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Unusual Surprise for the June ACT Online

By April 30, 2024May 7th, 2024ACT, For Students
Will June ACT takers be in for a surprise? 

Paper-and-pencil test takers will see the traditional exam in June 2024. Students opting to take the test on the computer, however, may be in for a surprise. ACT is testing an experimental format for the computer test, and it is randomizing which students receive the standard, full-length ACT and which receive a new, shorter exam. Unfortunately, students in the ACT “Study Event” won’t know which group they are in until the morning of the test.

Why is ACT experimenting with a shorter, online test?

ACT has an image problem. The current exam is approximately 30% longer than the digital SAT and, despite the added length, provides students less time per question. The SAT has grown in popularity, and ACT needs to respond. The experimental exam is supposed to allow more time per question and still be shorter than the full, 3-hour ACT. The experiment only applies to the computer-based version of the exam.

Shorter sounds great! Where can I sign up? 

You don’t actually get to decide whether or not you will receive the shorter test. When you register for the exam, you’ll be asked whether you’d like to take the test on paper or on the computer. You may find that there are no sites in your area with computer-based testing. The online ACT—even the full-length version—is still in a pilot mode, which means that it is not available at every test center.

You will find that sites for online testing are labeled “Study Event.” This means that you do not get to control which version of the computer-based test you will receive on June 8th. You will be part of a study to determine whether the new, shorter format can produce results that are equivalent to the full-length version.

ACT will not tell you in advance which group you are in or even what the shorter exam will look like. We also don’t know how many students will receive the shorter test. If you do not want to participate in the study, you will need to sign up for the paper test.

How can the test be shorter and just as valid?

There are several ways ACT might go. (1) Simply reduce the number of questions with the expectation that the change will not have much of an impact on test validity. (2) Deliver an adaptive exam that adjusts in difficulty based on how a student is doing on early items. This is how the digital SAT works. (3) Substitute new item types that provide sufficient information while taking less time. Our sources at ACT have said that the June ACT will not be adaptive, which is puzzling. One of the advantages of computer-based testing is how easy it is to deliver adaptive exams. Students taking the ACT on the computer in June need to be prepared for any of the possibilities.

Will my scores count?

Yes. You will receive the same set of 1-36 scores no matter which option you choose. You will have the same superscoring opportunities, and colleges will not know which edition of the test you took. College Board did similar experiments when it was finalizing the digital SAT. ACT will have already piloted the changes in limited trials, but live testing is required to fully operationalize a new exam.

Should I sign up for computer testing in June?

If you have the option for paper testing in your area, we recommend taking it. You will know the exact timing, test structure, and content. You will also have the option of ordering a copy of your test. If you do decide to take the computer version of the ACT, it is essential that, on test day, you take note of how many questions will be on each section and how much time you will be given. You cannot assume that it will be the existing format of 45 min English, 60 min Math, 35 min Reading, and 35 min Science.

There is a good chance that you will simply see an online version of the full test. However, there is also a chance that you will receive the experimental exam. The pacing you have applied on practice ACTs may need to change. Check the section time and scroll to the right of the question list to identify the total number of questions; adjust accordingly.

You will not have the option of ordering your test questions, and your scores may not arrive when other students receive their scores. While ACT has committed to delivering scores in a 3 to 8 week window, it warns that scores will not be released until “additional study-related analysis is completed.” One of the reasons ACT has chosen the June date for this experiment is that it will not conflict with colleges’ deadlines for score reporting.

Will future versions of the online ACT be shorter?

Not immediately. ACT will need to finalize its strategy, and that takes time. We do, though, expect ACT to move quickly if the June test is a success. ACT needs to match the appeal of the shorter SAT, and the fact that it is committing to such a widescale trial indicates that it has some confidence in its response.

Will the paper ACT continue to be offered?

Yes. And maybe. There is no immediate concern that the paper ACT will be halted. Testing organizations have to plan form code and test center availability well in advance. CEO Janet Godwin has said that ACT is committed to offering paper and digital solutions. But that’s exactly what she would say until ACT makes a full commitment to online testing.

ACT recently announced a partnership with Nexus Capital Management LP that will unify ACT and its Encoura subsidiary as a new public benefit corporation, meaning that the company that administers the ACT will no longer be entirely non-profit and will be at least partially owned by the same company that owns Dollar Shave Club and TOMS shoes. The investment and the structural changes will supposedly “accelerate delivery on key aspects of the mission, including expanding access and opportunity for all students.”

With so much change afoot for the organization, it’s impossible to say exactly what it will do in the future. We believe that the paper ACT will last at least through the 2025-2026 school year. Students can count on Compass keeping them aware of, and prepared for, any future versions.

How can I practice on the digital format of the ACT?

To practice with the traditional online ACT format, you can review ACT’s timed and untimed sample sections.

You can also take a practice ACT in the Compass Online Testing Center, which will provide you with a detailed score report.

There are no opportunities to practice on the shorter version of the exam, because ACT has not even announced the structure of the experimental test. As we noted at the start, June test takers may be in for a surprise.

Ash Kramer

With a career in test prep and higher education that began in the late 90s, Ash has held a variety of educational roles from tutor and writing instructor to administrator. She serves as the Chief Product Officer at Compass, where she is lucky to lead a brilliant team creating the very best digital learning materials.

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