5 Ways Your Study Space Impacts You

This is a guest post by Nicholas Randall of StudentSharp

Choosing the right study space might seem hard. Or perhaps you’ve become accustomed to one, but don’t know the pros and cons of it. It can be difficult to decide between libraries, parks, your home, or other areas to study. In this post, we’ll show you five ways your study space impacts you to help you become happier and more productive.

 

1: Smells
Scents can spark our memories, make us more friendly, and even improve productivity. This is because olfactory bulbs directly interact with parts of the brain that process learning and emotion. Beverley Hawkins, owner of West Coast Institute of Aromatherapy, recommends several scents in particular. Lemon has calming and concentrating properties, lavender soothes nerves and can be used to treat depression, and rosemary fights headaches and mental fatigue. To make portable scents you can take with you to your study space, you can buy essential oils and put a dab of oil on a cotton ball to whiff when you need to perk up.

 

2: Nature
Feeling connected to nature, at least in part, is another factor in your study space worth checking out. One study showed that students performed better in classrooms with windows versus those without. Another study showed that contact with green space for just 20 minutes significantly reduces stress. This may influence you to try a park for a study space, or a spacious lawn. Depending on the vegetation and weather, you may get the added benefit of fresh smells and plentiful natural lighting while you study, too. To bring a bit of nature into your home, you can grow succulents — they’re beautiful and

easy to care for.

Are you as hyped for nature as this frog?

 

3: Distractions

Technology and TV can be productivity-wrecking when overused or too present in your study environment. You probably want to avoid a place with TV’s, especially those with sound on, because they’re just too distracting. A study (referenced here) found that people exposed to visual soap operas spent more time completing memorization assignments than people exposed to radio only or no stimulus. Sometimes, TV is just more interesting or engaging than whatever you’re studying and you feel compelled to look up. That’s why having the TV on while studying at home is one of the worst study habits you can do. Also, one study found that students that checked Facebook at least once during a fifteen minute study period were less productive than those who didn’t. If you compulsively check your phone for notifications and updates, consider leaving it at home while you study.

 

That’s pretty much how it works

 

4: Organization

If you feel that a cluttered workspace is making you less productive, you’re right. Princeton researchers found that an increase in the volume of objects around you decreases your focus because each object competes for your attention. This principle also holds true digitally — a cluttered desktop and full inbox are more distracting as well. I read this book and found it very useful for decluttering and organizing my workspace and my life. Give it a read and see what you can implement! If your room is especially messy, like mine is at the moment, try cleaning it up or choosing a different study space.

 

5: Social Aspect

Study groups with clear objectives and good organization can be a huge boon to learning and productivity. One reason for this is study groups promote active discussion about the topic which requires creative thought, reformulation, and mastery of the knowledge. The question “Why?” may come up, and research shows that when answering “Why?” a student better understands the material. Another reason is that students hear different explanations of the topics than what was given in class. This may make it easier for them to understand or cover it in a way that gives new insight into what’s being discussed. Also, there may be more motivation to study socially as it’s more exciting than going it alone. It may be helpful to establish some guidelines to stay on topic.

You can do it too!

 

Having read this, you should have some ideas of what aspects of a study space make you efficient. Did you like the article? Writing it, I felt compelled to clean up my room and take a walk outside to get some benefits of nature. I felt refreshed after doing so. If you liked this article, you also will probably like StudentSharp’s Ultimate SAT Prep Guide. Good luck studying!

Top 5 Factors to Consider when Choosing a College

High school students these days are busy. They play sports, take AP classes, participate in various clubs or community outreach programs. It never ceases to amaze me how much some of our students have on their plate. When every day is chock-full of activities, it may feel impossible to find enough time to dedicate to college hunting. With over 5,000 universities to choose from in the U.S. alone, you may be wondering — Where do I start? What should I look for? Luckily for you these are not uncommon questions! In our experience with college prep here at Curvebreakers, we’ve found five factors we feel are the most important to consider when looking for colleges.

