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News from the ACT: Extended time policy changes and more


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.


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 16 comments
  • Alan Haas

    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

      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…

  • Mary Ann Burritt

    I administered the new version yesterday, and personally didn’t care for the changes. Having students on IEP and 504 Plans go through a 90 minute test, followed by a 70 minute test before a break was initiated, is much too long. The students liked their previous ability at pacing themselves and leaving when finished. Also, ACT significantly reduced compensation for proctors by $45-$50. I truly think the motivation for the changes is monetarily driven, not student-centered.

    • Susan Spencer

      I agree completely, Mary Ann! As a test center supervisor, the fact that I had to staff the test and respond to special requests for accommodations AHEAD of the release of the new compensation policy is absolutely unacceptable.

    • Kristine Chochrek

      Hi Mary Ann, thank you for sharing your test administration experience. We agree that these changes will be challenging for many students. We will continue to watch for any updates from ACT.

  • Susan Spencer

    As a test center supervisor, I find the change in compensation for extended time proctors to be completely unacceptable. No proctor who has supervised an extended time room is going to be willing to put in the same 5-6 hours of work for the insultingly lower compensation. The end result? Testing centers will not want to offer extended time or special accommodations for proctors, and this discriminates against students who need these accommodations. While the change to the testing experience is not bad for the students, the accompanying change in compensation is absolutely unacceptable.

    • Kristine Chochrek

      Thanks for sharing your feedback, Susan. We appreciate all that test center supervisors do to support their students!

  • Holly Camorata

    I totally agree with the other test center supervisors/proctors regarding the change in compensation. I’ve been fortunate to have excellent proctors for years. Due to the fact the SAT RAISED the compensation for their test administrators, I can already foresee my proctors choosing to only administer that test, and decline accepting a position for ACT. Susan Spencer, you hit the nail on the head!

    • Kristine Chochrek

      Yes, please keep us posted if you see any challenges securing ACT proctors. We appreciate you sharing this feedback!

  • Alice Waters

    The ACT Board will likely have litigation filed against them if they do not allow extended time students to take the test at all testing centers.

  • Liz Livaccari

    Is it possible for students with extended time to break up the test into two days? 5-6 hours is a long time to sit and focus if you child has ADHD.

    • Joshua White

      Yes, it is possible. When applying for accommodations on, you would select “Special” (rather than “National”). Special testing accommodations provide for multiple-day testing, which is often needed for students that qualify for more than 50% extended time.

  • April Weaver

    I see this as nothing more than complete and total discrimination against children with and IEP or 504 plan. My 16 year old daughter just came home from taking this test and was extremely upset!! 90 min timed section following a 70 min timed section without a break to top it all off was TOO MUCH!!!! Areas like like reading are extremely difficult for a child with dyslexia and ADD. Previously 5 hours to work at their own pace gave them the opportunity to use more time in areas they struggle the most in. I cannot wrap my mind around this change and how completely unfair it is to our children. This is nothing more than setting them up to fail to put more money in your pockets. Infuriating to say the least!!!!!!

    • Mary Ann Burritt

      For quite a few years, I have meticulously administered the ACT Extended Time Test without a problem. Many of my students vocalized the ease of taking the test at their own pace and the relaxed atmosphere it created. If a student was perilously using too much time to the extent of seriously shortchanging other sections, I gently reminded them. I always used a stop watch to give them a truly accurate, right to the second time allowance. Directions were clearly given verbatim. Breaks were allowed and I logged when a child requested one and the time used. It ran smoothly and anxiety was seldom if ever an issue. I have a deep fondness for students who have learning challenges, and their personal comfort is of extreme importance to me. The autumn changes shook my students to the core and I felt their angst in what ACT has misguidedly done. When the December 8th administration was about to occur, I was told a few days ahead that all proctors would be required to use their personal phones, laptops or tablets for administering the test directions via an app. I found this appalling and had to decline from this latest electronic requirement. later, I was told the app malfunctioned half-way through the test and paper manuals were needed to complete administration. Who is overseeing these changes and the effects on both students and professional administrators of the test? Is anyone listening to our comments?

  • Kelly Lowry

    Do you know if scores on ACT with extended time over multiple days come out at the same time as the others

    • Drew Heilpern

      The scores for ACT with extended time are released after the national scores are released. Students with extended time and multiple day testing take the ACT during a special testing window established by the ACT, usually starting the day of the national test and extending for three weeks. The December ACT special testing window, for example, was Dec 8 – Dec 30. In our experience, students with extended time get their scores 2-3 weeks after the national testing scores are released, but the actual date that the student takes the test will determine how quickly they get scores back.

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