ACT 2020: Upcoming Changes

ACT 2020: Upcoming Changes

The ACT has remained, in many ways, essentially unchanged for decades. That will no longer be the case as of September 2020, and the process of preparing for the test will necessarily shift as a result. However, there is little to fear here. The SAT has completely reinvented itself twice in the past 15 years, going from a scoring scale of 1600 to 2400 and then back to 1600, adding and removing sections, and generally causing thousands of anxiety attacks among high school upperclassmen. After the dust settled, however, everyone quickly adapted to the new version of the test. Fortunately, the ACT will not be changing in such a drastic fashion; rather, it will begin offering students more options in terms of how they test.

First, the ACT will institute an in-house super-score policy, allowing students the option to have ACT, Inc., rather than college admissions officers, calculate their super-score. A super-score is the result of multiple test sittings in which the highest section scores (English, Math, Reading, Science) are recombined for a new composite score. Historically, fewer schools have super-scored the ACT than have the SAT, so this change removes one more concern for students applying to those universities that don’t super-score the ACT. This will also help students who might have been better suited to the ACT but opted to take the SAT in hopes of maximizing their super-scores settle on the test that is best for them, thus leveling the playing field between the exams.

The ACT will also begin allowing students to choose between two testing modes—paper or online. There are pros and cons to both, of course. Some people—like me and many of my students—strongly prefer paper test administrations, as that format is more conducive to many test-taking techniques. However, some of my students have already had the opportunity to take the online administration and loved it.

The biggest benefit of the online administration lies in score release timelines. By taking the test online, students will receive their scores far sooner than if they take the test on paper – as early as two business days after their test date. I have seen countless students spend weeks fretting about their results, so I have a vested interest in getting scores to students as soon as possible; however, I am also thrilled that students will still have the option to test on paper. No matter your preference, it is clear that the ACT is moving toward a more student-centered take on testing. Do you live on the internet and take all your notes digitally? You can take the ACT in a format that’s familiar to you. Do you struggle to focus when looking at a screen? You can still take the ACT on paper.

Finally, the ACT will also start offering students the opportunity to retake individual sections rather than the entire test, which will allow students to concentrate on their specific weaknesses when retesting. This will enable students who are significantly stronger in particular areas to target their weaker areas without worrying about whether they are spending enough time maintaining their high scores in other sections.

It is important to note that this option will only be available to students who have previously taken a full ACT, so the test prep process will remain the same for at least the first test administration. Students will then have the option to either retake the entire test or pinpoint specific sections that need work. Fortunately, they’ll undoubtedly already be working with experienced Inspirica tutors who can help them craft the optimal plan of attack to maximize their scores. How fortuitous!

Another notable aspect of the section retakes is the fact that if students do opt to retake specific sections, they will be required to do so online rather than on paper. At Inspirica, we migrated part of our practice-testing system to an online interface a couple of years ago, so we already offer students exposure to part of the digital testing experience. As online testing continues to become more prevalent, we’ll continue to modify our procedures accordingly in order to ensure that our students are maximally prepared for all aspects of the testing process.

Ultimately, the changes to the ACT will be nowhere near as drastic as the changes we’ve seen to the SAT in the past. These changes will benefit students by giving them more options to cater to their specific learning styles. If students could adapt to the 2016 SAT rework, they’ll have no problem with the changes coming to the ACT in 2020. In fact, they should really be excited about them.


Aja B.

Elite Tutor

Ryan F

Test Analytics Expert & Elite Tutor

The ACT/SAT Test Selection Process​

The ACT/SAT Test Selection Process

An experienced, talented, extremely clever tutor (me; it was me) once compared the ACT and the SAT to Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans: they’re similar enough to be confusing but different in several key ways, and, despite what your AP English teacher thinks, they’re not interchangeable.

Those crucial differences and that common confusion (between the SAT and the ACT, not between the Chris-es) are what led us create the Agnostic Diagnostic, or AgDi. The AgDi combines the most distinctive features of both the ACT and the SAT into a single assessment; our test experts can look at a student’s results and give a firm recommendation of ACT or SAT, essentially allowing students to take one diagnostic and get a clear picture of which test is better for them.

