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News from the ACT: Extended time policy changes and more

 In ACT

This post has been updated to include information released by ACT in a FAQ.

Last week, high school college counselors received an important email from the ACT that described three upcoming policy changes. Read on for a brief synopsis and discussion of each. At the end of this post, we address some practical takeaways for families and school administrators.

Synopsis 

Effective September 2018…
1. ACT extended time examinees will no longer be able to self-pace

2. All regular-time examinees will receive the “experimental section,” whether or not they take the optional ACT essay

3. Proctors will no longer be required to check all student calculators before the math section, but students will still need to make sure that they are using approved calculator models

*Please note: these policy changes do not take place until September 2018, but in the following discussions, we will refer to the policies being phased out as “old” and “previous,” even though they are still effective today. Students who are sitting for June or July 2018 administrations of the ACT will not be affected by these changes.

Timings and Schedule

ACT Test Section New Proctoring Timing Instructions* Old Proctoring Timing Instructions
1. English 70 min

Students had 5 hours to complete multiple choice questions at their own pace.

They could advance to the next section whenever ready, but could not return to previous sections once they had moved on.

 

2. Math 90 min
BREAK 15 min
3. Reading 55 min
4. Science 55 min
BREAK 5 min
5. Writing (optional essay) 60 min 60 min

*While students will no longer be able to self-pace, they will be able to move on to the next test section “if all examinees in the room are finished.”

ACT Extended Time Policy and Self-Pacing

The Old Policy:
• Students with “time-and-a-half” accommodations, more officially known as Timing Code 6, had a very different experience taking the test from regular-time testers. Students with this accommodation were given a 5-hour block of time to work through the multiple choice portions of the test at their own pace. When they were done with this self-paced portion, students were given a 60 minute period of time to complete the essay, if they signed up for it.

The New Policy:
• Students with time-and-a-half will no longer be able to move freely throughout the multiple choice portions of the test. Instead, students will receive “50 percent extended time for each section of the ACT, with a hard stop after each section.”
• All extended time test-takers must start and finish each section at the same time. This means that, if examinees finish a section before time is called, they must wait quietly for the time to run out before continuing on to the next section, even if they are ready to continue. In the ACT’s FAQ released this week, the testmakers announced that “if all examinees in the room are finished, then the group of examinees can move to the next test.”
• The writing test (aka. ACT essay) is the least affected by this change because students were never able to start it without checking in with the proctor. Students with time-and-a-half will continue to receive 60 minutes to complete the ACT essay.

The ACT Experimental Section

What is the Experimental Section?
• The experimental section, officially known as the “Tryout section”, is a fifth, 20-minute multiple choice section that is used to test out new ACT questions and formats. These questions do not count towards students’ scores.

The Old Policy:
• Previously, regular-time students who took the optional ACT essay did not receive the experimental section. If a student did not sign up for the essay, they were likely to have an experimental section at the end of the test.

The New Policy:
• All regular-time students will now have to take the experimental fifth section. Students with extended time will not.

Why the Change?
• While the ACT does not cite a specific reason for this policy change, it likely has to do with issues of equity. Students who take the ACT essay must pay an additional fee. This meant that students who paid extra for the test had a different testing experience than those who did not. More specifically, those who did not pay were expected to complete extra work for no personal gain. By administering the experimental section to everyone, the ACT avoids this equity issue, but it will increase the overall testing time for students taking the test with essay.

ACT Calculator Policy

The Old Policy:
• The ACT used to require that testing staff check all students calculators before Test 2, the math section, to make sure that students were using approved calculator models.

The New Policy:
• While test proctors will no longer need to check calculators before the math test, this does not mean that students should attempt to use unapproved calculator types. The ACT notes that testing staff will “continue to monitor examinees during the math test to ensure only permitted calculators are used.”

Practical Takeaways

• Students with extended time may want to consider taking an ACT in June or July. Students who are accustomed to self-pacing their extended time will need to adjust to the new, more rigid timing format if they plan to test after this summer. For some, it may be worth trying to prep for the summer tests that occur in June or July before the change is enacted. Not all test dates are available in certain locations, so make sure to check the ACT’s registration page for test dates and details.

• All regular time testers should be mentally prepared to see experimental sections. In its email to college counselors, ACT states specifically that “the fifth [experimental] test is 20 minutes long and doesn’t impact the examinee’s ACT Composite score or subject test scores.” Students may decide for themselves whether they want to attempt the experimental questions for a preview of what the ACT might test in the future. However students choose to spend this time, they should always make sure to follow the directions given to them by the test proctor.

• Students are responsible for making sure that they bring an approved calculator to the ACT. This isn’t a major policy change, but it is unclear what will be done if a proctor realizes that a calculator is a banned model during testing. The most likely option is that it will invalidate the student’s test. Don’t take any risks– always check the ACT’s most recent calculator policies, which may be found on the ACT’s website or by contacting ACT directly.

Questions, comments, or concerns? Contact us by email or by using the comments below!

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Showing 2 comments
  • Alan Haas
    Reply

    Vicki: This is a clear and helpful explanation of the proposed changes in the ACT test. Most of the changes are problematic, in my opinion, and I have posted about our concerns separately. Many thanks for your help in convincing me that our concerns are valid.

    • Vicki Strateman
      Reply

      Hi, Alan: Thank you for your comment. I just updated this post to include the proctoring schedule that was released this week.

      It will be interesting to see whether ACT releases any more concrete explanations as to why they made the extended time change. The company’s press release cites “feedback we’ve received from students and test administrators” as the catalyst, but I think that most of us would prefer a more rigorous justification…

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