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New ACT Subscores: English and Reading

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Last week we gave an overview of the changes to the ACT subscore system for the 2016-2017 test year. In this lesson, we’ll look at the changes to the English and Reading subscores in depth. While these changes won’t directly affect the experience of taking the ACT or the 1 to 36 composite and subject scores, they will influence how each subject is subdivided on score reports. Overall, these changes provide a more accurate and nuanced breakdown of which college readiness skills students excel in and which ones they have room to improve in.



Previously, the English section had two subscores: Usage/Mechanics (grammar and punctuation) and Rhetorical Skills (everything else). The new subscores are Production of Writing, Knowledge of Language, and Conventions of Standard English. Production of Writing covers a great deal of English concepts, including relevance of information, effective use of introductions/transitions/conclusions, and understanding an author’s purpose. Knowledge of Language involves questions that ask students to add, delete, or revise sections of a passage for clarity, concision, and consistency of tone. Conventions of Standard English covers grammar, usage, and punctuation questions, essentially taking the place of Usage/Mechanics.



Reading had one of the most puzzling subscore setups before the revision. The old ACT Reading subscores, Social Studies/Sciences and Arts/Literature, were based on which passages the questions referred to, not the questions themselves. Needless to say, this wasn’t particularly helpful for students or their parents. A student would have no way of knowing what critical reading skills he or she was having trouble with unless that student purchased an extended score report and went through the questions him or herself.


The three new Reading subscores finally fix this oversight. Key Ideas and Details includes questions that require students to pick out a particular piece of information from the passage, as well as main idea, summary, and relationship questions. Craft and Structure questions involve analyzing word choice, text structure, and an author’s purpose or point of view. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas questions are those that involve the skills necessary to understand paired passages: identifying central claims, comparing and contrasting two passages, and drawing conclusions based on information in both passages.

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