 

1. Expected Major

This can be a hard enough decision to make in itself. If you haven’t picked a major yet – don’t worry – you are definitely not alone. This category may be lower on your list of priorities, but it’s still worth taking a look at a school’s programs and available majors and minors. See if they offer classes in areas that pique your interest – college is a great place to experiment with different fields and most will not require you to declare a major until the end of your sophomore year. On the other hand, if you do know your major then narrowing down schools will be much simpler. Consider colleges that are well known for your major or have a large number of students who graduate with the degree you hope to receive. Niche is a great resource for finding college rankings based on major and a number of other categories as well.

 

2. Location (and Housing)

For many this is the easiest part of picking a university. Narrowing your search down to your hometown makes perfect sense if you plan to live at home (a great option for those looking to save money). Whether you want to stay close to home or adventure out into parts unknown, it’s important to keep location in mind in more ways than you might think. You may prefer a bustling city to a more rural atmosphere or want to stay close to the mountains or the ocean depending on your hobbies. Thinking about the best location for your major can also help narrow your search. For example, if you intend to major in engineering, are there any areas in which engineering jobs are concentrated? It’s important to think about whether or not you plan on interning during your college career — you’ll want to ensure plenty of internship opportunities for yourself within range of your school. Regardless of whether or not you select a school close to home, keep your housing options in mind. Some universities require all incoming freshmen to live on campus. Pay attention to dorm options and costs as well as the availability of off-campus housing in the area.

 

3. Educational Fit

By now you should have an idea of what kind of learning environment is the most effective for you. If you prefer one-on-one, you’ll want to select a school with smaller class sizes and a student-to-faculty ratio that will allow for professors to give each student individualized attention and help. If you’re a hands-on learner, you should look for colleges with state of the art labs, technology, or other resources in your field. Some schools offer more flexible curriculums that allow their students to sample a range of courses, while others are more rigid and offer little deviation from the courses outlined for your major. Take the time to research some of the professors as well. Highly educated teachers with real-world expertise in their area of study make for more interesting classes and a better educational experience overall.

 

4. Social Fit

College can be the perfect environment for developing your social skills and many of the friends you make while you’re there will be in your life for years to come. However, whether or not a school has a well-developed social scene can be important for more than just making friends. Sororities and Fraternities, while great vehicles for meeting new people, also participate in many organized projects within their community. A college with a greater number of clubs will increase the likelihood of finding one that you enjoy. Joining a club or organization on campus can be a great way to supplement your major with some hands-on experience. For example, writing for a school’s newspaper would improve the resume of a journalism student, while being a part of the speech and debate team would align well with communication and political science majors. If athletics are important to you, focusing on universities with a reputable sports team and spirited fan base can help narrow down your search.

 

5. Graduation and Career Prospects

At the end of the day, college is merely a stepping stone on the way to a brighter future. Consider each school’s graduation rate. If only a small portion of students are completing the full program, there’s bound to be good reason. Any reputable university’s website should provide their graduation rate, the percentage of students who are working in their field of study and those who had a job within six months of graduation. You can also find this information on Niche and The Princeton Review. College is expensive and you should come out of it feeling like it was worth your while. If you’ve chosen a more competitive career path, you may want to prioritize colleges with an abundance of career and internship resources for their students.

Even if you think you know what school you want to apply to, it’s important to have other options (even lifelong Harvard admirer Rory Gilmore ended up changing her mind). Take a moment to prioritize this list of factors from what you feel is the most important to the least. Maybe social life will make or break your college experience more than location or maybe you’re determined to receive an athletic scholarship to one of the top five schools for football. If you’ve already been accepted to several schools, it’s also helpful to consider these factors when making your final decision. If you’re just beginning to think about which schools you want to apply to, prioritizing any one of these elements can help narrow your search to the colleges you want to visit (check out our post on how to make the most of your college tours). The more thought you put into selecting your college, the more you’ll enjoy the next four years.

