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Changes to ACT: Extended Time Testing, Experimental Section & Calculators

In late May, the ACT announced significant changes to its procedures for extended-time testing. Beginning with the September 2018 test date, students who qualify for National Extended Time testing, whether on account of diagnosed learning differences or other reasons, will complete each section of the ACT within fixed limits, roughly time-and-a-half.

Those time limits are as follows:

  • English: 70 minutes (compared to 45 minutes standard)

  • Math: 90 minutes (compared to 60 minutes standard)

  • Reading: 55 minutes (compared to 35 minutes standard)

  • Science: 55 minutes (compared to 35 minutes standard)

There will one 15-minute break after the math section, as opposed to the prior policy of offering more, shorter breaks through the course of the test.

There is no change to the optional essay section, as students with extended-time accommodations will continue to have 60 minutes to respond to the prompt (as compared to 40 minutes standard), following a short break after the science section.

These changes make a dramatic break with the previous procedures, under which students with extended time could self-pace themselves through the 5-hour exam, choosing how they wanted to allot their time for each section.

The ACT cited “fairness for all examinees” in its explanation for the changes, noting that:

We have listened to the feedback we’ve received from students and test administrators, and we believe this change will provide an improved testing experience for both,” said ACT Chief Commercial Officer Suzana Delanghe. “The new rules will increase fairness for all examinees by better enabling some students to demonstrate their academic achievement without negatively impacting others.”

The ACT has also posted a FAQ page for students planning to take the test.

What’s going on? How should we plan moving forward?

Realistically, these changes are not a huge surprise: the prior format, with its unstructured time, was always an outlier among standardized tests, and with computer-administered testing coming down the pike, eliminating self-pacing will make that transition one step simpler.

Moreover, this move may well level the playing field, insofar as the old policies likely benefitted most greatly those students with the resources to access professional test prep services, learn to manage the “choose your own adventure” nature of self-pacing, and take numerous practice tests beforehand.

The big takeaway for rising seniors? If you have extended-time accommodations and are planning to take the ACT one more time for your upcoming college applications, be ready for the September 8, 2018 test.

Other Important changes to the ACT

The ACT has also announced that all regular-time examinees will get an experimental section – officially called the Tryout program – after the end of the science section, whether or not they have opted to take the essay:

“We are expanding the Tryout program, which helps shape the future of the ACT. On National test dates, examinees testing under standard timing conditions, whether testing with or without writing, should expect to take a fifth test after Test 4. The fifth test is 20 minutes long and doesn’t impact the examinee’s ACT Composite score or subject test scores. Examinees testing with extended time will not take the fifth test.”

Additionally, ACT proctors will no longer check each student’s calculator to make sure it conforms to the ACT’s list of approved devices. That said, proctors will monitor examinees to watch out for banned calculators, and it will be each student’s responsibility to make sure their calculator is on the ACT’s approved list. As always, check the ACT website for the most recent list of acceptable calculators.

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