The PreACT: What it Is, What it Means, and How You Should (and Shouldn’t) Use It
As we noted on this blog a while back, during this school year ACT, Inc. (makers of the ACT family of tests) launched a new test called the PreACT. A few schools in our geographic footprint have signed on as early adopters and given the test to their students (typically sophomores). And now parents whose kids have taken this test – and armed with yet another standardized test score report – are starting to turn to us for help and advice. The PreACT calls we’ve been receiving usually involve the following questions:
– What is the PreACT?
– What do PreACT scores mean?
– Can the PreACT serve as a stand-in for an ACT Diagnostic?
So let’s look at each of these questions individually and try to figure out just what the heck this test is all about.
What is the PreACT?
The short answer is that it’s ACT’s version of the PSAT.
The long answer is, well, pretty much the same: it’s ACT’s version of the PSAT. Like the PSAT, the PreACT is meant as a predictor of how well students can expect to perform on its parent test (the ACT); is scored on the same scale as its parent test; and is scored on a sliding scale, meaning that students who take the PreACT can do no better than a 35 (a perfect score on the ACT is a 36). One neat advantage the PreACT has over the PSAT is that schools may choose to administer it to any students in grades 9-12 (though it’s expressly intended for sophomores) and can give it at any time of the year (the PSAT is only administered to 10th and 11th-grade students in October). Then again, as of right now the PreACT is not associated with a scholarship, unlike the PSAT (which also serves as the National Merit Qualifying Test), so that’s still a pretty important point on the board for College Board/PSAT.
As an aside: The idea of a PreACT-type of test has actually been around for a long time. From 1987-2014 ACT offered the PLAN, which was actually fairly successful in providing students with early exposure to the ACT. PLAN was dropped in 2014 when ACT launched a shiny new series of tests called ASPIRE. ASPIRE was ACT’s attempt to cater to states that had adopted the ACT as a state test and has been pretty poorly received. There’s not much good that can really be said about ASPIRE: it’s too long, it’s too difficult for schools to access scores, and – probably worst of all – it doesn’t actually provide students with any sense for how they can expect to perform on the ACT. ASPIRE – which still exists, though you’d be hard-pressed to find too many schools in the Northeast that administer it – provides a good example of what can go wrong when testing companies like ACT, Inc. go after state contracts with such fervor: in trying so hard to turn their family of college admissions tests into state standards tests, ACT ended up jettisoning a test that actually provided some value to the college admissions testing process in favor of something that…doesn’t (to quote Professor Ian Malcolm entirely out of context: “They were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”).
Thankfully, the new PreACT seems to be ACT, Inc.’s mea culpa re: the PLAN. Better late than never!
What Do PreACT Scores Mean?
PreACT scores are intended as a predictor of how well students can expect to perform on the ACT within 12-18 months (remember: though ACT, Inc. will let any high schools students take it, the PreACT is really best-suited for 10th graders). PreACT delivers a set of score ranges which provide a likely set of outcomes for students as they progress through high school and ultimately take the ACT in their junior or senior year.
Just how accurately the PreACT ends up predicting future ACT performance is definitely an important question and one that no one – including the test maker – can definitively answer at this time. Keep in mind that this is Year One of the PreACT experiment, so we really won’t have any way of knowing how successful ACT, Inc. has been with this until we’re able to compare students’ PreACT and ACT scores in another year or two (at least). Predictive score ranges on the PreACT were reverse-engineered using historical score data from students who actually took the ACT in both 10th and 11th grade, which is great, but a lot can happen between 10th grade (a “poor” PreACT scores does not destine a student similar performance on the ACT), and anyway that data says nothing about just how accurately the experience of taking the PreACT coupled with its scoring rules mimic the results one might get from simply taking the ACT during sophomore year instead.
Which segues nicely to our final question…
Can the PreACT Serve as a Stand-in for an ACT Diagnostic?
Ideally, no. Parents and students who are familiar with Summit’s Proven Process know that we always strongly recommend that students who are embarking on the college admissions testing process take full-length SAT and ACT practice test first as a way to determine which test they should ultimately focus on and prepare for. We make it as easy as possible for this to happen: students may take free practice tests in our office every weekend, request tests to be sent to their home, or even call to set up their own private testing experiences at the date/time of their choosing. We’ll always want an ACT diagnostic on file for a student if we can make it happen. At the same time, we understand that sometimes circumstances – such as when the timing is tight, or a student’s schedule is jam-packed – when it just won’t be possible to get a student in to take a practice ACT ahead of time. In those special and rare circumstances, we’ll take PreACT scores as a stand-in for ACT diagnostic scores. In all other situations, however, we’ll be able to get a much better read on where a student is at – and therefore make more informed testing recommendations – with ACT diagnostic scores.
By the way, the same rule of thumb applies to schools: in almost all cases, schools will be better-served having Summit come in to administer a full-length ACT to students rather than opting for the PreACT: we’re cheaper, we’ll do all the proctoring, we’ll get scores back more quickly, and the scores themselves will be more accurate and reliable.
 Because the ACT just can’t quit state standards, PreACT reports actually come with a second set of scores, called “College Readiness Indicators.” The three Indicators – “On Target,” “On the Cusp,” and “In Need of Intervention” – are applied to performance on each of the PreACT’s four sections – English, Math, Reading, and Science – and attempt to provide schools and students with something of an early warning system for a student’s chances at meeting ACT’s benchmarks for proficiency in each area.