By: Emily Sahli, Staff Writer, Curvebreakers

How to Turn Your Top SAT/ACT Score into a Scholarship

Education is expensive. Collectively, Americans spent almost four hundred billion dollars in the 2010–2011 academic year alone and with college tuition only getting more expensive, you can just imagine what that number looks like today. So, when it comes to tutoring and test prep, the added expense might not seem so appealing. However, what you may not know is that earning that higher score on the SAT or ACT can actually pay for itself. Here’s how:

1. National Merit Scholarships

The National Merit Scholarship Program awards scholarships to the top PSAT scorers in each state. Every year, some 50,000 students are recognized and 7,500 are awarded one of three scholarships: a one-time payment of $2,500, a corporate-sponsored scholarship, or a college-sponsored scholarship. By listing a college as their top choice through National Merit, a finalist can be awarded up to a full-ride scholarship by that school if selected to attend. Baylor University, Drexel University, and the University of Mississippi are just some of the schools offering full-tuition scholarships through National Merit.

2. Automated Scholarships

There are many colleges that offer guaranteed scholarships to accepted students with exceptional test scores. The amount awarded differs from school to school, so be sure to check with the admissions office at any university to which you are considering applying. They should be able to tell you if there’s a deadline for consideration, as well as the amount offered per score range.

3. Outside Scholarships

Though outside scholarships may sometimes be designated for students accepted to a particular school, they are not awarded by the school and may require a separate application. There are many of these that are merit-based and focus on SAT or ACT scores. For example, the Flinn Foundation Scholarship awards a full-ride scholarship to Arizona residents who plan to attend one of the state’s public universities. A minimum score of 29 on the ACT or 1300 on the SAT is required to be considered. A quick google search can provide many more scholarship opportunities for top scoring students.

Improving your score on the SAT or ACT can be beneficial for many reasons, not least of which being the sense of pride our students always experience when their hard work pays off (check out our Student of the Month series for some success stories!). Receiving a higher score on an exam can take as little as six weeks of extra preparation and can result in thousands of dollars in scholarship money. Financial aid packages can also be increased based on merit (why wouldn’t you want as much free money as possible?). No matter the student, a little hard work and dedication to improving their score will always pay off.

 

By: Emily Sahli, Staff Writer, Curvebreakers

STUDENT OF THE MONTH

Curvebreakers’ Student of the Month series features students who go above and beyond to achieve outstanding results. They take full advantage of everything Curvebreakers has to offer by improving their scores, being accepted to top schools, or receiving exceptional scholarships. We recognize them to inspire all Curvebreakers students to reach for their dreams! Our Student of the Month for February 2018 is Caroline K., who increased her ACT 7 points. Great job, Caroline!

 

Caroline is a Senior at Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset, NY

CURVEBREAKERS TEST PREP: What were your thoughts on the ACT before you took it the first time?
CAROLINE: I was a little afraid. But there’s a challenge in everything so you just have to take it with a grain of salt and just go for it.

CTP: What was your score the first time you took a practice ACT?
C: I got a 24.

CTP: What did you think immediately after taking your first practice ACT?
C: I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know the scoring or the timing, but I didn’t think it was that bad. When I got the score back, it was a little discouraging and I knew I was going to have to [work] my way up.

CTP: When you signed up for tutoring, what did you think the sessions were going to be like?
C: I went in with an open mind. I knew [Nick] was a respectful tutor. I hoped
he would bring me to a better score and he did.

CTP: What was it like working with your tutor?
C: He’s great — he really helped. I went from a 24 to a 31. I never expected
to improve 7 points.
CTP: How did you prepare for the official ACT?
C: I worked really hard over the summer. I worked at St. Francis Hospital three days a week and I studied four hours a day two days a week for four months. Nick never lost faith and was always very encouraging. Each time the score went up a little bit he would encourage me and say, “That’s great, we just have to keep working on it.”

CTP: How did your feelings change when you took your actual ACT compared to when you first started?
C: It definitely felt nice — I worked so hard and this was the moment I was waiting for. When my friends were at the beach having fun over the summer I was at the library studying. Knowing all of my hard work paid off was a very rewarding feeling.

CTP: What was the best part about tutoring with Curvebreakers?
C: There were so many opportunities and a lot of supportive people who work there. Everyone is so sweet and really cares. They want everyone to do well.

