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Kristin Fracchia

Notes from the February 2015 ACT

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!

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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!


About Kristin Fracchia

Dr. Kristin Fracchia makes sure Magoosh's sites are full of awesome, free resources that can be found by students prepping 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 agony and bliss of trail running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.

3 Responses to “Notes from the February 2015 ACT”

  1. Jeff R. says:

    Hi there – I teach ACT prep at a Chicagoland high school. I was told by a few of my students that took the test last weekend that the science didn’t take on it’s normal form. They said they remembered it NOT being 3 5Q sections, 3 6Q sections and 1 7Q section, but that there were mostly 7 Q sections (and some of them were charts/graphs) Can you confirm or deny this new structure of the science section? Are my students mistaken? Thank you so much! Also – what other math concepts besides the ones you mentioned can you remember that you remember thinking “that’s a new one.”

    • Kristin Fracchia Kristin Keating says:

      Hello Jeff, thanks so much for the comment! I have had several other reports from students that they saw 6 passages on the Science. I reached out to the ACT but they weren’t able to confirm for me whether everyone saw 6 passages. It was a little upsetting to some students who trained for a certain pacing or to do the “5-question” passages first. What I was told was that there is no guarantee of 7 passages (even though this has always been the case). The Official ACT Prep Guide by the test makers, for what it is worth, does in fact explicitly state that there are 7 passages on the Science. Although the ACT website stops short of saying that as well (it only confirms that there are 40 questions — which is what I was told on the phone as well). Long story short, it is a good reminder that the ACT has been making some changes in the past couple years, some announced and some unannounced, and so it’s ever more important for students to be flexible. I can’t on the specifics of the math questions, unfortunately, but there was also one trig question that stood out to me as a bit harder than normal. We’ve seen questions that relied on trig identities in the past, of course, but this one relied on them a bit more than is typical. It was balanced by easy trig questions.

      • Jeff says:

        Thanks for the reply! I am going to be updating the math department at my HS with this info Tuesday morning. I’m pretty nervous never having spoken in front of the department before. Anything else (as detailed as you are allowed to be) about the changes to the math that you noticed would be great. I am going to have some students order the April test which will be great to see a current math and science section. Unfortunately our school was chosen to take the test this week, Tues/Wed, so this info on the April test won’t help everyone.

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