Everything You Need to Know About the New Digital ACT
In May 2023, the ACT announced that it would soon begin offering digital testing options. While these digital options are in no way replacing the paper-and-pencil version of the ACT, they will become available at some testing centers relatively soon following a pilot period.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about the new digital format for the ACT so you can make an informed decision about whether or not it will be the right test option for you.
The Digital ACT
Taking the ACT online is not necessarily a novel idea. The test has been offered online for state and district testing since 2016 and for international testing since 2018. However, the change announced this past May will finally bring the digital format to national test dates as well.
In order to make the change as seamless as possible, the ACT plans to first hold a pilot test in December 2023. The pilot will be open to 5,000 test takers at a limited number of test centers. According to the ACT CEO, Janet Godwin, they have “chosen to pilot the test to allow for controlled implementation, to consider feedback, and to ensure the best possible testing experience for students.” The digital format will continue to be offered at more and more test centers throughout 2024.
What Will Change?
The official statements from the ACT have stressed that the test itself will not change. It will still be a college readiness test with the same length, structure, and content as the paper ACT. Like the paper ACT, it will also measure students’ knowledge, provide scholarship opportunities, and ensure that incoming students are placed in the right level of classes when starting college. Essentially, the basic principles and goals of the ACT will remain unchanged. Registration, score reports, testing fees, and the fee waiver program will all stay the same for both formats as well.
So, what is actually changing? The digital version of the ACT is designed to increase accessibility for students. Those taking the online test will have support for screen reader users as well as access to necessary features such as text-to-speech functionality, zoom, and answer masking. Including these options should make it easier for more students to take the test, thus opening up pathways for academic success and opportunities.
Possible Advantages of Taking the Digital ACT
The digital ACT does offer some advantages that may not come with the paper version of the test. Let’s briefly explore a few of those benefits now.
Many of the test prep options available for the ACT are online. From free practice tests to full-blown online courses, a lot of students will become acquainted with the content of the ACT exam through a digital format. If you are accustomed to taking practice tests online, you may find it easier and less stressful to take the real ACT online as well. The familiarity of the format may help students who frequently experience test anxiety feel more relaxed on test day.
Those who choose to take the ACT online may receive their scores faster than paper test takers. It usually requires a minimum of 10 business days for students to receive their paper test scores, but the process can take up to a few weeks. Online test takers, on the other hand, could receive their scores in as little as 2 business days. For students on a time crunch for early admission deadlines, receiving scores a few days ahead of schedule could make a huge difference.
Although the ACT will be the same length for both the digital and paper versions of the test, the online test will most likely feature an on-screen timer telling students how much time they have left to complete the exam. For some, this could add to the stress of test-taking, but for others, it may help them manage their time more efficiently. For example, if you are aware of the fact that you are spending too much time on a certain question, you can make the decision to move on more quickly.
What to Consider When Deciding Your Preferred ACT Format
Before you decide whether to take the ACT in a digital or paper format, ask yourself these questions so you can arrive at a more informed decision that accommodates your unique needs as a student.
What Is Your Preferred Testing Environment?
Take some time to think about the type of environment you need in order to perform your best on an exam. Would the familiarity of an online test put you at ease? Would an on-screen timer help you manage your time or would it make you feel stressed? Do you like being able to write on your test or take notes in the booklet? Contemplate these and other factors when imagining your ideal testing environment.
Do You Need Accessibility Features?
Students who benefit from features like zooming capabilities, text-to-speech functionality, and screen-readers should consider the online ACT. This format could help eliminate a great deal of test-related anxiety and stress, enabling you to perform to the best of your ability.
Do You Feel Comfortable Navigating Computers and Devices?
Some students may not feel comfortable testing on a digital device, especially if they have not frequently tested on them throughout high school. Think about your level of comfort when navigating technology. If you feel the digital format may bring about more unnecessary stress for you on testing day, you may want to stick with the paper test.
It is also worth noting that the only available online ACT tests at the moment are the pilot. There may be some technical difficulties as the ACT gains user feedback and works out small bumps in the digital format. Anyone who would feel stressed by possible variations like these may want to opt for the traditional paper format.
Do You Live Near an Online Test Center?
At the moment, online test centers for the ACT are quite limited. Depending on where you live, you may not have access to the national online test dates yet. The ACT does plan to roll out more and more online test centers in 2024 and beyond.
To find test centers near you, use the ACT Test Center Locator.
Do You Need Your Scores Quickly?
Consider how quickly you need to receive your scores. Students applying for early action or early decision may have deadlines much earlier than those applying for standard admission. If you need a relatively fast turnaround, you may want to consider taking the test online.
ACT Test Prep
Even with online practice exams and prep tools, studying for standardized tests like the ACT can be an overwhelming challenge for many students. Without guidance, it can be difficult to find answers to questions like:
- Where do I start?
- What should I be studying?
- How often should I study?
At PrepExpert, we can answer all your study-related questions. Our online courses are designed to guide you through the material covered by the ACT at the pace that works best for you. Whether you choose a self-guided course or one taught by our expert instructors, you will learn valuable test-taking strategies that you can use to succeed not only on standardized tests, but onward throughout the rest of your academic career.
Digital ACT FAQ
Find quick answers to frequently asked questions about the digital ACT here.
When will the digital ACT become available?
The digital form of the ACT will be available as a pilot for 5,000 students in December 2023. In 2024 and onward, the online version will slowly become available to more students in more locations across the country.
Can I use scratch paper on the digital ACT?
Yes, but there will most likely not be a paper copy of the test booklet available.
Can I use a calculator on the digital ACT?
Yes. There will also be a built-in calculator on the digital testing platform.
Will I have to take the digital ACT?
No. The ACT has made it clear that they will continue to offer paper tests even after the full deployment of the digital ACT.
Will I have to bring my own device for the digital ACT?
No. Test centers will provide devices for students to use to take the exam. Note that you will most likely not be allowed to bring your own digital device to the test location.
Can I take the digital ACT from home?
No. You must take the exam at a test center, even if you choose the digital format.
How do I find a test center near me?
Talk to your guidance counselor or use the ACT Test Center Locator.
Can I switch between paper and digital after I have already registered?
Yes. You will be able to make adjustments to your test format until the late registration deadline. However, keep in mind that changing test formats after registration will require a fee.
Can I request further accommodations for the digital ACT?
Yes. The online testing platform will have accessibility tools like magnification, on-screen timer, calculator, option eliminator, line reader, highlighter, question marking, and more built in for every student.
Review the ACT’s accommodations policies for more details.
How do I study for the ACT?
There are test prep options available on the official ACT website as well as a variety of online courses like those offered at PrepExpert.
You can find information about how to craft a unique study schedule here.