Essay writing

Let’s be honest. At some point, all of us dreamt of being in Carrie Bradshaw shoes, especially the Manolo Blahnik ones that she could affordwhile writing columns from the comfort of her home. Well, at least all of the girls have dreamt about it. But it’s not just because of the shoes and the materialistic perks why we are in such an awe, it’s about that special power and pride you get by calling yourself a writer. The successful writers that we all know and admire make writing seem like a talent that all of us possess up until the moment whenwe find ourselves staring at the blank page, having no idea what’s supposed to happen next.

It gets even harder when you have to construct your thoughts on an academic level and you suddenly realize that the span of your abilities and vocabulary is quite limited. Now, not everybody struggles with putting the thoughts into a writtenwhole that makes sense, but for those who do, this one is for you:

Simple guidelines on writing the most exploited form of writing – his majesty, The Essay.

Writing essays, especially for the purpose of college assignments, is not that difficult, but requires a special combination of skillset and structure which could be easily applied no matter the topic. While mastering these skills won’t make youan instant writer, they will certainly contribute for better grades.

Before starting to write the essay, it is important that you have a clear idea of what you are about to write. Since college essay writing is in our focus, we will assume that you have been assigned a topic and there is no need for exploring other options.

With your mind set on the particular essay thesis that has to be discussed, the next step is to organize your thoughts. Spend some time on thinking and reflecting, on forming your own point of view and putting your raw ideas on a paper. Organizing your thoughts will help you distinguish between them andwill easilyenable you to see the bigger picture.

The essay itself has to be structured in three main parts: The Introduction, the body and the conclusion.

The Introduction

The introduction is simply about introducing the subject and describing how the narrator will deal with it in the subsequent paragraphs. It is important to keep it short and to the point, but captivating at the same time in order to have the readers ‘hooked’. In order to do so, ask yourself what the reader needs to know and what is the best way to deliver your knowledge to them.

The Main Body

Usually comprised of several paragraphs, the purpose of the main body is to elaborate the thesis in further detail. Even though we may have generated a lot of thoughts and ideas about the particular thesis, we should stick to the strongest arguments and try to explain their relevance with supporting evidence. The best way to do so is by balancing with researched evidence and personal opinions, or experiences. The balance will vary between different subjects, but the general idea is to back up the points as much as possible with the combination of the two.

The conclusion

Same as the introduction, the conclusion should be short and should summarize the general idea of the arguments. In most of the cases it should not be just an afterthought, but rather a last chance to prove your point and to indicate what has been learnt. Also it can serve as an introduction to further issues that have been recognized, but are not in the scope of the present essay.

General rules

Despite following the general structure for writing essays, there are several other aspects that you should pay attention to.

Style clarity

All of the sentences should be complete, precise and simple. This means writing shorter sentences with clear expressions; in addition, each sentence should follow one another in a logical order, enabling the reader to follow more closely. Also, it is important to divide the text in paragraphs so that the reader finds it more understandable and more attractive. Transitional phrases, such as “furthermore”, “on the other hand”, “moreover”, etc. play a big role in connecting the dots and are the key of good writing. Because the essay is all about the reader, these statements will guide the reader throughout the paragraphs, keeping them informed.

References

Probably one of the most important thing that most of the students neglect is the adequate list of references used for the purpose of writing the essay. If another author is directly quoted, there should be an indication where does the evidence come from. Failing to do so, one can be easily accused of plagiarism and will have to face the consequences.

In the end, don’t forget to review what you have written. Make sure everything is correct and flows smoothly. Don’t panic if don’t have everything in control from the very beginning. Mastering essay writing takes time and practice makes it perfect.

 

By: Nicholas LaPoma, Owner, Curvebreakers

5 Biggest Differences Between the SAT and ACT Explained

1.Timing

Possibly the most important difference between the two tests is timing. In short, you get less time per question on the ACT. Check this out:

As you can see, you get much less time to complete any one question on the ACT. One of the most important examples is on the Reading tests. On the SAT you get 13 minutes per passage, on the ACT you get 8 minutes 45 seconds per passage. That is a huge difference! ​So, if you struggle with timing, the SAT is likely for you.

 

2.Question Distribution

The SAT and ACT have vastly different distribution of questions in terms of subject matter. This is especially true in the Math section of the tests, as the ACT has a large amount of Geometry and Trigonometry questions and the SAT does not. The SAT is more Algebra focused.

