In Part Two of our two-part series outlining the changes to the ACT, we discuss how students can prepare for the ACT and what the future may hold for this test. (If you missed the original posting of Part One in this series, be sure to check it out here.)

Current high school students will be the first batch of students who take the new Computer-Based Testing (CBT) version of the ACT. These changes are significant and will change how you prepare for the ACT. Thankfully, there’s enough information available to help you prepare for the new changes, regardless of what year of high school you’re in.

Freshmen

Thankfully, freshmen have the longest time out of all high school students to prepare for the ACT changes. By the time current freshmen begin preparing to take their first ACT, these changes to the ACT will likely be stabilized.

How current freshmen (and sophomores) prepare for the new ACT will depend on how many colleges embrace superscores and individual section retakes.

If colleges widely embrace superscoring, you may find that all the colleges you want to apply to accept superscoring. Therefore, you can create a study strategy that takes advantage of individual retakes.

However, depending on how fast the ACT rolls out their new technology, freshmen may be facing even more changes to the ACT. After the rollout to CBT, the ACT wants to eventually move to adaptive testing. This type of CBT test pulls questions from a huge bank of available questions, meaning no two students take the same test. This eventual transition will cut down on the security issues caused by tests leaking and cheating.

Additionally, by the time current freshmen begin taking the ACT, paper tests may no longer be available unless a student requires accommodations or extra time.

Sophomores

Sophomores are well-positioned to benefit from the changes to the ACT. Based on the timeline given by the ACT officials so far, the majority of current sophomores will take their first ACT on a computer. Additionally, by the time you’ll be applying for college, many schools are expected to have clearer superscore and section retake policies.

Therefore, sophomores should start paying close attention to their ideal colleges and their ACT policies. Together with your college consultant or tutor if you are working with either, you can start creating an ACT study plan that helps you take advantage of the ability to lock in one overall test score and then retake individual sections. Overall, your study plan for your first test won’t be drastically different than it would be for the traditional paper ACT, with one exception: you need to spend time becoming comfortable with a computer-based testing interface.

Currently, there are several ways you can familiarize yourself with a computer-based ACT:

  • ACT Academy offers free practice questions
  • ACT Online Prep is $39.95 for a 6-month subscription that gives access to over 2,000 practice questions and 2 practice tests
  • TestNav gives students access to one practice test

Juniors

Juniors have the most to concern themselves with regarding the new changes to the ACT. September 2020 is the first test date that will offer both the CBT option and the ability to retake individual sections and create a superscore. 

The ideal time to begin taking your ACTs varies based on your personal situation and the colleges you plan to apply to. However, the rollout of the new changes may overlap with essential deadlines in the college admissions process. Therefore, if you can finish your final ACT before September 2020, this is recommended. Not only will you be well prepared for your college application deadlines, but you’ll also be able to save the September 2020 test date to try and improve the score of a single section if the colleges you’re applying to accept superscoring and single section submissions.

If you plan on taking the ACT in September 2020, you need to apply as soon as possible when registration opens in July 2020. As the demand for the new style of testing is expected to be higher than the number of fully prepared test sites, registering early is essential to secure a spot.

Even if you’ve completed plenty of ACT prep before the changes, you should still spend time becoming comfortable with the CBT interface if you plan on taking the new ACT. Spending a weekend afternoon taking practice CBT tests can do wonders for your confidence when you take the new ACT for the first time.

Seniors

For the most part, seniors who have already taken their final ACT before September 2020 can relax. However, there’s still a compelling argument for high school seniors to pay attention to the ACT changes, especially if there’s a section of the test that has always been a challenge for them. 

There’s no rule against retaking the ACT once you’re in college, and if your college allows it, improving your score may help you secure more financial aid from scholarships and grants.

Therefore, while it may not be in a senior’s best interest to apply for single-section retakes so close to their college application deadlines, you should still pay close attention to how the college you plan on attending is handling the ACT changes. If your prospective college allows single-section retakes or improving your score for financial aid purposes, you can use this to your advantage later on.

“So, Wait, Exactly How Should I Be Preparing?”

  • Freshmen should keep an eye on the news and prepare for potential adaptive testing.
  • Sophomores should prepare for CBT testing and a superscore-focused study plan.
  • Juniors should create a full test strategy and avoid relying too heavily on retakes.
  • Seniors should not focus on retaking the ACT in most circumstances. 

Overall, students should be aware of these new changes and prepare for them, but do their best to avoid stressing out about the changes. While it may be tempting to spend 20+ hours studying one single section to prepare for your retake, know that there’s a point where your studying has diminishing returns and your time is better spent working on general test-taking practice. You should be working closely with your college consultant or tutor to create a study and test-taking plan tailored to you.

Beyond 2020: Future Plans for ACT Changes

As we’ve touched upon, the future of the ACT is expected to come in the form of adaptive computer testing. In the near future, no two students will be taking the exact same test. This increases the overall security of the tests, but students will need to familiarize themselves with a larger variety of question types than before.

Additionally, computer-based ACTs are expected to have a much shorter timeline to hear back about your scores. With paper-based ACTs getting your score back took weeks; the computer-based ACTs are expected to send scores back within a few days.

However the ACT changes in the future, our college consultants are prepared to help our students adapt to the changes. We focus on helping our students create a comprehensive plan for college admissions that includes how to handle test prep. While your ACT score is only one part of your college application, it’s an essential part of your academic record that can increase your chances of being accepted into college. Our college consultants know this, and we’re ready to help you through all the ACT’s changes.