Distribution of ACT Math Questions


If you’ve read any of our blog posts about the ACT, you already know that the exam is very predictable. This is not a bug of the ACT, but a feature, as it ensures that scores from different test administrations can be meaningfully compared.

But what does “predictable” actually mean? First, it says something about the test’s content. The English section will always feature questions testing punctuation; the Science section’s questions will consistently challenge test takers to find and interpret trends in data. Second, it suggests something about the frequency and distribution of this content. Students often overlook these elements, which govern how often and where in the section certain concepts are typically tested. And nowhere is the intersection of content, frequency, and distribution more important than on the ACT’s Math section.

Why so? Unlike the English and Reading sections, the Math section increases in difficulty from beginning to end. This makes it important to know how particular concepts are tested, since their relative difficulty will be a function of their location in the section. Knowing, for example, that questions about exponents are skewed toward the first half of the section helps us more intelligently prepare students with weaker math skills, as the first thirty questions are much more likely to test the straightforward laws of exponents—mostly rote rules that can be drilled and mastered—than they are to test tougher exponential math concepts like logarithms, exponential equations, and rational exponent-to-radical form conversion. In other words, for students who are trying to improve their Math scores from, say, a 21 to a 25, we won’t waste time fixating on related concepts that we know tend to show up only later in the section. Conversely, for students who are starting off with higher math scores, we know precisely the types of later-appearing exponent questions likely to give them trouble. 

This is all about test taking optimization—strategically preparing students for the questions that will have the highest impact on their individual scores. It’s an aspect of tutoring that’s easy to miss, especially if tutoring sessions focus solely on one-off problem solving without incorporating widely-applicable techniques. At Method Learning, we pride ourselves in our ability to help students master not only the content, but also factors like question distribution and breadth. It’s this test taking know-how that is needed to vastly increase the probability of achieving higher ACT scores.

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