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Changes to the ACT

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You have probably heard about the recent changes to the SAT. The entire exam has been redesigned from the ground up. What you may not know, however, is that the ACT has had its own share of modifications over the past year. These changes are much smaller than those to the SAT, but they have been rolled out with much less fanfare. The official ACT website has limited information on these changes, and a new version of the Real ACT Prep Guide won’t be published until later this year. (The “new” edition released this month is a reprint of the 3rd Edition under a new publisher.) Until then, students and tutors will need to work around these changes, using the small amount of official and unofficial material that is available. Here is a summary of what differs between the 3rd Edition and the test that you will actually be taking.


Writing (Essay)

Easily the largest change has been to the optional Writing (essay) section. We’ve covered the new Writing section in detail before, but here is a quick rundown. The old ACT and SAT essay sections required students to write a persuasive essay on a broadly-defined topic. For the new SAT, the College Board decided to go in the opposite direction. Thus, the new SAT Essay is a purely analytical assignment. The new ACT Writing section, on the other hand, is an odd hybrid of persuasive and analytical writing. Students must argue for their own positions but must also analyze three “perspectives” on the topic while doing so.



One of the four passages is sometimes replaced by a pair of shorter passages. Which “passage” is actually two and when this happens appear to be random. Two do well on these dual passages, students need to master the kinds of compare and contrast skills they would use on SAT-style paired passages. These include being able to apply the overall position of one passage to a specific point from the other, as well as identifying broad similarities and differences between the passages.



This section is mostly the same as the one found in the 3rd Edition. However, several small changes have been made. First, the Science section sometimes includes six passages instead of the traditional seven. (The number of questions and time allotted remain the same when this happens.) Second, some types of questions are worded differently. Third, a couple of new question types have been introduced.


English and Math

These sections have not changed. Therefore, the 3rd Edition accurately reflects the English and Math sections that students will encounter on test day.

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