a trap! Sometimes mental math or estimation can get you to the right answer almost instantly—much faster than you could if you keyed every step into your calculator. Also remember that writing a few problem steps on scrap paper increases your accuracy. It’s pretty easy to hit the wrong number on a calculator keypad, but much harder to actually write down the incorrect number (and reread it a few times without catching it). Always think carefully about whether you really need that calculator, and look for ways to avoid calculator use.




The #1 mistake students make is not dedicating enough time to all the math topics tested on the ACT. Don’t make this mistake! Especially when there are so many resources guiding you in the right direction.

The five most frequently tested ACT math topics are Pre-algebra, Elementary Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, Plane Geometry, and Coordinate Geometry. Prioritize topics that give you problems, and give the ones that come easily to you a break. With the right preparation, you’ll be that much closer to reaching your target ACT score.

Should you need any help raising your ACT math score, please contact us and send a message!



The ACT recently released a report based upon students interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) college degrees. They found that 26% met or were above the STEM readiness benchmark. The STEM score on the ACT is meant to be an indicator of how a student will perform in a first-year college STEM course. More information can be found here: 

The ACT science section is comprised of data representation, research summary, and conflicting hypothesis based questions. The student gathers required information from charts, tables, and graphs. It's good for the student to know the scientific method as well. The ACT math section tests pre-algebra, algebra I, algebra II, geometry, and trigonometry. The more difficult math questions are usually toward the end and so the student must also focus on pacing. 

ACT Math Breakdown

·         The ACT Math Test is the only ACT test with five answer choices. The English, Reading and Science tests all have four answer choices.

·         For odd numbered questions, students are given the following answer choices: A, B, C, D, and E. For even numbered questions, students are given the answer choices:  F, G, H, J, and K.

·         All of the other sections include D or J as the last answer choice. Don’t confuse the ACT Math E or K answers with D or J!

·         On the official ACT score report, the student will receive an overall ACT Math score between 1 and 36. There will be three subscores as well: Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra, Intermediate Algebra/Coordinate Geometry, Plane Geometry/Trigonometry.

·         Most students would have completed all math included on the ACT by the end of 11th grade.

·         The questions progress from easy to difficult. There are 60 questions and students must finish in 60 minutes. A good idea is to limit 30 seconds on the first 20 questions, 1 minute on the next 20 questions, and 90 seconds on the final 20 questions. The last 10-15 questions are usually the most difficult and the student will want to save more time for these. It’s also when the student is the most fatigued on the math section.

·         There are three main types of ACT Math questions: word problems, basic problems, and challenging problems. Word problems are hidden using certain vocabulary. Students shouldn’t be scared, but instead, translate the words into a basic problem. Use the extra space in the test booklet! Basic problems are really short and normally the easiest. These problems are straightforward and to the point. The challenging problems are direct, yet require a deeper level of reasoning. Some might be really short like a basic problem: p2 + q2 = -2pq, what is the value of p?

Tips for maximizing scores:

·         Go after the easy to medium questions first. These are the least time consuming and it’s still worth one point, just like the difficult questions!

·         Guess on any remaining questions. There is no reason to leave any questions blank. There is no penalty for incorrect answers. With about one minute to go, students should fill out all remaining bubbles.

·         Don’t get bummed out. Students tend to get into a problem then become frustrated. What they thought was easy has turned out to be difficult. It is best to move on and not waste any time doing this. Students are working for just one point per problem.

·         If you finish early, make a second pass on those that were skipped. Focus on the ones that you think may be the easiest to answer. These will be closer to the beginning of the test. Try to eliminate answer choices and make an educated guess.

·         Work problems backwards. You can plug in answer choices and use them to your advantage. Answers are there for you to use in your arsenal.

·         Utilize the process of elimination. Since there is no penalty for answering incorrectly, guess as best as you can. However, before guessing randomly, work to eliminate answer choices. Eliminating answer choices increases your chance of answering the problem correctly.

·         Use all test booklet white space for figuring. Don’t try to attempt everything in your head!

·         If you know the test, you won’t have to waste precious time reading the instructions on test day.    

·         A couple ACT Math questions, per test administration, usually contain information that is obsolete to answering the question.