Why We Don't Like the ACT (Part 1)

The ACT has transitioned to a Computer-Based Test (CBT) format this year for international locations. Test centers should have banks of computers and students will have options on taking the test in the morning or the afternoon of Friday or Saturday on test weekends. CBT formats are used for many other standardized tests such as the TOEFL and GMAT but employing this technology with a test like the ACT presents many challenges.

Test format and availability aside, in this issue we will dwell on official practice materials. The College Board has made available eight full SAT tests for free, legal download. These tests are as close as you can get to the real thing and come complete with scoring guides, answer descriptions, and scoring tables. College Board has also partnered with Khan Academy to make freely available on-line resources for SAT preparation. Eight tests is more than enough for any student and we heartily recommend our students avail themselves of this resource.

The ACT is using international students as a trial for the new CBT test format. We will get into the specific drawbacks of Computer Based vs. Computer Adaptive in the future, but a core issue is that there is only one test available for practice on the ACT website. It says "five tests" but it actually just one complete test with five sections, not five full tests. This one test is only available behind a registration-wall used to data capture details on potential testers. What is more, this actual test dates back to June 2013 (Form 71C) and there are several format differences between it and what kids will presumably encounter on the real test (double passages, specific math content, and number of science passages). There is one official paper-based test available with some skilled Google work, but the fact that there is only one option for practicing the cumbersome computer-based test interface belies the ACT's commitment to the international market.

While the College Board hasn't garnered much praise for its work with international students on the SAT, at least there are ample practice materials and hence students know exactly what to expect.