The ACT®

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Frequently Asked

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Continuous Improvement of the ACT Test

Is the ACT® changing?
As was announced in spring 2013, and in keeping with our standard practice, we are making some adjustments to the ACT based on evidence from our ACT National Curriculum Survey® and to reflect changes in the education market. We consistently conduct research to ensure our test content continues to reflect classroom instruction and is a relevant predictor of college and career readiness. The ACT will continue to be a curriculum-based achievement test. We have no plans to make major changes, as we don’t see any need for that. Our goal is continuous improvement, and we are planning some modifications to better meet the needs of students and schools. Any changes will be made in a thoughtful and gradual way. Our evidence-driven approach is what keeps the ACT grounded in research, yet continually relevant—the gold standard in college and career readiness assessment—without the need for radical or sweeping changes.

What is changing about the ACT?
We announced the following modifications in spring 2013:

  • For the ACT State and District testing program we will provide:
    • The option of online administration of the ACT
  • The addition of questions on the reading test that address whether students can integrate knowledge and ideas across multiple texts
  • The inclusion of additional statistics and probability items in the mathematics test to allow for reporting of student achievement in this area

We are now providing more information about progress toward these changes and announcing the following additional enhancements:

  • Additional reporting to include STEM score, career readiness indicator, English Language Arts score, text complexity indicator, and reporting categories consistent with college and career readiness language
  • Enhancements to the design of the writing test based on the newly developed ACT writing competency framework that provides results in four domains

While the enhancement and evolution of the ACT continue and additional scores will be provided, the ACT will remain a curriculum-based achievement exam, and the well-respected 1-to-36 score scale will not change.

Are you changing the ACT tests or just deriving new scores from the same tests?
Consistent with our continuous improvement approach, we continue to update the ACT tests as dictated by research and evidence. The new STEM and English Language Arts scores, and Text Complexity Progress and Career Readiness Indicators are not based on significant redesigns of the tests. Instead, the new measures are derived to give additional insights into critical aspects of college and career readiness.

Will the new scores and reporting categories affect longitudinal research?
Research based on the 1–36 subject test and composite scores will continue to be relevant and will not be affected. The additional reporting categories and indicators will enhance our ability to look at additional aspects of student performance over time.

Will students’ test-taking experience change?
As has always been the case, changes to the overall testing experience will be subtle, and most students will not recognize much difference in the selected-response questions, even if they have tested previously. Depending on the specific subject, changes may more obvious (e.g., changes in the writing test will be obvious).

ACT will continue to update the tests we develop each year to be in line with current research. Some students report noticing those updates year to year and others do not. ACT will continue to provide information in our free test preparation materials each year to reflect any changes to the test experience in the next academic year. It will remain, however, that the best preparation for the ACT has been and will continue to be taking rigorous courses in English, math, social studies, and science.

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Enhanced Reporting

We heard there will be new ACT scores. Does that mean you are changing the 1–36 scale for the ACT?
The familiar 1-to-36 score scale used on the ACT will not change. We will be providing additional scores and indicators to give students, parents, and educators more detailed information so they may better plan for future success.

Why are you moving to reporting categories?
There will be an expanded number of reporting categories compared to the current subscore categories, and breakdowns will be provided for every subject. The reporting categories are aligned with ACT College and Career Readiness Standards as well as sets of standards that target college and career readiness.

The additional information will make it easier for students, parents, and educators to understand the makeup of any subject score and see students’ strengths and areas for improvement. Reporting categories will be added in 2016.

When will ACT provide clients with details about changes and modified report file layouts so they will have time to plan?
We understand that ACT score recipients need time to prepare for changes in data and score file layouts. Based on our market feedback, we plan to provide modification details in fall 2014 for changes that will be in effect fall 2015 (about one year in advance).

