Recent Changes to the ACT

2014-15 Content Revisions

The most significant recent changes to the ACT's content took effect with the 2014 and 2015 administrations of the exam. Older versions of the test consistently included a science section structured around seven passages, but the latest version contains only six. The reading section was also changed by the introduction of a paired reading passage, which had not previously been a feature of the assessment. Both of these changes had little to no effect on the questions themselves, but the writing section underwent a much more substantial alteration. Before 2015, test-takers were asked to write essays that simply argued for or against a given position articulated in a brief essay prompt. The new writing task's essay prompt presents three distinct perspectives on an issue, on which students are expected to present their own views and relate them to at least one of those three given positions. This more complex writing task is accompanied by additional time; test-takers are now given 40 minutes for the essay instead of the previous 30. Furthermore, essay subjects now concern contemporary topics of broad importance (such as climate change) rather subjects mainly of interest to high school students (e.g. the appropriateness of the school schedule).

2016 Scoring and Score Reporting Changes

Score reports for ACT administrations conducted in September 2016 and after include several new scoring and reporting features. ACT has replaced "subscores" with "reporting categories," a distinction that is more than terminological. Subscores were reported on a scale of 1 to 18, while reporting categories are represented as percentages of correct answers. Although some reporting categories are similar to the previous subscores, other subscores have been discontinued entirely (such as Algebra/Coordinate Geometry, which has no parallel in the new scoring system). Score reports now show ACT Readiness Ranges and an ACT STEM College Readiness Benchmark. The ACT Readiness Range, represented graphically on score reports, "shows where a student who has met the ACT College Readiness Benchmark on this subject test would typically perform," allowing comparison of a given student's performance with his or her college-ready peers. The STEM College Readiness Benchmark score is the average of the student's scores on the math and science sections of the ACT (1-36).

2015-16 Experiments with Writing Test Score Scales

In 2015-16, ACT experimented with including an overall writing test score that was on the same 1-36 scale as the other test sections. This practice was ended the following academic year due to significant discrepancies with the English, math, reading, and science scores, which made it difficult for test-takers to accurately interpret their performance. The current practice is to report writing scores from 2-12 in each of four domains, along with a total writing score that is the average of these four numbers (also on a scale of 2-12, rounded up or down to the nearest point).

The 2018 Addition of a Seventh Test Date

For many years, there were only six testing dates available in the United States, Canada, and U.S. territories. Beginning in the 2017-2018 academic year, a seventh date was added, administered for the first time in July 2018. ACT intends to offer seven national test dates for the foreseeable future. Most ACT administrations take place at high schools, but the July test date is held primarily at colleges or universities because many secondary institutions are closed during the summer months. The July test date is not currently available in New York, and no test dates have been added internationally.

The Importance of Up-to-Date Preparation Materials

Although it is accurate to say that the current version of the ACT is not a radically different test than before, there have been enough changes to impact preparation. With all of the recent revisions, students should make sure that they are using the most up-to-date preparation materials available, especially the latest edition of the Official ACT Prep Guide. Practice materials currently posted on the ACT website can also be considered reliable, but unofficial materials (including books, videos, or online lessons) may or may not represent the ACT in its current form.

Motives for ACT Revisions

ACT has cited alignment with Common Core as one of the primary reasons for the changes to the writing assessment. Perhaps more importantly, competition with the SAT has been an important driver of improvements to both tests, as each exam adopts the best features of the other. This situation benefits all students taking either test.

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