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June 2015 ACT: Some Observations

As a full-time, professional tutor, I periodically take the exams that I teach. I do this for a variety of reasons. For one, I am always on the hunt for a perfect score and I have not yet achieved that on the ACT. It’s also nice for me to be able to see some recent questions so that I can stay fresh on exactly what is most current with the tests (although I also get to see most of the questions when I go over the released tests with my students). But perhaps most importantly it is really useful for me to put myself in the situation of my students periodically so that I remember exactly what the experience feels like – doing so helps me provide really good advice about the test day experience, managing stress, dealing with the time constraints of the test, etc.

So my most recent test taking experience was the June ACT and I thought I would post some observations, both about the test itself and my experience taking it (for those of you who don’t know, yes adults are allowed to take the SAT and ACT!!!)…

First of all, I have taken the SAT and ACT 5 times as an adult now and I have yet to have a student say a word to me during the experience. This time there was a girl who was really close to talking to me. During one of the brakes she kept looking at me and at one point it seemed that she was on the verge of saying something to me, but then she chickened out! Oh well.

Overall it is a pretty bizarre experience being the only adult taking the test but I have sort of gotten used to it. But I always forget how stressful the experience is, even for me, a person who really has nothing riding on the results of the test (except personal pride). And since the ACT is so much tighter on time, there is really not even a moment to pause and think except during the break and even that goes by quickly (I wolfed down a granola bar and apple and then went to the bathroom and only barely had time to do that).

In terms of the ACT itself, I cannot yet discuss individual questions but there are some high level observations that I can make….

First of all, there were some strange and very difficult questions scattered into some of the sections. The Math section had what seemed to me to be the hardest Math question that I have ever seen on the SAT or ACT. In fact, it would almost be too hard for the GMAT or GRE (I even tried a modified version of the question with one of my star GMAT students and he was pretty stumped). I honestly don’t know what the ACT writers were thinking including a question like that. I might have misinterpreted it but I am pretty sure that I did not. This is one reason that I prefer the SAT to the ACT – ignoring the egregious error in timing that just occurred on the June SAT, the SAT is just a better made test with questions that seem to be more properly vetted, etc. Every once in a while I see an ACT question that just seems to fundamentally flawed – this almost never happens on the SAT. Anyway this particular Math question was just off the charts and honestly almost derailed my whole Math section (I had to skip the question and come back to it at the end, but this caused me to rush and I barely finished on time).

There were also a couple of strange questions on the English section that made that section pretty difficult and that also derailed my timing efforts on the section. Again I finished, but just barely.

Another surprise was that the Science section had 6 instead of 7 passages. Apparently this is a switch that was made on the February test and appears to be a trend that will continue, but I was unaware of it so that was an additional surprise. In the end this is a good change since it makes time management on the Science section a little more reasonable, but knowing about it in advance would definitely have allowed me to be better prepared about how much time I would spend on each passage (essentially now 6 minutes per passage instead of 5 minutes per passage).

All-in-all I thought the test was pretty hard. The Reading section was probably the exception to this, but because of the somewhat questionable and very difficult questions on the English and Math sections, the test definitely felt like it was on the slightly more difficult side. Scores will begin to be released on Tuesday the 23rd, so I will just have to wait until then to know how it all turned out!

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