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Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Complete Guide to the PreACT

If you’re a sophomore (or the parent of a sophomore), you may be wondering: Is there a Pre ACT test? After all, there’s a PSAT to help 10th-graders get used to the format and content of the SAT (and qualify for National Merit Scholarships); but what if you’re taking the ACT in addition to, or instead of, the SAT? Good news! There is a PreACT test.

PreACT Test Pre ACT Test

What is the PreACT?

The PreACTs are just that: a test you take before the ACT. The PreACT is basically a mini-ACT. Most test-takers will take the ACT their junior year, making sophomores the official target group of the exam. Other than being a little bit easier and a little bit shorter, the test is exactly like the ACT.

PreACT Meaning: An Overview of the Test’s Purpose

Because the PreACT serves as an early predictor of ACT scores, both the PreACT and the ACT are graded on a 1-36 point scale. We’ll get into this later in the post, but don’t worry if your scores aren’t where you want them on the PreACT—you have plenty of time to get them up before the real deal next year!

If you have older siblings, you might be asking, “But what about the PLAN?” Until 2015, the official “PreACT” offered by the test-maker was called the PLAN test. Like the PreACT, it was similar to the ACT, but shorter. We’ll take a look at the major differences between the PLAN and the PreACT, but in brief: the PreACT has now replaced the PLAN.

Table of Contents

pre act test

What Does the PreACT Test? (PreACT = Pre ACT Test)

Just like the ACT that older students take, the PreACT has four multiple-choice sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. However, while the ACT includes an optional essay, the PreACT does not. In addition, each section is a little bit shorter and a little bit easier than the corresponding sections on the ACT.

Here’s an overview of the specifics of each exam section (or “test,” as the ACT calls them).

PreACT English Test

The English section provides students with passages in which certain phrases or sentences are underlined. Students then have to choose the best answer to replace the underlined portion, or decide that no change is necessary. Topics on the English test include punctuation, usage, sentence structure and formation, topic development, organization/unity/cohesion, and knowledge of language.

PreACT Math Test

The PreACT Math test covers pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, and coordinate geometry. Unlike the ACT, it does not test trigonometry. Test-takers may use approved calculators on the exam. While the SAT offers students basic formulas at the beginning of math sections, the ACT suite of tests does not. Not to worry—all the formulas you need are in this ACT Math Formulas PDF.

PreACT Reading Test

The Reading section presents test-takers with several long passages. Questions include those asking about the passage’s main idea, the author’s purpose, tone, and the meaning of words in context. The ACT classifies these questions into three categories: Key Ideas and Details; Craft and Structure; and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas.

PreACT Science Test

A lot of students get nervous when they see that the ACT (and the PreACT) has a science section. However, it’s important to stress that the Science section mostly tests scientific reasoning, rather than scientific knowledge. In other words, you’ll only have a few questions—if that— about things you’ve learned in your science classes. Otherwise, you can expect to see descriptions of experimental setups and scientific hypotheses, as well as charts and graphs showing data. Topics include biology, Earth and space sciences, chemistry, and physics. Calculators are not permitted on this section.

preact test dates

PreACT Dates

One way in which the PreACT exam is unlike the ACT is in terms of when it’s offered. The ACT is ONLY offered on Saturdays, and ACT offers test dates throughout the year.

On the other hand, your school decides when to administer the PreACT, and it could be any day between September 1 and June 1. This is also unlike the PSAT, which schools administer on a set date in October.

Because of this, you will most likely take the exam on a weekday, during or directly after your regularly scheduled classes. This is one aspect of the test experience that doesn’t mirror official ACT test day, because the timing and context will be different. The exam may not be in the morning, either. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to take at least one, and preferably more, practice ACT test(s) on a Saturday morning, before you take the actual ACT next year.

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How Long Is the PreACT?

If you’ve taken a look at the ACT and noticed that it’s either 2 hours and 55 minutes or 3 hours and 35 minutes long, you might be a little worried. This is particularly true if the it’s your first experience with standardized admissions testing. However, you’re in luck: the PreACT is 1 hr and 55 minutes long.

While that’s a lot shorter than the ACT itself, remember that this is still about twice as long as a test you’d take during most academic classes, so pace yourself!

preact practice test

Will I Be Able to Take the PreACT Test?

Not everyone will have the opportunity to take the exam. This is because schools decide whether or not to offer the exam on an individual basis. However, if you’re interested in taking the test, ask your guidance counselor if the school would consider administering it to interested students. It can’t hurt—and it might get you some valuable testing experience.

How Much Does the Test Cost?

The exam costs $12 per student. Depending on your school, the institution may pay for the test, or you might. $12 is far less than the $39.50 (no essay)/$56.50 (with essay) that the regular ACT costs, though!

preact test scores

PreACT Test Scores

This test is meant, in the words of the ACT company, to assess “college and career readiness.” But what does your score mean?

PreACT Score Range

Just like the ACT, the test is graded on a 1-36 scale. This overall score is known as a “composite.” To calculate your composite score, the ACT (test-maker) averages your scores from the four sections, which are also graded from 1-36.

While ACT hasn’t released official data on scoring for this exam, we can infer from ACT scores that the average score on the PreACT is most likely around 21. Check out What is a Good PreACT Score? for more info about putting your score in context.

When Will I Get My Scores?

