Like tens of thousands of students, I too got up early on Saturday morning to take the ACT. And, oh boy, was it draining.
In addition to soldiering through the same mad dash of ACT questions as everyone else, I was also desperately trying to make mental lists of my observations so that I could share them with you all here. Below is some of what I learned.
Disclaimer: If you are hoping for a discussion or explanation of specific questions on the exam, I unfortunately can’t do that. It’s against the ACT rules!
Before the Test:
- I got to the testing center early so I had a chance to eavesdrop on the students lining up to check in. And I was surprised by the naivete of some of my fellow test-takers:
- Wait, so there’s no penalty for wrong answers? (No! Guess on everything!)
- I don’t think they tell you what order the sections are in. (Yes, they do!)
- Well, it’s not like the SAT, which is scored out of 200. (What?!)
- Granted, I think some of this was students who were pretending to be too cool to care, but still! I wanted to pull them all aside for a quick lesson on how much of an impact even just a bit of test prep can make in your score. But since I’m preaching to the choir here, I will say that you all should be very encouraged by and proud of the effort you are putting into learning the ACT. It does make a huge difference.
- I also saw a student turned away from the exam because she only had a picture of her ID on her phone, not the actual piece of plastic. It was very sad. Make sure you have your ID’s (and everything else you need) in hand.
- Overall, I thought the English section was a little trickier than I’ve seen in the past. The questions still fit into the same categories that the ACT always tests, but many of them were more nuanced. Finding the right answer relied on a deeper understanding of the grammar or syntax topic being tested, and there were lots of sophisticated punctuation questions. So if you are aiming for a top score, make sure you really understand the full ins-and-outs of commas, colons, semi-colons, dashes, and periods.
- Overall, the math seemed pretty typical of the ACT. There was one problem on matrices and one on radians. You won’t see them all the time on the ACT, but this was a good reminder to review these topics. There were also a few longer questions on interpreting statistics and “real-world” situations. There seems to be a general move towards this on standardized tests in general, most likely influenced by new Common Core standards. So be prepared for the word problems.
- Following recent trends, there was a comparison reading passage. The ACT has said to expect these, but there isn’t much material out there to prepare for them. But if you are taking the ACT in the future, be ready. On this passage, there were a handful of questions that pertained only to the first passage, a handful to the second passage, and a handful of questions comparing the two.
- Several students I overheard chatting about the test (and also posting on the Internet) seemed to think that this Science test was “easier” than the December test. Of course, it is difficult to make a categorical decision about how “hard” or “easy” a Science test is. But I will say that this Science test was far from the “hardest” Science test I’ve personally seen, and I will stop there until we see the curve.
- There were a few questions (as always) that relied on students bringing in outside science knowledge, but they weren’t incredibly obvious. This is also a trend we’ve seen in recent years. These questions weren’t exactly shouting, “Hey, I’m a Science Knowledge question!” (See Practice Test 5, Question 10 in The Real ACT Guide for an example of a question that does clearly announce its presence as a “science knowledge question”.) Nevertheless, getting the right answer to three or four of the questions on this Science test depended on students having a deeper understanding of the scientific situation being presented (meaning, the answers weren’t in the passage.)
Overall, it was an fascinating experience and an excellent reminder of just how much the ACT is asking students to do. And if you took the test yourself, I hope you had time for a good, refreshing nap afterwards too!