How that recommendation process works is a common object of curiosity among our clients. We’ll often have students come in, take the AgDi, and score higher on the SAT or ACT half, only to have us recommend that they prep for the test on which their scores were slightly weaker. What’s the thought process behind that? Is our “team of test experts” actually just several chimpanzees that we’ve trained to flip coins?

No, it’s not, although that would be pretty awesome. In actuality, the test recommendation is based on a combination of those key differences between the SAT and the ACT that I mentioned earlier and the student’s answer patterns, seasoned with our decades of experience tutoring both tests.

Those factors allow us to sort students into several different categories, or ‘tester-types’. Are you an ACT-2? You may have scored higher on the SAT half of the AgDi, but you were able to finish all ACT sections within the time limit; because the pacing of the ACT is the primary challenge for most students, you likely have plenty of room to improve, and we can help you hit your score ceiling.  

Or maybe you’re an SAT-1. In that case, you scored significantly better on the SAT half of the AgDi and/or your Math score was noticeably better than your Verbal score. Because improving on the Verbal half of the test requires less content knowledge and is therefore often easier, and because math performance represents half of your composite score on the SAT compared to only a quarter on the ACT, you’re probably better off taking the SAT.

If you already know which test you want to take, congratulations: you’re ahead of the game, and we’ll happily work with you to maximize your score on that particular test. If you’re still in the process of figuring it out, don’t make the mistake of thinking that which test you prep for doesn’t matter, and definitely don’t waste your weekend carving out time to take two full practice tests just so that you can compare the results. Let us get you started on the right track as efficiently as possible so that you can spend your time on what’s really important: browsing Redd…I mean getting a head start on studying for your final exams.


Aja B.

Elite Tutor

Ryan F

Test Analytics Expert & Elite Tutor

Common Myths and Misconceptions about the ACT and SAT

SAT and ACT: Common Myths and Misconceptions

Many students and parents come into the test preparation process with a lot of preconceived notions about the way the tests function, how they’re perceived by colleges, and whether one is easier than the other.

Perhaps the most troubling myth I hear is that colleges prefer the SAT. This is not true! Ditto for the idea that “it doesn’t matter which test I take.” Colleges weigh the ACT and SAT equally, but they’re very different tests, so it’s especially important that students take the test that is most appropriate for them and their skillsets. The ACT has more timing pressure, while the SAT creates difficulty by asking students to engage with more complex questions. Neither is necessarily more difficult than the other in general, but most students will have an edge on one test over the other. We help with this process by using our Agnostic Diagnostic, or AgDi, to determine for which test a student is better suited.

Another common misconception is that large score gains are impossible to attain, but this could not be further from the truth. While improving a score from the initial diagnostic takes work, most students will already have the academic skills they need to perform well on the test but likely have not encountered any tests in the style of the SAT or the ACT. What this means on a pragmatic level is that students need to learn the strategies for these tests, not necessarily the content—though that is important, too! Both tests are incredibly coachable, and we as tutors have worked through countless tests and problems in-depth and identified the best strategies for different styles of learning. Large score gains are certainly possible with the right tactics and some dedication.

Getting back to the content of the test, I also frequently hear students tell me that they hate science, so the ACT must be too difficult for them.

Well. Good news and bad news.

The bad news is that, while the SAT does not have an official science section, science is well integrated into the test, so if you hate science, there’s no real avoiding it on either test. The good news, however, is that neither the ACT nor the SAT is testing your science skills in the way that, say, your biology teacher is. On the ACT, you will be tasked with analyzing charts, following trends, and utilizing your basic scientific reasoning skills. Do you remember the scientific method from sixth grade and know how to read a chart? Then you should be completely fine on the ACT’s Science section with a bit of help. There will be a handful of outside knowledge questions, but even if you don’t know any of those, you can still achieve a strong Science score since every other question can be answered simply by reading a chart, following a trend, or referring back to a passage.

The other bit of good news is that the SAT’s science, since it’s integrated into the Reading, Math, and English sections, requires no outside knowledge at all. So even if you hate science with a burning passion, you can and will pull through, and you are more than capable of learning the strategies to make this topic as pain-free as possible.