Because the timing of the PreACT test varies by school, the ACT is able to get your scores back to your school really quickly—usually within 5-10 days of the test date. So you won’t have to wait in suspense for too long!

preact vs plan preact vs psat preact vs act preact vs aspire

How Hard is the PreACT?: The PreACT Test vs Similar Exams

We’ve seen that the exam is slightly easier (and definitely shorter!) than the ACT, though it covers much of the same material. For example, you’ll see the same types of English and Science passages, but you’ll see fewer of them.

The level is also not as difficult as the ACT because it is designed for younger students. You will not see trigonometry on the PreACT, for instance, because you are not expected to have taken it by 10th grade.

But since you haven’t taken the ACT yet, either, that only tells you so much. So let’s put the PreACT in context: what’s it like compared to the PLAN test it replaces, and in comparison with the PSAT, which you may have taken (or plan to take).

The PreACT vs PLAN

The PreACT and the PLAN test are comparable in terms of difficulty. The main difference between them actually has nothing to do with how hard the tests are, but rather with the scoring. ACT PLAN test scores used a 1-32 point scale. Test-takers (understandably) found PLAN test scores compared to ACT confusing, since the ACT uses a 1-36 point scale.

The PreACT remedies this by mirroring ACT scoring. But if for some reason (older siblings come to mind), you were planning to take the PLAN, rest assured that the PreACT is comparable, difficulty-wise.

The PreACT vs PSAT

Neither the PreACT nor the PSAT is necessarily harder; they just test different things in different ways.

Notably, PSAT math (and SAT math, for that matter) is now heavy on the word problems, which can run up to 15 lines! PSAT reading passages may be more complex, but some students find the questions easier. The PSAT doesn’t have a Science section, while the PreACT does (but remember, this mostly tests scientific reasoning). Finally, students often seem to feel more time pressure on the ACT than the SAT, and we can expect to see that on the “pre-” tests, as well.

At the end of the day, if you’re offered the chance to take both exams, you should take it. Why? High scores on the PSAT can qualify you for National Merit Scholarships, and the PreACT can also earn you scholarships if you choose to have the company send your scores to colleges. Both offer excellent opportunities to learn about the ACT and SAT, to get a (very general) sense of how you might do on the tests, and to rack up some standardized admission-testing experience.

The PreACT vs Aspire

Ah, ACT Aspire. Has any standardized test ever caused so much confusion? Basically, our timeline looks like this:

  • 2015: ACT phases out the PLAN test.
  • 2015-2016: ACT offers Aspire in place of the PLAN, though they weren’t very similar (we’ll get to this in just a minute).
  • 2016: ACT announces the “new” PreACT, which is a lot like the PLAN.

ACT Aspire is a suite of tests for students in grade 3 through grade 10. The problem with the Aspire tests, at least from a college admissions perspective, is that they are very different from the ACT.

First of all, Aspire 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, and 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.

Presumably, in its never-ending competition with the SAT, the ACT wanted to make sure it had a pre-test that mimicked its big brother, like the PSAT does for the SAT. And so the PLAN was essentially reborn as the PreACT.

preact prep

Studying for the PreACT Test

Do you need to study for the PreACT exam? No. Is it helpful to study, at least a little? Yes.

Setting aside those scholarship opportunities, doing your best will give you the most accurate picture of what your strengths and weaknesses are, helping you to maximize your eventual ACT score. But given that there are very, very few prep materials for this relatively new test, where should you turn for prep?

PreACT Study Resources

It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll find a PreACT practice test—and even unlikelier that you’ll find one that actually shows you what to expect on test day. So what can you do to prepare for the PreACT? The first thing to do is to familiarize yourself with the test on the official website. If you know where you want to go to college, it’s also a good time to come up with a target score, though it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.

Next, you’ll turn to some ACT resources.

ACT Resources

Because the exam is, in essence, a practice test for the ACT, studying for the ACT will only boost your score. ACT practice may seem overwhelming, but remember that you probably haven’t studied some of the concepts that are being tested, so go easy on yourself.

Working through Magoosh’s free ACT eBook and ACT Study Guide, as well as using some of our awesome (also free) ACT test prep apps, will give you a running start on the test.

A few tips as you start out:

  • If you’re new to standardized tests, time management is key. This is especially true on the ACT, where students often feel time pressure. As the PreACT closely resembles the ACT, try taking a full-length ACT practice test to expose yourself to the ACT’s format and content.
  • Focus on your weaknesses. After taking your first practice test, analyze the results. Though seeing low scores is a bummer, they simply indicate where you need to focus your energy. Start with your weaknesses as you study. If there is time, move on to your stronger subjects for review and polishing.

Are there other ACT study tips and tricks? Yes, but for the PreACT, you want to focus on what’s most important. After you receive your results, you can start delving into the advanced study as you prepare to take the ACT as a junior.

preact meaning

After You Get Your Scores: Making ACT Plans

Taking this exam might be some of the best preparation you could ever get for the ACT. You’ll be taking a test that is almost exactly like the ACT in a real testing situation, but without the pressure and stakes of the “real deal.”

Your scores will give you valuable information on what you need to focus on in your ACT prep in order to reach your goals. So once you have your scores, start analyzing your score report and identifying areas where you’d like to improve. If you haven’t already, this is the perfect time to set your ACT score goals, as well. Then, try out some of Magoosh’s free resources to help you get there:

A Final Word

There it is: everything you need to know about the test! Congratulations for making it this far—by prepping for the exam this early, you’re making an important and valuable investment in your future. Good luck on test day!

Improve your SAT or ACT score, guaranteed. Start your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh SAT Prep or your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh ACT Prep today!

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About Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!


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