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New ACT Subscores: Math and Science

Karen S.

This week we’ll conclude our examination of the changes to the ACT subscore system for the 2016-2017 test year with the Math and Science sections. While these changes won’t directly affect a student’s experience on test day or his or her 1 to 36 score, they will influence how each subject is subdivided on score reports.



Of all the sections on the ACT, Math has probably undergone the smallest change to its subscores. The old subscore system grouped questions by mathematical concepts tested: Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra, Intermediate Algebra/Coordinate Geometry, and Plane Geometry/Trigonometry.


The new Math subscore system takes a similar approach. Math questions are divided by the following concepts: Number and Quantity, Algebra, Functions, Geometry, and Statistics and Probability. These categories are then rolled into a subscore called Preparing for Higher Math. In addition to these scores, two additional subscores are provided: Integrating Essential Skills and Modeling.



This section represents possibly the biggest subscore change in that Science finally has subscore categories. Under the old subscore system, Science was noticeably lacking in subscores. Students received a 1 to 36 score but no additional information on their specific strengths and weaknesses. The newly-added Science subscores are Interpretation of Data, Scientific Investigation, and Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results. Because this represents such a major change to how Science is scored, we’ll look at each category in turn.


Interpretation of Data questions involve selecting data from a graphic (table, graph, or diagram), correctly identifying information on a graphic, finding information in a passage that connects to a graphic, understanding scientific terminology, determining how one variable changes if another variable changes, comparing and contrasting data between and among graphics, translating information into a graphic, extrapolating results based on a graphic, determining the mathematical relationship between data, and analyzing existing information in light of new information.


Scientific Investigation questions involve finding, identifying, understanding, and predicting information and results from a description of an experiment. They also include accounting for the precision and accuracy issues inherent to conducting scientific experiments in a “real world” setting.


Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results questions include finding basic information in a model and identifying the implications, underlying assumptions, similarities and differences, and strengths and weaknesses of scientific models. These types of questions also ask students to determine which models present certain information, whether hypotheses, predictions, and conclusions are consistent with other data in a passage, whether information supports or weakens a hypothesis, and which models are strengthened or weakened by new information.



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