College & Workforce Readiness

New 10th Grade ACT Test May Compete With PSAT

By Catherine Gewertz — March 29, 2016 2 min read
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ACT Inc. 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 next fall, is a paper-based test in the same four subjects as the ACT: English/language arts, math, reading, and science. It will not include a writing section. That section is optional on the ACT.

The PreACT uses the same format 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 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.

Announcing the new test last week, ACT officials said its 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 that all the questions on the PreACT will be repurposed items from earlier ACT exams.

The PreACT aims at the same age group that takes the rival College Board’s PSAT, and the two companies have been battling for market share for their respective product lines. Asked whether the PreACT, at $12 per student, is a competitor for the PSAT, which costs $15, Weeks said, “I think it will be.” But he added that that wasn’t the original idea behind it.

Vehicle for Practice

The PreACT was developed because school and district staff members said they wanted a test that would let students practice for the ACT, produce early scores that would signal areas of weakness, and yield results quickly, Weeks said. ACT puts free, 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 school or district, rather than leaving it to individual students to seek out online.

Because the questions are nonsecure—they won’t appear again on the ACT, so they’re no longer secret—schools and districts can give the test whenever they wish, and students can see the 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 were run-ups to the ACT: Explore, for grade 8 or 9, and Plan, for 10th grade. Those tests accounted for 1.8 million administrations in 17 states in 2014. But that same year, ACT announced that it was sunsetting them, as it unveiled a new line of summative tests for grades 3-10 called ACT Aspire.

ACT Aspire was intended to capture a chunk of the common-core testing market just as the federally funded PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests 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.

Ellen Forte, whose consulting company, edCount, works with states on assessment, said she sees the launch of the PreACT as a strategic bid for district-level business.

“Having an entire suite of products that is designed to consider progress toward college- and career-readiness as indicated by the ACT could be very enticing [to districts]. And profitable,” she said in an email.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 30, 2016 edition of Education Week as ACT’s New 10th Grade Test Provides Competition for PSAT

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