ACT Adds New High School Test: the ‘PreACT’

By Catherine Gewertz — March 22, 2016 2 min read
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ACT Inc. announced Tuesday that it has added a new test to its lineup: the PreACT, a multiple-choice test designed to prepare 10th grade students for the company’s college-entrance exam.

The PreACT, which will be available in the fall of 2016, is a paper-based, multiple-choice test in the same four subjects that appear on the ACT: English/language arts, math, reading, and science. It will not include a writing section. On the ACT college-entrance exam, the writing section is optional.

The PreACT uses the same format, types of questions and 1-36 score scale as the ACT. At one hour and 55 minutes or less, the PreACT is an hour shorter than the ACT college-entrance exam without the writing portion. The Iowa-based testing company is aiming the new product at schools, districts, and states. It’s not linked to scholarship opportunities, as is the College Board’s PSAT.

Officials said the new test’s core purpose is to give students a preview of the experience of taking the ACT, and a sense of how they’ll do on the college-entrance exam. In fact, they’ll be answering real ACT questions. Paul J. Weeks, ACT’s senior vice president for client relations, said in an interview that all the questions on the PreACT will be repurposed questions from earlier ACT exams.

Since the PreACT aims at the same age group of students that take the rival College Board’s PSAT, I asked Weeks if the PreACT, at $12 per student, was intended to be a competitor to the $15 PSAT, since the two companies have been engaged in an increasingly intense battle for market share for their respective product lines. “I think it will be,” he said. But he added that that wasn’t the original idea behind it.

The PreACT was developed because school and district staff members expressed the need for a test that would let students practice for the ACT, produce early scores that would signal areas of weakness, and produce results quickly, Weeks said. ACT puts full-length practice versions of the college-entrance exam online, but Weeks said the PreACT program would make a practice experience available to all students in a given school or district, rather than leaving it to individual students to seek out on the website.

Because the questions are nonsecure—they won’t be used anymore on the ACT, so they’re no longer a secret—schools and districts can give the PreACT whenever it works for them, and students can see the original questions, and their answers, within two weeks of taking the test, Weeks said.

The PreACT could fill a hole left in the market by the demise of two tests which have been traditional run-ups to the ACT college-entrance exam: Explore, typically given in grades 8 or 9, and Plan, for 10th grade students. Those tests accounted for 1.8 million administrations in 17 states in 2014. But that same year, ACT announced that it was sunsetting Explore and Plan, as it unveiled a new suite of summative tests for grades 3-10 called ACT Aspire.

ACT Aspire was intended to capture a big chunk of the common-core testing market just as the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, were set to make their debut. Four states—Alabama, Arkansas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—bought the Aspire system to use statewide this school year, and it’s also used in more than 900 individual schools or districts.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.