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Kristin Fracchia

PLAN vs. ACT (vs. Aspire)

The PLAN is to the ACT what the PSAT is to the SAT.

If that means nothing to you, then think of the PLAN as a pre-ACT; it is very similar to the ACT, but it is easier, shorter, and designed for 10th graders rather than 11th and 12th graders.

The scores you receive on the PLAN will help you determine your level of college readiness and provide you with an idea of how you might do on the ACT when you are ready for that test.

Here’s some answers to frequently asked questions about the PLAN (Note: The PLAN is quickly going out of style in favor of ACT Aspire in 2015; see below for more on that):

What does the PLAN Test?

Like the ACT, the PLAN includes English, Math, Reading, and Science sections. However, they are all shorter than the corresponding sections on the ACT. For example, the English test presents students with 4 passages instead of 7, and the Science test gives students 5 passages instead of 7. The level is also not as difficult as the ACT because it is designed for younger students. You will not see trigonometry on the PLAN, for instance, because you are not expected to have taken it by 10th grade. You will see topics from Algebra I and Geometry, however. There is also no essay on the PLAN; it’s all multiple-choice.

Why Should I Care?

This is a common (and understandable) question. Your PLAN scores aren’t going to colleges. They won’t affect your grades in school. Your school may have strong-armed you into spending a couple hours of quality time with a standardized test booklet, but that doesn’t mean you actually have to do it, right? Wrong. Well, maybe you don’t have to do your best, but you should. First of all, trying your best will give you a much better indication of what your results could be on the ACT; your PLAN results might even help you make the decision about which test, the SAT or ACT, would be better for you. Second of all, you will have very few opportunities as good as this one to practice standardized test taking in a real-world situation. This is a great time to practice techniques for dealing with time management, stress, and distractions, so you will be better prepared when the scores do count.

I want a perfect score. Why can I only get a 32 on the PLAN?

Well, a 32 is a perfect score on the PLAN. Because the PLAN is easier than the ACT, the test-makers scale it out of 32 instead of 36. But your score report will also give you a prediction for how you will score on the ACT–typically 1-5 points higher than your current PLAN score–because of the differences in the scales and because the ACT assumes you are going to learn a thing or two before then.

I heard the PLAN is going away? Does this mean I am free?

Not exactly. You’re just going to see it in a new form. The PLAN is being lumped in with a more comprehensive ACT Aspire Program that provides assessment tests for elementary school through early high school.

As of 2015, the ACT is no longer selling the PLAN to schools; it will only provide the PLAN to schools with which it has contractual obligations to do so. That means the rest of you would-be PLAN takers are going to be Aspire students instead.

Ok, so what is the Aspire?

The Aspire test is dramatically different than the PLAN. First of all, it is a computerized test, not a paper test. Some of the questions are interactive, some have multiple correct answers, some ask for written responses, some ask you to organize events into a timeline, some ask you to critique the math solutions of others. The scores are also completely different; you will receive a score between 390 and 470 for each subject, and you will not receive an overall composite score.

In other words, yeah, it’s crazy different.

Your Aspire results will still give you a prediction for your ACT, but because it is so new, only time will tell how accurate these predictions are.

If you are part of the lucky bunch to be prepping now for either the ACT or the new SAT, we are living in some crazy test prep times, people! But don’t worry, Magoosh is here to help! 🙂


Update: The ACT recently launched a new pre-test for the ACT, the PreACT. We’ve got everything you need to know in the link.


About Kristin Fracchia

Kristin makes sure Magoosh's blogs are chock-full of awesome, free resources for students preparing for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agonizing bliss of marathon running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.

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