ACT Test Changes

classroom testFollowing the announcement of changes in the SAT test earlier this year, the ACT Corporation revealed students should expect changes in the ACT next year. While all colleges equally accept either test, the ACT and SAT continue to compete for market share. The upcoming changes to the ACT are designed to make the test more attractive to states and high schools as they seek to prepare students for college and career readiness.

What Won’t Change on the ACT
The ACT test will continue to be scored on a 1-36 scale. Students will still take subtests for math, reading, science, and writing with an optional essay. The length of the test and the overall student experience taking the exam will not be radically different. The cost of the exam is predicted to remain the same.

ACT Changes
The biggest two areas of change will be with the optional essay and with the available scores. The overall intent of the changes is to provide students and schools with more detailed information about a student’s level of college and career readiness.

New ACT STEM and English Language Scores
Students will now receive two additonal scores. The ACT STEM score will be based on the student’s math and science subscores. Students will also receive an ACT English language score which will be based on the student’s test performance in English, writing, and reading.

ACT Progress Toward Career Readiness Score
ACT score reports will now also include a measure of student “progress toward career readiness” score. The score will be based on how the student performs using skills or practical math and reading comprehension.

test in classroomACT Essay Changes
Most significant to many students taking the ACT will be changes in the optional essay section. While the essay is required by a minority of colleges and universities, it is a common requirement for students applying to highly selective colleges. The current essay is a 30 minute essay on a topic of interest to high school students. The essay is scored by two readers each giving scores from 1-6 for a total of up to 12 points. Often the current ACT essay prompt is a school-themed topic such as dress codes, extracurricular activities, or curfews. The current strategy for students on the ACT essay is to pick a firm position and argue for their side of the issue.

The new ACT essay will provide prompts that go beyond typical teen issues to consider topics with broader scope. Students will be asked to make more nuanced arguments and consider more sides of the issue. ACT essay scores will include additional information including sub-scores for ideas and analysis, development and support of arguments, organization, and language use.

Bottom Line – Do ACT Changes Matter?
It is unknown if college admissions offices will really look at or value these new scores from the ACT or if they will continue to rely primarily on the four subtest scores and the composite. The STEM and English language scores essentially consist of adding together information that is already present on the score report. Right now, while about half of students take the optional essay, only a small minority of colleges require this part of the test, and even some that require the essay writing section to be submitted may not value those scores heavily. It is possible that an improved essay section will lead to colleges valuing this portion of the test more. At any rate, students preparing for the ACT should be aware of the changes, particularly in the ACT essay, and adjust their test prep according to the new test format.


  1. Vicki Haefele

    Will the 5th test be averaged with its companion test? Or how will this test be used?

    1. Barbara Hettle

      Thanks for your question. The information will be available on the report. Unfortunately right now we don’t really know how admissions will respond to that or in what way they may use that information.

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