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Changes to the ACT Reading and Science Sections

For the last several ACTs now, including the June test (which I took), there has been a difference in both the ACT Reading and Science sections. And by the looks of it, the change is probably here to stay. Not to be outdone by the folks at College Board, the makers of the ACT probably decided that they too needed to adapt and tweak the test some to at the very least give the appearance of being dedicated to continually “improving” the test. Unlike the folks at College Board, however, the people behind the ACT never seem to give the proper warning and release of information that they should – students just go in there, expect a certain test, and are sometimes surprised by slight changes that either were not announced or were announced so as to make sure that nobody noticed!

Change to the Reading Section
The change to the ACT Reading section is pretty well-known at this point. One “passage” on the Reading section is now actually 2 smaller passages with some comparative questions accompanying them. The paired passages seem to be appearing in the Humanities part of the Reading section and usually contain about 6 or 7 questions that ask about the passage individually and then 3 or 4 questions that ask about the passages together. There is really no reason to sweat this change. The versions of this new format that I have seen, including the one that was on the June 2015 ACT, were pretty straightforward and not as hard as the same variety that appears on the SAT. The single passage questions usually come first and then are followed by the comparative questions. So just like on the SAT, it makes sense to read the passages one-by-one, answering the questions that deal with one passage before turning to the other one, and then dealing with the comparative questions last, once you have answered all of the other questions. That strategy would probably be intuitive to most people, but I thought it was worthy of mention anyway. If you would like to see an example of the new format, visit the below link:

http://www.actstudent.org/sampletest/reading/read_05.html

Change to the Science Section
The change to the ACT Science is much less known – even though it was there on the February test I didn’t even know about it until much later. And it will likely still surprise people for some time until it becomes common knowledge (which again may take a long time since the folks at ACT, Inc. are not helping people become more aware!). The ACT science section used to have 7 passages – 3 Experiments, 3 Charts and Graphs, and 1 Dueling Scientists (these are the informal names – ACT uses a slightly different nomenclature). Since February, however, the Science section has consisted of 6 passages, most of which have had an additional question added on.

At this point it’s difficult to say if there will be an exact structure to the Science section that will be replicated on every exam since ACT, Inc. has not released any guidelines to help test takers, but it seems likely that the structure will be 3 Experiments (probably 7 questions each), 2 Charts and Graphs (6 questions each), and 1 Dueling Scientists (7 questions). The number of questions may change but I would be surprised if all future ACTs didn’t have 3 Experiments, 2 Charts and Graphs, and 1 Dueling Scientists.

What does this all mean for test takers? Not that much really – just a change in pacing strategies. What I would definitely recommend and what I am recommending to my students is that as soon as the Science section begins they immediately skip forward to see how many passages there are. If there are 7, then the familiar 5 minutes per passage strategy would still apply. If there are 6 passages then they have something closer to 6 minutes per passage. Its actually a hair under 6 minutes per passage so students need to be mindful of that, but generally they should target 6 minutes per passage and try to be a little ahead of that pacing.

Other Changes
ACT, Inc. also recently announced changes to the Writing (Essay) section of the exam (changes that actually affected the September exam). I will deal with those changes in another post since the changes are a little more involved, so stay tuned, but if you would like to get more information about those changes please go to:

http://www.actstudent.org/writing/enhancements/

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