ACT, Inc. released a news brief that will affect many of our students and push some to consider completing their ACT testing in June or July before these changes take effect in September. What are the changes? The end of self-paced timing and and a mandatory experimental section.
Eliminating Self-Paced Extended Time
The ACT is rolling back its policy of allowing students to self-pace their extended time testing administrations. Previously, students could apportion the extra time among the four sections as needed. Under the new policy, students will have 50% extra time per section, with a hard stop at the end of each section.
Here is the official announcement:
“Examinees approved for National Extended Time or for Timing Code 6 will have 50 percent extended time for each section of the ACT, with a hard stop after each section. Examinees will no longer have to self-pace through the four multiple-choice sections over the allotted five hours. All examinees in the test room will begin the same section at the same time and have the same amount of time to complete that section.”
This new policy is a major setback for students who are granted an extended timing accommodation. Allowing students to advance to the next section at their own speed has always been a significant benefit to students with attentional deficits. The old policy enabled students to complete the ACT at their own speed without having to wait to move on to the next section. Under the new policy, students who finish a particular section in less than the allotted time will have what amounts to a forced waiting period before starting the next section. This approach increases the attentional demands on students who are receiving an accommodation for ADHD.
Students with extra time are receiving an accommodation for a diagnosed disability. For many of these students, the new policy will make ACT extended time less valuable, and in some cases eliminate the value of the accommodation. We’ve always viewed to the extended timing accommodation on the SAT as a double edged-sword for students with attentional deficits; although the extra time is a benefit, it also forces students to sit and wait until they can move forward. Some students with SAT timing accommodations choose to take the test with standard timing to void these forced waiting periods. ACT extended timing will now also be a double-edged sword for students with ADHD and attentional issues.
This change goes into effect in September: students who require extended time on the ACT are advised to secure their accommodations for the June and July test while the current policy is still in place.
Mandatory Experimental Section
Starting in September the ACT will require all students to take a 20-minute experimental section that will not count towards their score. Here is the official announcement:
“We are expanding the Tryout program, which helps shape the future of the ACT. On National test dates, examinees testing under standard timing conditions, whether testing with or without writing, should expect to take a fifth test after Test 4. The fifth test is 20 minutes long and doesn’t impact the examinee’s ACT Composite score or subject test scores. Examinees testing with extended time will not take the fifth test.”
This is not great news for students. While this will allow the ACT. Inc to test and validate items for future assessments, it will have no immediate benefit to the students sitting for the test. In the prep industry, we were all excited when the SAT scrapped its experimental section with the 2016 redesign, as it decreased the time on a lengthy assessment. That experimental section, however, was indistinguishable from other sections. The ACT will not be able to fool students with this “fifth section.” Knowing the section doesn’t count, many students will blow it off or abstain completely- and who can blame them? If it doesn’t affect their scores, why should they invest time or energy in helping the ACT conduct research? Regardless, the ACT, Inc. will still be able to glean usable data, even if a large portion of students bubble in answers randomly or using a pattern; ACT’s psychometricians will be able to run pattern analysis on the student responses and remove skewed results.
Implications for essay takers
For the roughly 50% of students who take the ACT with the optional ACT essay, extending the test an additional 20 minutes will require greater mental endurance. Adding more time to the test simply increases the attentional challenge. For some students, this will be significant. As this change will not be implemented until September, those students who have yet to complete the essay section and intend to do so for their college applications should attempt it on the June or July test dates.