The SAT with all of its profound changes has attracted the most attention from students, parents, and even the media. But that other college admissions test, the ACT, has also evolved with the times, even as the test maker has kept these more subtle changes quiet. How has the ACT changed over the last year?
There has been no change in format to the English section, though there is more of a focus on punctuation. In addition, more questions ask about thesis and author’s intent in the passages.
We haven’t seen any big changes in the Math section, but we have found certain advanced topics, mostly Algebra 2, that appear intermittently. Test takers seeking top scores in the Math section should know these topics well.
Following the lead set by the SAT long ago, the ACT Reading section finally features paired passages. The Reading section still orders the passages as Prose Fiction, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science, but that Humanities piece is now made up of two shorter passages that share a topic but have different main ideas. These paired passages are the same combined length as the other passages and include the same 10 questions, some of which focus on each passage individually and others on both passages together.
The Science Test has always seemed the most variable section, due to its broad diversity of topics and graph types. Science is even less predictable now, as there are no longer a set number of passages in this section. Test takers may see either six or seven passages on test day, but will still have to answer forty questions total.
The Writing section has definitely seen the most significant changes over the last year. The Enhanced ACT Writing format diverges significantly in format from essays in previous years. Students are now tasked to analyze three different given viewpoints about a topic and compare these viewpoints to their own position on the topic. To give students more time to write, this section has been expanded to 40 minutes instead of 30 minutes.
These new essays are scored on the familiar 1-36 scale rather than the 2-12 scale formerly shared by the SAT and ACT. Unfortunately, the newer ACT Writing scores appear lower than expected, to the extent that some schools that previously asked for the essay are now waiving that requirement.
As ever, the ACT evolves to meet the needs of educators and admissions professionals alike. But this test remains unchanged at its core; the ACT is still a reading test, still rewards exceptional graphical literacy, and still covers a broad base of grammar, math, and science topics in a way that many high school students prefer over the SAT. No matter how the test changes, the ACT will remain an essential component of the college admissions process, and perhaps state testing as well, for many years to come.