By Dan Marlin
Several times per year, our students experience a rush of nervous excitement when they’re notified that ACT scores are out. (We tutors feel that excitement too, but it’s probably much less pronounced!) However, not all test score releases are created equal: only students who have taken the December, April, and June* tests can go beyond the score report to review the actual questions they got right and wrong. To receive a copy of their test booklet, along with their answers to each question, an answer key, and the test’s scale, students must request a Test Information Release (TIR).
*Because the pandemic canceled many of the spring tests this year, the July 2020 test was released as a TIR.
For a small fee ($22), students can request the TIR when they register for a December, April, or June ACT, or after they take one of those exams. Following each of those tests, the ACT provides a 6-month window to request the TIR (see this form). Of course, we’d recommend that students order the test as quickly as possible if they’re planning to test again in the near future. The ACT says the TIR takes 3-5 weeks, and in my experience, it’s reasonable to expect that it will in fact take about a month to arrive. So students who were able to take the December ACT last weekend should start receiving their TIRs in mid-January.
Outside of satisfying students’ curiosity about what they might have missed, the TIR serves two valuable purposes for our test prep approach. First, as with our practice tests, it allows us to review the specific problems students missed so we can tailor our prep to their needs. I have long felt that sessions in which I review practice tests with my students are the most important, and the TIR is a test review on steroids. Moreover, because of the pandemic, this may be the only in-person ACT a student has ever taken, so we can see any content or timing issues that may have arisen in an actual testing environment (as opposed to at home in front of a computer screen).
The second purpose is broader. The ACT has remained largely the same over the years, especially in terms of content, which gives us a wide variety of sources to use for practice problems and tests. But even the hyper-consistent ACT makes subtle changes to certain aspects of the test from time to time. For example, about 6 years ago, the ACT started including paired passages on the reading section – one of the 4 passages now contains two shorter passages for students to read and compare. It also changed the science section from seven passages to six, meaning there were fewer passages but more questions per passage. We’ve noticed that the difficult content that shows up at the end of the math section has changed, too (for example, there are more probability questions now than there used to be), and has even started migrating to earlier questions. Simply put, while the ACT puts out a whole book of practice tests, online material, and study guides, being able to review what was just tested is invaluable because it allows us to evaluate trends so we can anticipate what future exams may look like.
If you have not yet ordered a TIR for a test your child has taken over the past 6 months and your child is testing again in 2021, we recommend that you do so. A reminder that as of now, all juniors in Wisconsin public schools will still be required to take the ACT in March, pending any agreement to the contrary between the governor and state legislators. (Unfortunately, you can’t order a TIR for the March in-school test.) If your child continues to work with us on test prep after taking an official ACT, the TIR can be a great basis for a session or two.
It’s hard to believe that 2020 is almost over . . . it seems like only yesterday that I was at the Galin office when the March SAT was canceled and everything began to cascade. I’ll be back in January with another (hopefully) informative post on whatever testing issues arise in the meantime. For now, have a safe holiday season and a happy New Year!