In this post, we’ll be talking about important changes to the new ACT. Most of you may know that the SAT radically changed in 2016– what you may not have realized is that the ACT has also changed!


But don’t panic– these changes aren’t as drastic as the recent SAT overhaul. In 2014, the ACT announced that would roll out a series of small changes as part of its commitment to making “continuous improvements” to the exam. We here at SupertutorTV have organized a list of all of the updates to the new ACT, including the one implemented as recently as 2016. Here is the breakdown of the modifications section by section:

THE ACT ESSAY

The essay was changed in September 2015, and is arguably the most obvious and drastic change to the new ACT. In the old essay, a majority of students scored 8/12– about 80th-85th percentile. The essay score distribution now peaks at a score that appears much lower– around a 22/36, which translates to the 80th percentile.
What this means is that your essay score may look MUCH SCARIER than it actually is.  On any other section of the, exam, a 22 translates to a 61-64th percentile– but on the essay, it’s the 80th– clearly the way the essay is graded is not the same as the rest of the exam.  To see how it compares to the old grading scale check out the ACT’s press release here: https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/Research-Letter-about-ACT-Writing.pdf.
Also, though the new essay still requires students to take a stance on an issue, the issues are no longer narrow topics that apply to the lives of high school students (such as whether students should wear uniforms or be allowed to drive at age 16). Rather, the new essay in some ways resembles the abstract nature of the pre-2016 SAT essay, which asks students to draw upon their own “knowledge, experience, and values” to narrow the scope of a somewhat abstract topic delineated into three given “perspectives” on debatable issues (such as whether unjust laws should be followed, whether the arts deserve more attention, or whether intelligent machines benefit or harm our society as a whole). The prompt itself is a page long and then some. Students are expected to respond to each perspective, and need to demonstrate the ability to deal with nuance and complexity of an argument to score highly. True, it’s a tough task.  But there is some good news!– You’ll now have 40 minutes instead of 30 minutes to complete the essay.
If you’re still wondering what in the multiverse you can do to better prepare yourself for this seemingly Herculean task, I have a blog here: How to Write the NEW ACT Essay where I step through an entire essay and discuss the best way to approach it. I also have a couple of sample prompts if you’re looking for more practice here: FREE New ACT Sample Essay Prompts.

THE ACT SCIENCE SECTION

The science section used to include 7 passages, but over the last year-and-a-half, the test has trimmed that number to 6— giving you more time to focus on questions and wasting less of your time orienting yourself to a new experiment or setup. The number of questions in the section hasn’t changed, but from my subjective experience, I’ve observed that 1-2 more “outside information questions” or “logical reasoning questions” have been integrated with this adjustment. These questions can be a bit flummoxing, because you read the problem and look at the answer choices, only to discover that there isn’t any supporting evidence in the passage to back up any of the options.

Wondering what I mean by this?– here’s an example.

Example Question:

When the monarch butterflies use their stored lipids, the lipids must be broken down to produce energy-rich molecules that can be readily used by cells. which of the following molecules is produced as a direct result of the breakdown of the lipids?

A. ATP

B. Starch

C. DNA

D. Amino acids

The answer to this question is A– ATP. However, there are no hints or clues to support this answer choice in the passage that accompanies this questions. If you don’t possess the outside knowledge to know that ATP is the correct answer, you can always use the handy process of elimination. For example, DNA is our genetic code– not what lipids turn into; amino acids are the building blocks of proteins; starches are “carbs” while lipids are “fats” — these are not elements in a cycle but rather comparable categories. Following this manner, you can start crossing off some unlikely choices and you might be able to arrive at the correct answer. As long as you have some outside knowledge, or use logical reasoning and the process of elimination, you may be able to tackle these types of questions.

THE ACT MATH SECTION

The ACT has officially announced that it has added more probability and statistics related content. An example of these types of questions might be one featuring a probability scenario, accompanied by a visual bar graph. Another kind might be calculating how many different sandwich combinations you can make with X types of bread, Y types of meat, and Z kinds of cheese. Three key terms and concepts you may want to brush up on (in addition to the obvious search term “probability and statistics”) are: 1) Combinations; 2)Permutations; and 3)Arrangements. You’ll also want to quickly review the concept of Standard Deviation.  Make sure you know how to tackle these topics!
Also from an unofficial analysis, I find that the current math sections to have more “curveball” questions– meaning 1-2 really tough problems per test– than I saw about 10 years ago.  What this means is that the curve isn’t always so steep (you may be able to miss one and still get a 36).

THE ACT READING SECTION

 All of the reading passages now have at least one “dual” passage section, which, at least on the released tests thus far, has universally been the humanities and social sciences passages– that doesn’t mean there won’t be a dual “narrative prose” or “natural science” passage section though. For example, there might be Passage A by Ray Bradbury and Passage B also by Ray Bradbury. Then, there will be a group of questions asking about Passage A, another group about Passage B,  and then a group of  questions that compare and contrast both passages. TIP: READ PASSAGE A FIRST, THEN DO JUST THE PASSAGE A QUESTIONS! Reading both passages first can make this section more confusing than it needs to be!
ANOTHER TIP: If you want to practice on these types of dual passages, and can’t find enough official ACT ones to practice with, you can Google to find some old SATs, which feature a copious supply of dual passages.  Just do the questions that compare the two passages!

ACT ONLINE TEST

The ACT is also now available as an online test. “Online test” can sound potentially misleading, however, as it may seem as if you can take the test anywhere from any computer– that is not the case. What is means is that schools participating in the ACT district and state program can elect to administer the ACT on computers, with the ACT test questions being identical to the ones featured on the paper version. This idea was piloted in 2015 and offered to all districts in the spring of 2016. If your school administers a school wide ACT during class time, check with counselor to see if your school is a participant.
I personally advise against taking the ACT online, however. Studies show that people tend to read slower and less accurately on a computer as opposed to with a physical copy. Although taking the ACT online is a plausible option, I highly recommend taking the ACT in the traditional setting, as it can be easier to focus. You can also interact with the test more, such as underlining words, marking certain areas, and jotting down key terms on the margins.  Finally, you own your ACT scores when you take it on a national test date, and can elect to delete a score permanently, while school administered exams cannot be expunged from your record.  Even if your school offers the test online, you can still sign up for a national test date on your own if you like.  You’ll have to ask your school if you are required to take the in school ACT.  Different schools may have different policies.

Overall, these are all of the changes to the new ACT by section. It is also important to note that because the ACT has officially announced that it will continue to adapt the test over time, more subtle changes may emerge on any given test date without warning.

Taking the ACT soon?  Check out our other posts on the ACT on our blog!