In May 2023, the ACT CEO announced that the ACT is going digital. Here's what you need to know about the new digital format.
The digital evolution of the ACT test brings with it a multitude of questions and considerations for students and their parents. As we navigate this transition, it's important to understand the implications and make informed decisions. In this blog post, we'll provide insights and answers to some of the most pressing questions surrounding the digital ACT, discuss how this change might impact students, and explore what we don’t know.
When & Why is the ACT Going Digital?
The digital ACT will be piloted by 5,000 students in December 2023, with wider availability anticipated in 2024.
Registration for the digital ACT pilot test will open in July 2023, and the capacity will progressively increase throughout 2024. Notably, the paper and pencil version of the test will be preserved indefinitely, allowing students to choose their preferred modality. The CEO of the ACT Company, Janet Godwin, emphasized that the digital format enhances accessibility, enabling students to utilize assistive technology for accommodations such as talk-to-text, read-aloud, zoom/larger view, and extended time.
While it's tempting to speculate that the move to digital is a response to the SAT's digital format, it's important to note that ACT had expressed intent for a widely available digital test even before the emergence of the SAT's digital counterpart. What many may not realize is that the ACT has existed in a digital form for about 5 years internationally and in district-wide testing in the US since 2016. Godwin has noted before, as recently as last year, that there was intent to move toward a more widely available digital ACT. The preservation of the paper and pencil option is helpful as it offers students a choice and ensures that the ACT accommodates different learning preferences.
How is the ACT Changing?
Let's dive into what aspects will remain the same and what changes we can expect with the digital ACT. A lot is staying the same, and even the ACT Company acknowledges this.
Here’s what’s staying the same:
- The format of the test will closely resemble the traditional ACT test booklet since the timing and number of questions remain unchanged
- The digital ACT is NOT adaptive (it will not adjust the difficulty level based on the test-taker’s performance on previous questions or sections)
- Students still need to register for and go to a designated test center/school to take the exam
In fact, the similarities between the paper and pencil and digital formats are so pronounced that students will have the flexibility to switch between them until the late registration deadlines.
Similarly, the overall strategies for preparing for the ACT will remain largely the same as the digital format. The tried and tested approaches, such as mastering grammar rules (content) and employing strategies (such as the process of elimination) will still hold true. Our philosophy surrounding test preparation and success will not be altered by the transition to a digital format.
How Does a Digital ACT Impact Students?
Now, let's consider who will be affected by these changes. For the Class of 2024, most students would have already completed their standardized testing by the time the digital ACT launches. However, students in the Class of 2025 will have options to consider. They should ask themselves several crucial questions:
- Do I need to take a standardized test?
- Should I take the ACT or the SAT?
- When should I take the test? Ideally, students should aim for at least two official administrations of the ACT or SAT and have completed at least two marking periods of Algebra II before attempting their first official exam.
- Which version of the test should I take: paper and pencil or digital? Will both be available at the time I'm testing?
We at Collegewise can help you answer many of your questions, as can your school counselor. And you may need to do some self-reflection here, too. Our college counselors and tutors can help provide answers through free diagnostic tests and evaluations. Additionally, our complimentary consultations assist you in navigating these decisions based on your individual circumstances and performance.
Looking further ahead, students in the Class of 2026 and beyond will also have several options. They have to make choices addressed in the questions above for the Class of 2025 students, so they’ll need to choose: the paper and pencil version of the ACT, the digital ACT, or the digital version of the SAT (or, again, not testing at all). Many of these students will have already been exposed to the digital PSAT, making the transition to a digital format more familiar and comfortable. And let’s keep in mind that many students have been taking digital exams since they were in elementary school, with even more exams going digital during COVID learning.
We strongly recommend taking an official exam only when you consistently achieve scores in line with your target. For your next steps, you may wish to explore numerous free practice tests that are available. Practice exams are invaluable in honing your skills and gauging your readiness for the actual test and you can find some on the ACT’s website, act.org. You’ll need to decide whether you have the discipline and drive to study on your own, whether you need a study buddy or even a professional tutor. Tutors, like those at Collegewise, can keep you on task, be your personal cheerleader, and show you resources you might otherwise not be aware of.
Unanswered Digital ACT Questions
There are still some unanswered questions that the ACT company needs to address:
- Will students be required to provide their own devices?
- What if a student does not have the necessary device? Will the ACT company provide one?
- How long will it take to receive the digital test results?
- Will there be a digital version of the PreACT?
As the digital ACT becomes more prominent, students and parents may wonder about the impact on test logistics. One aspect that remains uncertain is whether students will be required to provide their own devices. While the ACT company has not provided specific details regarding this matter, it's important to anticipate potential scenarios. In an ideal situation, students would have access to their own devices, which they are comfortable using during the test. However, it's also possible that the ACT may consider providing devices to students who do not have access to the necessary technology.
Another concern for test-takers is the time it will take to receive their results. The ACT has not provided specific information on the turnaround time for digital test scores. However, it's reasonable to expect that the transition to digital will streamline the scoring process at some point. Digital tests can be automatically scored, potentially reducing the time it takes for students to receive their scores compared to the traditional paper and pencil format. This is good news for students who are eagerly awaiting their results, as faster score reporting allows for quicker planning and decision-making regarding college applications.
Additionally, many students wonder whether there will be a digital version of the PreACT. The PreACT serves as a practice test for students to gauge their readiness for the ACT and identify areas for improvement. As of now, the ACT company has not provided specific information about a digital PreACT. The PreACT is less widely administered than the PSAT, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. The PreACT is truly a practice test since it is not used for any type of scholarship consideration, unlike the PSAT/NMSQT (PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test).
While the transition to a digital format introduces new considerations, it's important to remember that the fundamental strategies for success in the ACT remain the same.The emphasis on understanding grammar rules and math concepts, employing effective time management strategies, and practicing with official tests continues to hold true regardless of the format. Students can still rely on trusted resources, such as practice tests and study guides to prepare effectively for the digital ACT. Utilizing these resources, along with seeking guidance from experienced counselors and tutors, will contribute to a successful test experience.
The advent of the digital ACT marks an important milestone in standardized testing since this decision to embrace digital technology brings increased accessibility and accommodates a wider range of student needs, as does the imminent US release of the digital PSAT and SAT. While much of the ACT experience will remain familiar, the transition to a digital format prompts a series of considerations for students and parents. By staying informed, seeking guidance, and utilizing the available resources, you can navigate this change with confidence and make decisions that best support your academic journey.
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