Further, the ACT is considered an achievement test (What you learned) whereas the SAT is often considered to be a trickier, more aptitude based test (based on skills). ​If you hate Algebra, and like straightforward word problems, the ACT Might be for you.

 

3.No-Calculator Math

A similar but important consideration is how one will handle no-calculator Math. Many students are used to punching every question and operation into their calculator, and are totally reliant upon the calculator for basic multiplication and division. These students will struggle on the no-calculator portion of the SAT, as you may have to do long division. Some schools do not allow students to use calculators until a certain grade level – those students will be better equipped to tackle this section.​ If you really struggle with no-calc, the ACT might be for you.

 

4.Science Section

As you probably know, the ACT contains a science based section. This is actually a reading / chart reading / graph reading task, so it often correlates well with reading score. That means that the ACT is mostly based on reading skill, whereas the SAT is mostly based on Math skill.

As indicated above, the Science section actually makes the ACT a more reading based exam, where the SAT is a more math based exam.

5.Question Difficulty

The SAT is typically considered an aptitude test. It is based on your skills in each area that is tested. The acronym SAT initially stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test, proving the point. The SAT is unable to move away from its roots and become a totally achievement based exam, so many students “feel” that the questions are more tricky or difficult. ​If you like more straightforward questions, the ACT may be a better test for you.​ We find little difference when preparing students for the exams, but some students in particular find one test more appealing than the other for this reason.

 

By: Nicholas LaPoma, Owner, Curvebreakers

7 Ways to Make the Most of Your College Tours

Are you thinking about college, wondering how to choose the one that’s best for you? Or maybe your parents are pushing you to schedule some college tours to get you acclimated to the atmosphere. Either way, knowing how to make the most of each tour is an essential part of choosing the college that is right for you. It will make starting out the next four years of your life on the right foot easier. Here are some ways we’ve found to be successful during college tours:

1. Get there a little early

Any concerns you have about the college itself or your ability to succeed there should be addressed before you start your tour. Take some time to talk to the people in charge before you go out and see the campus and the world you’ll soon be stepping into. Once you’re out on the tour you may forget some of the main concerns you had before.

2. Bring a pen and a notepad with you

Take notes on the pros and cons of the college, anything that interests you or that could be a potential disqualifier. These notes will come in handy when you are comparing choices for schools when you start applying, or even when you get your acceptance letters.

3. Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to speak up. Your guide is there to answer your questions, whatever they may be. Your questions make better tours for the next group of prospective students. While it may seem rude, don’t hesitate to ask how the school you are touring compares to another school you are interested in. It is important for your guide to explain what makes their school the one you should dream of getting accepted to.

4. Pay attention to everything

I’m sure you know those parts of any tour where you zone out for lack of anything better to do. Don’t! Even things that don’t pertain to your intended major or buildings you may not use, (i.e. the science lab) you should know about. Who knows, you may just end up changing majors and there may be some valuable information you might have missed.

5. Make friends with your tour-mates

It’s always odd going to a school where you have to make all new friends. If you have at least one friend from your tour it won’t be as frightening of a change. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Your tour-mates are probably just as apprehensive as you are. Even if you don’t end up going to that school, making a new friend is hardly ever a bad thing.

6. Don’t forget the contact information

What if you think of a question a few days after your tour? Having the contact information of the offices best suited to help incoming students is a valuable tool. It decreases the time you have to sit on hold, being transferred from one office to another in hopes of someone being able to answer your question.

7. Have Fun

College tours aren’t meant to be a boring experience. They are supposed to be a way for you to get even more excited about choosing the school of your dreams. Just relax and chime into the conversation every now and then. Your tour guide might even have a fun group game for you to play as you go around the campus.

What have we learned?

You are your own best resource toward success. Only you can decide which school is the best option for you. Making the most out of college tours is one of the easiest ways to gain the most information about a school in order to make the best possible decision for your future. Never forget that the best decision for you may not be the best decision for someone else.