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Enhancements to the Writing Test

Why are you enhancing the ACT writing test?
As with all of our solutions, the modifications to the ACT writing test are driven by research and evidence. We have gathered and analyzed evidence of critical writing competencies during a decade of working with direct writing assessments in the high school, college, post-graduate, and workforce populations. We have also gathered important information about the writing skills that are valued by high school and college educators from our own ACT National Curriculum Survey® research, our own 2011 NAEP Writing Framework research, and our participation in the creation of the Common Core State Standards.

Based on these rich sources of research and our ACT College and Career Readiness Standards, we have developed a Writing Competencies Model that will guide our continuum of writing assessments from elementary school to career.

Enhancements to the design of the ACT writing test and the expanded score reports will ultimately provide more insights to help students become college and career ready. Students will receive scores for four critical writing competencies:

  • ideas and analysis
  • development and support
  • organization
  • language use

How were enhancements to the ACT writing test designed?
The writing test design began as an extension of our work in developing ACT Aspire™. We conducted reviews of curricula, analyzed a wide range of classroom tasks and assessments, and held cognitive labs, pilot studies, and design panels with students, educators, and researchers. Drawing from our research, we devised the ACT Writing Competencies Model, which identifies essential features of effective student writing. The enhanced test is designed to elicit these features.

What will the enhanced design of the ACT writing test look like?
While the current ACT writing test is an exercise in classic persuasion, the enhanced ACT writing test presents students with a rhetorical purpose that is more broadly argumentative.

Each prompt will present a paragraph that introduces and gives context to a given issue, and three perspectives on the issue. Included in the test booklet are two pages of planning space, which introduce a series of critical questions that support writers as they develop and express their ideas in response to the rhetorical situation.

The writer’s task has three subcomponents. The writer is asked to “evaluate and analyze” the given perspectives; to “state and develop” his or her own perspective; and to “explain the relationship” between his or her perspective and those given. Writers may adopt a perspective from the prompt, partially or fully, or may generate their own.

Taken as a whole, these pieces constitute a rich argumentative task that draws from subgenres including evaluative argument and rhetorical analysis, and that also calls upon the tools of expository writing.

How do enhancements to the design of the ACT writing test connect to the tasks expected of people in postsecondary education and the workplace?
This task finds many real-world corollaries. At its core, this task asks students to thoughtfully consider multiple perspectives and ideas. It also prompts them to respond meaningfully, leveraging their own knowledge, experience, and worldview as they build a sound, substantiated argument. This fundamental exercise in thinking and writing lies at the heart of many forms of argument. By asking students to enter into rhetorical dialogue with a number of alternative perspectives, the task elicits from them a skill that is necessary in the many social contexts in which they will participate as students, employees, and citizens.

What scores will students receive?
In addition to a subject-level score which will be on the familiar 1–36 scale, the ACT writing test will provide scores for four important domains of writing competency reflected by the ACT Writing Competencies Model: ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use. The test will measure students’ ability to evaluate multiple perspectives on a complex issue and generate their own analysis based on reasoning, knowledge, and experience, enabling them to more fully demonstrate their analytical writing ability. Assessing these critical writing competencies separately will enable ACT to better identify and reward the strengths students exhibit in their writing, while also noting specific deficiencies.

Students will also receive a new score that combines the scores from the English and reading tests with the writing subject-level score (called an ELA Score). As is the case today, the writing score does not affect the 1–36 ACT Composite score.

Can you tell us more about the four domain scores and what they will evaluate?
The enhanced design of the ACT writing test will provide scores for four domains of writing competency outlined in the ACT Writing Competencies Model.

Ideas and Analysis
Scores in this category represent a student’s ability to comprehend the rhetorical situation; generate productive ideas in response; think critically about the task; evaluate and analyze multiple perspectives; and employ effective rhetorical strategies.

Development and Support
Scores in this category reflect a student’s ability to illustrate, explain, and substantiate claims and ideas. Strong writers discuss and explore their ideas, making clear their pertinence by way of detailed, persuasive examples and sound reasoning. They bolster their claims by marshaling evidentiary support, drawing from their knowledge and relevant experience.

