The ACT has remained, in many ways, essentially unchanged for decades. That will no longer be the case in the Fall of 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.