Last week, the ACT announced the addition of a new test- the “PreACT.” This all multiple-choice test is designed to help 10th grade students prepare for the official ACT that they will take as juniors. This arrival of a PSAT-like test for the ACT has been long awaited, especially as the ACT edges out the SAT as the more popular college admissions test. However, this is not the first time that ACT Inc. (the company that produces the ACT and its suite of tests) has offered a “pre” ACT; there have actually been three- the Explore, The Plan, and The Aspire. The Explore, previously given to 9th graders, and the PLAN, previously given to 10th graders, were phased out in favor of The Aspire, a paper based, multiple choice test that’s still in use in Wisconsin and many other states nationwide. These tests succeeded in giving younger students an authentic testing experience, but the scoring was confusing. The PLAN was scored from 1-32 and the Aspire between 400 and 460 (the actual ACT is scored out of 36). The Aspire then converts this score to a “predicted” ACT score, which is great, except that the “prediction” often ranges 6-8 points. These scoring irregularities confound the real purpose of the tests– to predict a baseline ACT score. The PreACT may represent ACT Inc finally getting this right.

High schools will be able to offer the PreACT as soon as Fall 2016. Here is what we know about the new test:

Length: The PreACT will clock in at one hour and 55 minutes, about an hour less than the actual ACT.

Layout and Content: Like the ACT, the PreACT includes exams in English, math, reading and science. Each section on the PreACT is shorter and has fewer questions than its counterpart on the ACT, but the content and format will be largely the same. In fact, the PreACT will be made up entirely of retired ACT questions. The PreACT will not have a writing section. The writing section is optional on the real ACT.

Scoring: Scores will be reported on the familiar 1-36 scale and will be predictive of how students will score on the real ACT.

Timing: Schools will have the option to administer the PreACT any time between September 1st and June 1st.  

PreACT vs. PSAT: Besides the fact that the PreACT will not be linked to any scholarship opportunities, it will serve largely the same purpose as the College Board’s PSAT.  Besides being shorter, both pre tests are largely identical to their counterpart test. The scoring paradigm may make the PreACT even more useful than the PSAT in predicting test scores. The PreACT is scored out of 36, just like the ACT, while the PSAT is scored out of 1520 (the SAT is scored out of 1600).

This new test underscores the importance of beginning test preparation early. Many high school students wait until junior year to take an initial ACT test and find that they do not have enough time to remediate lower than expected scores. Getting a baseline score during sophomore year allows students and families ample time to create a test preparation plan that is long term, flexible, and effective.

We typically suggest that sophomores begin after Spring Break in preparation for the December ACT or January SAT (we typically use the summer months to cover content on both tests to help determine which test is more appropriate for a student). When preparation extends over 6-8 months, it is more effective and less stressful. Current sophomores who did not have the opportunity to take the PreACT should take a sample test this Spring to gather baseline information. We offer diagnostic exams on a weekly basis in our Madison office (more information here: www.galined.com/testprep/act).