Scores in this category indicate a student’s ability to structure an argument logically, sequence ideas strategically, and organize writing clearly.

Language Use and Conventions
Scores in this category denote a student’s ability to use standard written English in service of a persuasive purpose. Competent writers demonstrate control over the conventions of grammar, syntax, word usage, and mechanics. Stronger writers make effective rhetorical choices in voice and tone, and express nuanced ideas by way of precise word choice.

What insights will the new writing scores provide?
The move to analytic scoring allows for a fine-grain evaluation of students’ writing abilities. We will continue to link reported scores to our ACT College and Career Readiness Standards for Writing and Ideas for Progress.

The additional information offered by reporting four separate domain scores can be acted upon by all stakeholders—students, educators, and postsecondary institutions.

  • For students, analytic scores are important diagnostic information. ACT research shows that students often take the test more than once, and they use the scores they receive to help build on strengths and improve weaknesses in their skillsets. Because our test serves a diagnostic function for many students, our enhanced test reports will provide them with information that can help in their development as writers.
  • Educators also benefit from the new writing scores. Schools can work closely with individual students to cultivate a deeper understanding of their skill in academic writing, using the score report and a student’s essay as tools. For State and District testing clients, aggregated data can identify trends at school, district, and state levels, allowing educators to develop plans to help students improve their weaknesses and leverage their strengths. Furthermore, all student essays are available for schools to review at no cost via ACT Essay View.
  • Postsecondary institutions gain a fuller picture of student readiness in writing. Institutions have more information at their disposal, allowing them to make admissions or placement decisions based on the writing competencies that are most valuable within their programs. For example, some colleges may desire matriculating students to demonstrate facility with rhetorical strategies; these colleges might weigh the first domain, Ideas and Analysis, more heavily than the others. Other institutions may want to make placement decisions based on a student’s control over the conventions of standard written English; these schools may do so by emphasizing students’ scores in Language Use. Still others may use this test as a means of allowing students to opt out of entry-level writing courses; these schools may want to see evidence of exemplary performance in all four domains.

What will the score reports look like from students who took the current ACT writing test?
Scores for the current ACT writing test will be reported as they are currently, a single score on the 2–12 scale.

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Online Testing

Can you tell me more about the recent online testing ACT conducted?
We are excited about the success of the April online administration. This was the first-ever, online administration of a national undergraduate college admissions exam and was administered to approximately 4,000 students at 80 test sites. While some sites experienced start-up issues, we received terrific feedback from test center supervisors and students, and learned some valuable information. We made very good progress—we’re already doing what others are talking about doing.

When will online testing first be available for the ACT?
The ACT taken online will be offered to select schools that participate in State and District testing starting in 2015, with expanded release as an option for ACT State and District testing in spring 2016.

When will online testing be available on the national/international test dates or for other testing such as residual testing?
ACT will be offering online testing in spring 2015 for invited states and districts that administer the ACT test on a school day as part of State and District testing. Expansion into other types of testing (e.g., national, international, residual) is being considered for the future. We expect to leverage our online testing experience from State and District testing to inform our next steps.

Will you let schools test on more than one test day?
We will define a window for administration of online tests. As part of our spring 2015 pilot, we will review the effectiveness of the defined window for participating schools.

Will tests administered via computer be the same as the paper tests?
The online ACT test will contain the same number of items and cover the same content as the paper test. The only difference is the mode in which the test is administered.

Will the ACT taken online be shorter (adaptive)?
The ACT test taken online available in 2015 is not adaptive.

Will the time limits for each test be the same for online as they have been for the paper test?
Time limits may differ slightly by mode for particular subject tests. We conducted a timing study in fall 2013 and a mode comparison study in spring 2014. Based on current results of analyses, we anticipate the timing for online tests to match those of the paper tests. However, we continue to monitor and evaluate online results as platforms, devices, tools, and so on continue to evolve.