If you have questions about these or any other test-taking tall tales, give us a call or send us an email. We may not look good in a beret, but we’re more than happy to bust some myths for you.  (If you don’t get that reference, look it up – I promise it’s clever.)


Aja B.

Elite Tutor

Ryan F

Test Analytics Expert & Elite Tutor

What the Test Makers Won’t Tell You

What the Test Makers Won't Tell You

Let me lay out a common scenario for you. You, a high school student, purchase an official guide to the SAT or the ACT in the hope that this will make your college application process roughly one hundredth of a percent easier. Upon opening the book, however, the official guide insists that you, yes, you, have already mastered all of the skills required for this test, and that you have nothing to worry about. 36, here I come, you think. Emboldened, you take the first diagnostic test only to realize that you’ve run out of time, the questions are inane, and you now believe that you are woefully underprepared for this exam. 

There is no telling how often this happens, but it is essential to know that what the test makers claim about the test and what the test actually entails are fundamentally different things. Taking the ACT or SAT does not simply require the knowledge of content that you receive in school—you also have to train for the strategies inherent to the tests themselves.  

Neither test is necessarily harder than the other; they simply test different skills in different ways. For the ACT, most students struggle with the time pressure that the test enforces, particularly on the reading and science sections, both of which require students to answer 35 questions in 40 minutes, with the added pressure of reading through multiple passages. On the surface, this seems like an incredibly difficult task, but what they don’t tell you is that, with the exception of a handful of outside knowledge questions in the science section, every question is answerable based on a surfacelevel reading of the passages and graphs. Once this is understood, the timing becomes significantly less difficult, and the test begins to appear far less daunting. 

On the other hand, the SAT allows for significantly more time per question and does not have a science section to get through. However, the reading questions, at least on the surface, appear more difficult, and this is true to a certain extent – proof-pair questions in particular often give inexperienced test-takers fitsUltimately, though, just as on the ACT, the reading questions are all answerable based on the passages provided and correct answer choices will be either direct paraphrases or immediate inferences.  

The math sections for both tests naturally require outside knowledge, but there are strategies here as well to make these sections easier for students. Often when I work with students, we go through the questions and figure out what they are actually asking, and my students realize that they do in fact have the skills to answer most, if not all, of the questions. In order to make the test more difficult, the test makers rely on what I call artificial difficulty—that is, they phrase questions in unusual ways or format answer choices to appear more esoteric than they actually are. Once you work through the methods in which the test makers artificially inflate the difficulty of questions and begin to understand that they are simply testing your knowledge in different ways, the fear factor starts to disappear. And then, even on questions that do test skills you might not have yet, you can usually rule out clearly wrong answers by working backwards from the answer choices or plugging in real values for variables.  

It’s these truths about the SAT and ACT that make tutoring valuable. Using Khan Academy or ACT Online Prep will absolutely help you in your quest for a great score; however, these prep tools from the test-writers are never going to focus as much on the question-specific techniques or section-specific strategies as a tutor will. After all, to do so would be to admit that it’s not just about content: the tests themselves can be learned as well. 

Ultimately, the ACT and the SAT are not simply testing your content knowledge, they are testing your ability to adapt to the test, which is where tutors come in. We have worked through countless problems and are intimately familiar with the tricks the test makers pull, so we are equipped to ease you through the process and into your best possible score. Once these strategies are mastered, most students realize there is nothing to fear about either of these tests—which is the goal! These tests are teachable and coachable, and preparation for them need not be torturous. Learning test strategies and seeing your score improve can be fun, and that is the most important thing that the test makers will not tell you. 


Aja B.

Elite Tutor

Ryan F

Test Analytics Expert & Elite Tutor

An Overview of the ACT

An Overview of the ACT

The ACT is one of the two major tests used by colleges and universities during their admissions processes. Though many high schools treat the ACT as if it is interchangeable with the SAT, the two tests are in reality very different from one another, and most students are better served taking one rather than the other based on their individual strengths and weaknesses. Inspirica’s approach to the ACT starts with recognizing that fact, and our Agnostic Diagnostic will help you determine whether the ACT is the test that’s right for you.


