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ACT Eliminates Paper Test for Overseas Test-takers

 In ACT, News

Over the past few weeks, ACT has slowly released important updates to the international ACT through a series of emails, FAQs, and newsletters. We have consolidated the most important details here, but stay tuned for future adjustments.

Main Takeaways

  • For students: make sure to practice the digital format well in advance of test day by using the online resources noted at the end of this post. Sign up early to make sure that you get a spot at a testing center, because seats will likely be limited as the ACT ramps up this new format.
  • For counselors/administrators: keep an eye out for updates from the ACT, as they tend to make many small adjustments to their policies and processes over time. International students may need some guidance as to the online practice resources available to them. Starting in September 2018, ACTs will be offered abroad during “testing windows,” but national test dates will still occur on the normal schedule of Saturday testing with accommodations for religious reasons.

In September 2018, ACT is shaking up the testing experience for international students in some big ways. While we have already covered a few of the main points in a previous post about ACT news, the testing company released some more detailed information this week that is aimed towards college counselors.

After this summer, students who take the ACT outside of the USA will be expected to take the test in a digital format, often referred to as a “computer-based test,” or CBT. Students and schools will not be able to opt for a paper option except in rare circumstances where the digital system cannot provide the proper accommodations for medically documented student needs.

Why digital?

The ACT is moving towards this format for several reasons. The main one that is cited by the company is test security, which has caused many headaches for the ACT in recent years. Paper tests have lots of vulnerabilities that people (students, even test coordinators, etc.) exploit. What the ACT doesn’t often acknowledge directly is that test security is a bigger issue because they tend to reuse test content between domestic and foreign (non-US) test administrations. Sometimes, they have reused whole tests and students have noticed.

By shoring up the holes in their test security, going digital also helps ACT to save money. The process of making a standardized test is extremely expensive. The company must not only pay content writers and publications for all of the new questions and passages, but they also need to pay their statistical experts to make sure that the test form is valid. Aside from these overarching costs, digital testing cuts down on other costs, such as mailing paper test booklets and answer sheets back and forth across the globe.

Moving towards digital testing also moves the company towards the goal of offering an “adaptive” version of the ACT. This is a huge topic that we won’t get into here, but adaptive tests adjust the questions that are presented to test-takers based on their performance on previous questions.

How does the CBT format compare to the current paper ACT for test-takers?

Similarities: According to the test-makers, the content of the CBT, meaning the actual questions and passages, will not be different from a paper test. ACT has also claimed that the section timings for the CBT vs. paper tests will not be appreciably different, though they do state that the digital timings may change slightly over time.

Differences: Since students will be taking the test on a computer, they will need to familiarize themselves with the tools and techniques available to them in this digital format. Remember– there is no physical test booklet to flip through, underline in pencil, and take notes. However, the online testing system does have specific tools that students can use to:

  • 🔎 Magnify the page
  • Highlight text
  • ⚑ Flag questions for later review
  • ☒ Cross out answer choices
  • 👀 Hide/unhide all answer choices
  • 🎯 Line mask to help students focus on certain lines of text

Currently, the online test does not offer an option for a digital calculator. Students who wish to use a calculator must make sure that they are using an approved model by checking ACT’s Test Day page.

Will the score reports from digital ACTs be different?

Slightly. Digital test-takers will not see sub-score skills on their reports. One major benefit for international testers: students taking the ACT as a CBT will see their results faster than paper testers. The testing company claims that “scores for non-writing sections will be available within 2 business days.” In comparison, paper ACT testers generally have their multiple choice scores within two weeks, though it can sometimes take up to eight weeks.

What are some concerns unique to international ACT CBTs?

Scarcity. Test centers may be few and far between. Accommodating student demand is already a problem for many standardized tests, but CBT administrations compound the issue by requiring relatively complex setup and logistics for test security.

Additionally, the ACT does not provide computers for test-takers– the expectation is that schools and testing centers will generally use their own technology. While this might not sound like a big deal to someone who has easy access to technology, imagine the challenges for students who live in areas of the world that simply do not have these resources. For students in this position, there is also another equity concern: will they have access to digital practice before taking the test?
In an email to college counselors this week, ACT stated that it is “working to alleviate” this issue in various ways. However, students and counselors can expect that international students will have fewer ACT test center options than ever before. If students are really banking on taking that September 2018 test, they should make sure to sign up for the international ACT as early as possible.

Test center inconsistencies. For these international digital tests, ACT is defining what it calls “testing windows.” These windows are 2-day Friday/Saturday combinations in which testing centers may (but are not required to) offer morning and afternoon sessions. The ACT states very clearly on its website that digital session availability “may differ by test center.”

While ACT claims that the move to CBT with this morning/afternoon schedule will increase “testing opportunities,” it is likely that it will actually reduce them, at least at first. In the last few paragraphs, we already looked at how test centers themselves may be a scarce resource in certain regions. For paper ACT administrations, schools and test centers could simply proctor as many classrooms as they could appropriately staff. For digital tests, the number of students who can take the tests are strictly limited to the availability of approved computer systems.

Testing fee voucher system. Some schools or agencies pay the ACT testing fees for students through a voucher system. This system will continue with the digital ACT, but vouchers will be filled out online instead of in a paper form. These will become available in June 2018.

Recommendations for international ACT test-takers

As with any test-taking tool or technique, students need to practice well before they take their official exams. Encourage international students to try the digital test sections available on the ACT website. Note: currently, ACT states that these digital practice tests may only be taken within the Chrome browser.

Additional free practice is available on the ACT’s online quiz and practice site, ACT Academy.

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