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ACT’s New PLAN – the Pre-ACT


In a continuing testing “arms race” with the College Board, the ACT announced yesterday that it will offer a new college-readiness test called the PreACT – its version of the PSAT. The new test will debut in the fall and is aimed at preparing sophomores for the full-length ACT. While no information beyond a press release and a two-page pdf is available, we wanted to share some of our initial thoughts.

Lack of transparency.  With this press release, the ACT stays true to form with its lack of transparency, communication, and lead time. Unlike the College Board, which is held to, and usually meets, a higher standard, we tend not to hear about ACT developments until the last minute. For a high-stakes test, complete transparency with constituents should be required. Do schools or students get to see a sample test prior to administering? Has the test even been developed yet? The College Board released a sample PSAT six months prior to the first administration. ACT has already fallen behind the precedent set by its competition.

Response to the College Board’s SAT Suite of Assessments.  The PreACT initiative seems to be, at least in part, a response to the College Board’s SAT Suite of Assessments.  The College Board has PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10, PSAT/NMSQT, and the SAT, the Suite’s anchor test. How does ACT compete?  They create a PreACT so there are now two parts in its ACT testing “system.” In fact, the press release references a “sequence of college and career readiness solutions.”

Competing with the PSAT.  The PreACT will be offered in the 10th grade instead of 11th and can be administered any time between September 1 and June 1. The 10th grade timing is strategic:  Most schools administer the PSAT fall of 11th grade, and while there is a 10th grade PSAT (PSAT 10), I don’t think it will be adopted widely, and it’s administered only in the spring of the sophomore year.

Predictor of future ACT performance.  Unlike the new PSAT score, which tells you how you would have fared on the SAT at the time you took the PSAT, the PreACT will predict your future performance on the ACT.

Recovering from the bad press created by Aspire.  ACT Aspire has been poorly received by schools, especially those looking to it as a replacement for the PLAN. One, the Aspire was never intended to serve the function of the PLAN, and two, ACT’s execution of Aspire was poor. Almost every Aspire-adopting school we know had an unfavorable experience. We don’t think PreACT will displace the Aspire, but it will give the market what it wants: a test that will give end-users early ACT practice and predictive scores.

Is the test ready?  It’s not hard to envision the ACT Leadership Board discussing strategy last week and hitting on the idea of a PreACT: “Yes, let’s do it. Bob, can you please write a press release? We’ll worry about the details later.” Sure, that’s an exaggeration, but the lack of information leads one to wonder. They’ve stumbled a lot lately.

Is the PreACT just a resurrected PLAN test?  Only two years ago, the ACT had a PreACT. It was called the PLAN! The PLAN was a sophomore year test designed to predict ACT scores and provide practice for the ACT. Sound familiar? The PLAN was ditched in favor of ASPIRE, which as noted above, was executed poorly and serves a different purpose. ACT listened and heard that schools want the PLAN back, or um, a PreACT.

Additional revenue for ACT.  Millions of students at $12/test adds up. Also, ACT intends to use the PreACT to push students to its ACT Online Prep ($39.95/student).

Criticisms aside, the ACT has created (or is in the process of creating) a product that its end-users want. With the popularity of the ACT throughout the country, both as a college admissions test and as a high school assessment test, there will likely be high demand for the PreACT, just as there is for the PSAT.

We’ll be sure to keep you posted as we learn more, and as always, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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    Ellen Goldman

    Interesting information, Charlie! Thank you for the update.

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