6 Steps for Earning Scholarships Based on Test Scores

Have you taken your ACT or SAT yet? Have your guidance counselors been pestering you about the importance of those scores? Well, they’re right. Your scores can land you some sweet scholarships based if you are ready to put in some coffee-fueled, sugar-crammed, study hours.With these tips, you may just be able to test your way to some large-summed scholarships.

#1 Study

This is generally a given for any type of test. To do well you should study at least a little bit. With tests changing every year and the exam creators seeking to find new concepts to challenge students with, knowing how to apply your knowledge to different problems is essential. Most would say studying is the key to success and this is certainly the easiest way to help yourself score high.

#2 Do your college research

Different colleges have different standards when it comes to scores on different test types. Researching your colleges will help you determine the minimum scores you need to be accepted there. If you score higher, which we hope you do, colleges often offer scholarships and occasionally even full rides. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to go to college without having to worry about student loans?

#3 Take some practice tests

Practice tests will give you an idea of what to expect. While there may be different concepts on the actual exam, at least you have a little bit of knowledge about the way the exam is supposed to be proctored and the sections that you will be required to take. It will also allow you to see how you currently would fare on that specific test so you can figure out which sections you should focus on studying in order to get a better score.

#4 Browse scholarships

Certain scholarships require you to have a minimum score according to the test you take, as each test is scored differently. The larger the scholarship, the more likely it is that the required test score will be higher as well. Simply put, the more successful they think you will do in college, the more money they will be willing to give you.

#5 Plan ahead

While you may want to put off taking your tests until you feel adequately prepared, don’t. You can take a majority of these tests more than once. It may be of use to take them multiple times so you can see what they are more likely to test on this year. Hopefully you will also see yourself improving with each time. By planning ahead you don’t have to worry about getting the best test score in one shot before submitting your college applications.

#6 Don’t sweat it

Tests can be scary and the thought of not getting a scholarship because of them can be even more frightening. Don’t worry though. Let yourself relax a bit and just study as much as you can to prepare. Worrying generally won’t make you do any better. It may even make you do worse. College is definitely important but don’t stress yourself out about it. Success comes in many different forms from many different places.
Are you ready to take your exams now? Hopefully these steps will help you land the scholarship you need to go where you want.

What to Do When Placed on the Dreaded College Waitlist?

We all wish to get college level education from one of the best institutes to propel our career to greater horizons. For that, we don’t hesitate to strive hard and leave no stone unturned to get enrolled. On this journey called education, we come across many obstacles, and we try our best to overcome them.
But once in a while, we come across a gap that makes us feel our dreams taking a nosedive right in front of us. After doing everything right, we hope to hear a “yes” from the college we dreamed of going to, and also prepare ourselves to embrace an out and out “no”. But what about the fine line between the two, the gray area, what about the “maybe”? Yes, we are talking about the Waitlist.
Waitlist is a dreaded area which can put students and their families through emotional torture that is really hard to deal with. On one side, you have some of the “safe choices” where you (or your kid) can go to study. On the other hand, there is your dream college, the one that has put you on hold.
This is where the road bifurcates for you, and you need to take one road, and that will define your future. And you feel all you can do is waiting for a few months and see what your dream college will inform you. Choosing between your dream and the safe bet puts you on a spot often known as the college decision limbo.
So now the question comes, how to deal with this limbo, what to do when your (or your kid’s) career is in question? Read along to get to the answers…

1. Take Time To Process The News

Although waitlist is nowhere close to what we call an acceptance, please do understand that it’s not a straightaway rejection either. The news of being put on waitlist brings disappointment along with it. And it’s ok for you, and your child to feel disappointed. Give yourself time to feel disappointment. Once you have accepted the reality, it’s time for you to start thinking about what you really want.

