ACT to become computer-based test in 2015

ACT announced in 2013 that it was migrating to a computer-based administration in Spring of 2015. This announcement has led to some rumors that the test would change formats–to be more STEM-heavy, for instance–but ACT quickly put those rumors to rest by stating, “The content of the test will not change—the ACT will remain a curriculum-based achievement exam. The exam will still be scored on the 1 to 36 scoring scale that has been used since the ACT was launched in 1959.”

Moreover, it seems that the computer-based administration will not be open to all students testing throughout the year–only to students testing at public high schools through the state-based administration ACT offers in April of every year. That means it’s not technically an “option,” unless you’re a public school student at PPS, Beaverton Public Schools, etc., and opt-in.

There are a host of questions arising from the migration to a computer-based test. For instance:

  • Will the essay be scored differently for students who are allowed to type rather than handwrite?
  • Is ACT anticipating a similar change to a computer-based format from SAT in 2016?
  • Is ACT responding to concerns that the pace is too quick by using technology to make the test easier to navigate?

The second of these questions seems all the more valid when one considers that ACT will also be offering

a separate constructed-response battery of questions as an option to supplement the traditional multiple-choice sections of the standard ACT. Constructed-response questions require students to enter their own answer, rather than selecting the best answer from several given choices. The optional constructed-response questions will allow schools to better align their reporting with the Common Core State Standards.

This is the heart of the issue. With SAT’s new design to align with Common Core Standards, ACT feels the pressure to be relevant to the new-and-improved curriculum that most US public school students will be knee-deep in this year. According to Mike Cohen of Achieve, an education non-profit in Washington, DC, there’s a significant amount of anxiety over the new curriculum’s success. “We don’t have any kind of good metrics” for measuring its success, he said.

And that’s exactly where both SAT and ACT hope to fill in.

So what can you do to be more prepared for the coming computer-based ACT? Take rigorous classes, read complex writing, and view your educational career as holistic–stretching from kindergarten through graduate school, and requiring the same set of academic skills (to varying degrees) at every stage.

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