Each year, states and school districts across the country offer free ACT exams to their high school students. This year, ACT has launched online ACT testing that is being offered during some of these in-school ACT test dates.
This new computer-based ACT is causing a lot of concern among students and parents alike as the information provided regarding this change is hard to find. Unless your school counselor has given you a direct link to the information, there’s a chance you could prepare for a paper-and-pencil test, show up on test day, and be blindsided by the new online interface.
To help ensure that students are prepared for their in-school ACT, here are answers to a few of the frequently asked questions I’ve been fielding as well as some resources to help you get ready if you’re going to be taking the new online ACT this year.
Is the online ACT different than the paper-and-pencil ACT?
As per this official ACT document, the only difference between the online ACT and the paper-and-pencil ACT is the fact that it is administered via computer.
The actual format of the test (section order, questions per section, and timing) will remain the same.
Will I be given scratch paper during my online ACT?
According to one teeny tiny line of text on page 25 of this official ACT document, you should be provided with ACT-approved scratch paper or personal whiteboard on in certain sections of the exam.
I inquired with ACT directly and the customer service rep I spoke with said that the math section is the only section in which students will have access to scratch paper.
Will my in-school ACT be administered on paper or by computer?
Unfortunately, with so many schools offering ACTs, there’s no one source I can point to to answer this question.
You’ll need to inquire with your guidance counselor to find out if your school is providing a paper ACT or computer ACT on your in-school test dates.
Are computer-based ACTs available on the national ACT test dates?
They will be! Starting in September 2020, students will be able to choose whether they want to take a paper-and-pencil test or the online ACT.
More on the shift to online ACT testing here.
How should I prepare for the online ACT?
Whether you’re preparing to take an in-school ACT or one of the national ACT test dates, there are 2 pillars to solid test prep:
- academic content review
- test-specific strategic approach
In an ideal world, you’d have plenty of time to cover both through a course like my ACT Complete Package program.
But, when pressed for time as so many students are these days, students tend to focus far too overwhelmingly on content review and spend too little time learning test-specific strategies.
If you don’t have time to do both, focus on your strategic approach through a course like my ACT Quick Prep program.
Whether you’re taking the ACT on paper or online, the same strategies will serve you.
You can get started learning 35 of my top strategies for success on both the ACT and SAT for free by downloading the Insider’s Guide to the ACT & SAT.
Get started for free at higherscorestestprep.com/start.
While you can learn strategies in isolation, you’ll feel most comfortable if you put them into practice before test day. And it’s important that you do at least some portion of that practice in the form that you will eventually test.
If you’re taking the test on paper, you can find 2 free practice tests as well as free practice questions here.
If you’re taking the test by computer, you can login to the interface using guest credentials by following the instructions to download TestNav here. You can also read an overview of the online ACT testing platform here.
For more information, click here for the official page regarding the in-school ACT.
Will the ACT strategies you teach in your courses work on the online ACT?
Absolutely! Because the test format isn’t shifting with the online administration of the exam, the strategies I teach in my 2 online ACT prep courses can be used.
In fact, the online interface provides the ability for students to:
- highlight passages (useful for annotating reading passages),
- mask answer choices (perfect to help you focus on crafting your own answer first),
- cross out answer choices (great for process of elimination), and
- bookmark questions (excellent for the questions you want to circle back to if you have extra time).
Want to learn more about these strategies + 31 more? Get started for free with my eBook, Insider’s Guide to the ACT & SAT.
Are there any drawbacks to taking the online ACT?
At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, I do think there are a few drawbacks to the computer version of the ACT.
- The inability to use scratch paper in any section other than math is a drawback, as would be useful for the Science section as well as the Writing test.
- Any first major roll out of software is likely to have some bugs. It's never ideal to be a guinea pig in such high-stakes situations as an ACT test date.
If you have a choice, I would opt to take a pencil-and-paper exam until at least Spring 2021. Let ACT work out the kinks before choosing to test in this fashion.
But, for those testing in an in-school setting, you probably won't be given a choice.
If you must take the online ACT this year, the best thing you can do is:
- arm yourself with information, which you’re already doing by reading this article and preparing with the strategies in my eBook,
- practice with the online ACT interface by downloading TestNav here or by reading an overview of TestNav’s functionality here, and
- trust your prep.
Be prepared to do the best possible work you can no matter what hiccups happen in the test room.
If something tremendously disruptive occurs, online or otherwise, ACT usually makes it right. Do what you can with what you’re given and know that you can always test again on one of the 7 national ACT test dates or, if it’s a better fit, you can switch to the SAT.
As with most things in life, there’s usually another opportunity to improve upon past performance just around the corner.
And if you want some help preparing, send me an email with any questions you have. I’m here to help!