2. Give It One Final Shot

But make sure you do it whole heartedly. We have seen times and again that things that we do half heartedly will only fetch you half results, which can’t be termed good, not even in remote sense. If you decide to go with the waitlist, you must, rather, you have to follow all the instructions given to you by the college to claim the spot. When you are so passionate to follow your dream, you need to do what needs to be done.
But don’t overdo things, and don’t do any of these”
• Making the case in person until or unless asked to.
• Emailing anything if college waitlist procedure dictates you can’t send anything via email
• Be pushy
• Repeating any information that you’ve already mentioned in the original application

3. Have A Backup Plan By The First Of May

You should not wait for the last date to get the answer from your dream college. What if it turns out to be a “no”, what will you do then? Don’t let your dreams get better of you. Getting rejected without a backup plan is worse than getting rejected. Got out point?
Yes, you won’t get the refund, but it surely gives a sense of security knowing that you will get your education, which is nice.
Above all make sure you make the most of what’s left of your high school life. Lighten up, and have some fun.

How ACT Math is Getting More Difficult

Standardized tests like the SAT and ACT continue to evolve, trying to capture how well prepared today’s students are for the academic challenges of 21st century higher education.  While some of these changes are widely publicized, some are quietly adopted with little fanfare.  Anyone familiar with the ACT math section has likely noticed one of these silent shifts in the last couple years as the test has become noticeably more difficult.

Breaking Down the ACT

The ACT Math test consists of 60 questions in 60 minutes, allowing the test-taker approximately one minute per question.  These questions are broken down into eight sub-scores as follows:

1. Preparing for Higher Mathematics — Using algebra as a general tool for dealing with equations. Five sub-sections:57-60%
2. Number and Quantity — Working with different kinds of number systems and number forms, including real, complex, integer, matrices, vectors, exponents, etc.7-10%
3. Algebra — Working with many different kinds of equations to solve, graph, and model different situations. May include linear, polynomial, exponential, and radical expressions, as well as systems of equations and matrices.12-15%
4. Functions — Being able to represent and apply various functions.12-15%
5. Geometry — Applying the math of shapes and solids, including questions related to congruence, trigonometric ratios, understanding conic sections, etc.12-15%
6. Statistics and Probability — Analyzing data collection, understanding relationships within data, describing the center and spread of distributing, and calculating probabilities8-12%
7. Integrating Essential Skills — Application of fundamental skills, most of which were probably learned before high school. (Percentages, basic geometry, different ways to express numbers, averages, etc.) While information being tested may be more basic than that found in other questions, it may be combined and applied in more complex, less obvious, ways.40-43%
8. Modeling — Modeling questions are pulled from the various other categories (and are counted in at least one of the other categories for scoring purposes) and test the ability to produce, understand, and improve various models.+25%

Questions in all of the sections are becoming steadily more difficult, with matrices, conic sections, permutations, vectors, and other advanced concepts making more frequent appearances.
Going Broad
While the latest revision to the SAT sharpened its focus with a heavy emphasis on algebra (~60% of the test), the most recent changes to the ACT seem to move the other direction, broadening the types of questions covered by the test. This appears to be especially true for the hardest level of questions. In fact, the range of content covered in the ACT in many ways more closely resembles the types of material included in the SAT Math II subject test than either the SAT or SAT Math I tests.
Strategies for Success
While it’s impossible to predict exactly what will appear on any specific ACT exam, there are a few tactics that can help you successfully tackle the more difficult math section. First, consider delaying when you take the ACT slightly, if possible, to make sure you have completed at least Algebra II before the exam. The very best test preparation is a solid understanding of mathematics gained over time through coursework.

Next, make sure you are using up-to-date test prep materials. A study guide put together even just a couple of years ago will be unlikely to include sufficiently challenging questions to adequately prepare. Even if your test prep materials are new, if they are based exclusively on questions that have appeared on previous tests (rather than incorporating original questions that match the current level of difficulty on the test) they are also unlikely to be appropriately difficult.

Finally, during the actual test be strategic with how you use your time. Questions typically increase in difficulty as the section progresses, so, if possible, work through the earlier questions as quickly as possible to leave more time for more complex questions later in the section. While you don’t want to overthink questions that appear early on, do be wary of seemingly “too easy” questions further in.
The Bright Side
While nobody looks forward to more challenging math, there is a bright side to the changes. As the difficulty has increased, the math scoring has also started to become a little more forgiving. The increased breadth and difficulty seems to be spreading out the distribution of scores at the top, meaning instead of dropping straight from, say, 36 to 32 after missing a single question, intermediate high score (like 33, 34, and 35) are more likely to occur.