Do scores from online testing mean the same thing as scores from paper testing?
Yes. We launched online testing for the ACT using a special study design that ensured the students participating in the study would receive comparable scores, whether they tested on paper or on computer. We are continuing to analyze the data from that study, and from test supervisor and student surveys, and will revisit administration procedures, including testing time, based on our results. We are taking an incremental approach to introducing online testing to ensure all scores we report do indeed mean the same thing.

Will you continue to offer paper testing for the ACT?
Yes, we plan to continue the paper version of the ACT. We will offer it as long as there is market demand for it.

What are the technical requirements required to do online testing? Are they the same as they are for ACT Aspire™?
The ACT taken online will not require the installation of software on a local PC or Mac. The online version of the ACT will support current releases of major operating systems and browsers and the supported versions will continue to evolve. Tablets have NOT been cleared for administration of the ACT at this time.

All devices must have the administrative tools and capabilities to temporarily disable features, functionalities, and applications that could present a security risk during test administration including, but not limited to: unrestricted Internet access, cameras (still and video), screen capture (live and recorded), email and instant message, Bluetooth connections, application switching, and printing. Technical requirements for ACT Aspire are expected to also apply to the ACT. ACT Aspire technical requirements are posted at

How can schools know whether they meet the requirements for online testing?
We are developing a technical guide to help schools check their systems to determine if they meet the requirements for online testing. In addition, we will provide access to a system check tool that will allow schools to validate the readiness of each device. As we move closer to launching online testing, a site readiness plan will be available to take schools through the required preparation steps to ensure they are technically ready for testing.

Can schools use tablets like iPads and Chrome books to administer the ACT test?
Not at this time. All online testing will be done on desktop or laptop.

Can students use their own computers to test?
No, only school-controlled computers will be allowed for testing. Schools may need to schedule testing over several days in order to have enough computers available.

Will tests be scored immediately? How soon will students get their scores?
Online tests will not be scored immediately. For our spring 2015 pilot, we plan to release scores from online administrations on the same schedule as paper scores (about three weeks after the test). We will continue to work on timely reporting while the processes for ensuring quality and security of online testing become more mature.

How can students prepare for online testing? Will you provide a practice test?
We will provide an online tutorial that will help students learn how to navigate the online tests prior to testing. In addition, students will be able to access free online practice tests in each subject well before the spring 2015 pilot. The online test contains the same number of items and covers the same content as the test offered on paper. Information provided in ACT paper test preparation materials, such as the free Preparing for the ACT, also apply to online testing.

What will online testing for the ACT cost?
Pricing for the online version of the ACT has not been finalized. We are examining the costs of delivery and evaluating the processes related to delivery, scoring, and reporting. We understand the impact of pricing and we are working to create and deliver the ACT online as cost effectively as possible.

Will the NCAA, military academies, and other postsecondary institutions accept the ACT online scores?
ACT research is designed to ensure the 1–36 ACT scores reported for students reflect the same level of achievement without regard to delivery mode—both paper and online. The 1–36 score scale for each of the multiple-choice tests and the ACT Composite score is not changing. Most postsecondary institutions rely on the subject test scores and/or the Composite score. For example, the NCAA currently uses the sum of the four subject test scores as part of their initial eligibility criteria. Since ACT scores are not changing, we expect that there will be no change in the acceptance of ACT scores.

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ACT Test Prep

Will ACT provide free test prep?
Students don't need to spend a lot of money on test preparation to do well on the ACT. Because the ACT is a curriculum-based test, the best way students can prepare for the test is to take challenging courses in high school and study hard. Students can also maximize their performance on the ACT by taking practice tests so they know what to expect on the exam and by relaxing and doing their best. The ACT student website——offers free practice tests as well as other free test prep information such as test-taking tips, descriptions of tests, and test day checklists. Students can download a free copy of Preparing for the ACT, which includes test information, a complete practice test, and sample writing prompt. For those who want more extensive test preparation help, ACT also sells inexpensive test prep tools such as ACT Online Prep™ and the Real ACT Prep Guide.

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