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How to Answer Experimental Questions on ACT and SAT.


Note: If you haven’t already, you may want to read, What (and Why) is the Experimental Section of the SAT, ACT, SSAT, and ISEE?

The ACT Experimental Section

Starting the end of 2018, every student who takes the ACT test will now see a 20-minute experimental section as their “5th” section. Only test-takers who qualify for extra time are exempt from the section. ACT test-takers will encounter the experimental section just after the Science section, but still before their 40-minute essay, an optional section that most students now take. The experimental section can test any area but focuses on one subject specifically (English, Math, Reading, or Science). During the administration of the test in September 2018, students reported seeing a variety of difficulty levels represented in the ACT experimental questions.

Because the ACT is a speed test, particularly in the last two sections, students may be exhausted by the time they reach this section. Despite their fatigue, there is still one more official section to go, since the majority of students will still be taking the essay section.

ACT Experimental Questions
Always appear, except for students receiving special accommodations.
They’re the “5th Section”, after Science and before the Essay.
20 minutes in duration.
All questions are focused on one content area: English, Math, Reading, or Science.

What to do?

While students should take the experimental section seriously, they can relax a bit here. If they don’t complete the section in time, there is absolutely nothing to worry about; the section doesn’t get scored after all. Students should try their best on questions they do have a chance to attempt. If they are tired, they can certainly take small breaks between questions. Hopefully, this more relaxed approach can allow for some recuperation before the fast-paced essay ahead.

The SAT Experimental Section

Since the introduction of the redesigned test in 2016, the College Board has given a 20-minute experimental section to randomly selected groups of students who take the SAT. Prior to 2019, only students who did not take the essay could be part of that group. This policy changed with the administration of the March 2019 SAT, so that any student taking the test can potentially receive the experimental section.  (Remember that pretest/experimental questions do not count toward the test score.)

These questions appear as the “5th section” on the test, just after the Calculator Math section. While some college board representatives have hinted over the years that the whole 5th multiple choice section only contains pretest items, we recently asked the College Board for more specifics. Their official response was, “Please be advised starting with the March 2019 administration, some SAT with Essay students will receive a 20-minute fifth section. The SAT (as of March 2016) and SAT with Essay (as of March 2019) contain some questions that won’t be used to compute student scores. These questions may appear in any section. To give students the extra time to answer more questions, the tests include a fifth section with regular and pretest questions.

SAT Experimental Questions
Randomly assigned to students taking the test.
If your test has a 5th multiple choice section, a portion of your test contains “pretest” questions.
20 minutes in duration.
All questions are focused on one content area: Reading Comprehension, Writing & Language, or Mathematics.

What to do?

We recommend students do their best here. For those not taking the essay, students should treat the experimental section as if it were any of the prior sections they encountered on the test. For those taking the 50-minute essay, students should try their best but take a more relaxed approach, in an effort to recover some energy for the essay ahead.

We hope this information is helpful and provides at least some relief from the stress of test-taking. We know that the testing and admissions process is often confusing and overwhelming. Please contact us if we can ever be of assistance.

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    Paul Lasitor

    Sounds like a marketing survey ploy that did not get the students permission or compensate for their effort. Another scam to keep this organization relevant?

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