The ACT is comprised of four multiple-choice sections followed by one free-response essay. In order, the sections are as follows:

  • English
    • 75 questions divided among five passages
    • 45 minutes
  • Math:
    • 60 questions
    • 60 minutes
  • Reading
    • 40 questions divided among four passages
    • 35 minutes
  • Science:
    • 40 questions divided among six or seven passages
    • 35 minutes
  • Writing/Essay (optional): 40 minutes

In comparison to the SAT, the defining feature of the ACT is its frenetic pace. This is best seen in the Reading and Science sections, where students are expected to read multiple dense passages and answer comprehension questions about each while moving at a pace that gives them less than a minute to work on each question. If this sounds challenging, that’s because it is! Fortunately, our ACT programs focus just as heavily on mastering timing strategies as they do on learning content, so you’ll go into test day fully prepared for the series of wind sprints that is the ACT.


You’ll receive a raw score for each of the four multiple-choice sections on the ACT that is equal to the number of questions you answered correctly in that section; no penalty is applied for incorrect answers.

Then, using a process called equating, the ACT will produce a scaled score from 1 to 36 for each section; this scaled score takes into account the difficulty level of the section that you completed relative to the difficulty levels of sections that previous test-takers have completed over the previous five years, which allows colleges to be sure that your English score of 31 means the same thing as your older brother’s 31.

Finally, your four scaled scores will be averaged to produce an overall composite score from 1 to 36; this score is the best single measure of your performance on the test, and it’s the score that colleges will primarily look at when reviewing your application. You’ll also receive a separate score from 2 to 12 for your essay; however, this score does not affect your composite score in any way, and many schools no longer even require the submission of an ACT Writing score with your application. Although the ACT does provide a searchable database of schools and their policies on the Writing Test, it is always best to check each schools’ admissions department website for their official policy.

The ACT itself does not superscore, or combine individual section scores from multiple test dates to obtain your maximum composite score; if you wish to send scores from multiple test dates to colleges, you must send the entire score report from each test date. You can, however, pick and choose which test dates you want to send to schools. Many schools will perform their own version of superscoring by combining the highest score for each section from the score reports that you submit in order to get a picture of your “best” performance on the ACT. For the most accurate information about how an individual school handles superscoring, be sure to contact that school’s admissions department directly

Registration and Test Dates

The ACT is administered roughly once every two months year-round, and there is no limit to the number of times a student can take the test. Because of that, it’s generally to your advantage to test more than once. Part of beating any test is giving yourself as many opportunities as necessary to succeed and taking the test multiple times can be a great way to maximize your improvement.

To register for the ACT, go to the ACT website and follow the corresponding instructions. Testing is administered at official test centers, which are typically high schools approved by the ACT. You can search for the test center closest to you using the ACT’s test center locator, found here. If you currently receive accommodations in school due to a professionally diagnosed and documented disability, be sure to review the ACT’s policies on their website in detail before registering for your test dates.

Inspirica’s Approach

The ACT is perhaps the standardized test that best embodies the saying the structure of the test is part of the challenge of the test, combining questions about a wide range of content with a rigorous pace. Homework in our ACT programs includes drills centered on specific content areas, practice with individual question-types, and perhaps most importantly, timed test sections. This will ensure that you’re addressing every element needed to be successful on the test, from content to timing to overall strategy, and your tutor will review each assignment with you question by question to maximize what you get out of it.

There are certain aspects of taking the ACT that are impossible to replicate through homework alone, which is why regular practice tests are a staple of our work . Your tutor will help you set up a schedule of periodic practice tests that will give you the opportunity to practice the techniques you’ve learned while familiarizing you with the experience of taking the full test straight through. Your tutor will then review the results with you in detail, using them to revise your practice plan; you’ll be able to see the product of your hard work and determine what part of the test to attack next.

For ACT programs, you’ll take previously released official tests using the Test Innovators platform, which tracks your work in real time on a question-by-question basis, allowing you and your tutor to deconstruct your results in order to pinpoint exactly why and how your right answers were right and your wrong answers wrong.

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