Published Online: February 10, 1999
Published in Print: February 10, 1999, as Testing

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Software Entry: The publisher of the second-largest college-entrance exam is catching up with the crush to create software to help students prepare for the ACT, which about 1 million students take each year.

Starting in May, ACT Inc. will market a two-CD-rom set that creates individualized study plans and offers practice tests to high school students who plan to take the four-subject test required by 175 colleges, most of them in the Midwest. The Iowa City, Iowa, nonprofit organization will sell the set to schools, which can buy 10 copies for $495, or to individuals for $32.

After publishing two editions of a book to assist test-takers, ACT Inc. now believes there is a need for ACTive Prep, its computer-based preparation program.

"The technology is becoming available so that something that's multimedia is available for home use," Kelley Hayden, the ACT's director of media relations, said.

At least three private publishers offer products similar to ACTive Prep. The Princeton Review publishes "Inside the SAT, PSAT, ACT '99" for $19.95; Kaplan Educational Centers markets "Get a Higher Score on the SAT, PSAT, and ACT" for $29.95; and the Learning Company sells "ScoreBuilder for the SAT & ACT" for $39.95.

All of them promise many of the same features as the forthcoming ACT product: individualized study plans and practice tests. But none of those is tailored specifically to what an ACT test-taker needs, Mr. Hayden said.

The competing software overemphasizes vocabulary building, he said, a main component of the more widely used SAT I: Reasoning Test but not a major element of the ACT. Unlike the SAT, which assesses vocabulary, math, and reasoning skills, the ACT tests students' knowledge of subject matter in English, mathematics, reading, and science.

What's more, the private companies don't include actual ACT test questions, to which ACT Inc. owns the copyright. "Our sample questions are real test questions that have been used," Mr. Hayden said. The other companies create questions modeled after existing tests, he said.

ACTive Prep is in the final stages of development. ACT Inc. will market the software to schools this spring, but has yet to decide if it will contract with a separate publisher to handle distribution to bookstores, Mr. Hayden said. Harcourt Brace markets Getting Into the ACT: The Second Edition of the Official Guide to the ACT Assessment.

If the software arrives as scheduled, students can use it to study for the June administration, Mr. Hayden said. But it certainly will be ready for those taking the test next fall.

--David J. Hoff dhoff@epe.org

Vol. 18, Issue 22, Page 5

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