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What You Need To Know About Online ACT Test – U.S. Standardized Test

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By Paul Lim | Kaplan SAT & ACT Trainer

The ACT test is going online faster than most people have expected and has stirred up serious discussions among parents, students, and test prep professionals. The reason for going online is quite clear: it is easier for the testing organization to administer the test under a higher level of security so that questions will not be leaked out beforehand, which has been a common problem for Asian test sites. Before going into hands-on details of what the test will be like, let us take an overview of this change and determine whether it will work to the students’ advantage.

According to the information released by the ACT, the online test will be the same as the paper-based test, with the only difference in the operating environment – computers instead of paper. Even though most students are familiar with computers, using a computer for a test is not the same as writing on paper. Take scrolling for example, going through a passage by scrolling a computer screen is definitely not as efficient as flipping through pages. And the more you scroll through the screens, the more confused you will get.

On the section level, an online test will work more or less in the same way as paper in both the English and Math sections. Therefore, there should not be much of an advantage/disadvantage in that respect. However, when it comes to Reading, it will be a totally different story. The techniques that we have learned to use (annotating, underlining, circling, and even bracketing) can no longer be applied on a computer screen. The features that ACT offers instead (bookmark, answer eliminator, review, scrollbars, zoom, magnifier, line reader mask, and answer mask), even if fully implemented, may not be useful enough to compensate for the loss of the aforementioned techniques. Furthermore, scrolling screens from the questions to the passage will take longer and worse, confuse the students even more. This section will prove to be a major obstacle for the students to get a higher score, especially when they are already constrained by time.

For the Science section, the problems are similar and further magnified. In reading graphs and data tables, students will not be able to draw lines on the graph or to draw connections between related data. Since this is the most time-constrained section, the inability to do these will further put pressure on timing. As a result, more students will not be able to finish this section.

Overall, there are no pleasant surprises in migrating ACT from paper-based to online format. On the other hand, a few crucial techniques have been taken away from the students. It is clear that the online test does not work to the advantage of some students over others, but it is also clear that it puts all students back to the point of relying on crude methods such as eye-balling and memorization. This is a definite disadvantage for students who want to maximize their potential to get a higher score.

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Mr. Paul Lim
Kaplan SAT and ACT Trainer
MBA, National University of Singapore
B.Sc., Harvey Mudd College
TBE
TESOL

• Over 15+ years of experience in teaching SAT and ACT
• Graduated from a prestigious U.S. college
• Proven record in helping students achieve a perfect subject section score of 800
• Author of a book on effective learning strategies for mastering vocabulary

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