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Introduction to the New ACT Subscores

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As we’ve talked about in the past, the College Board and ACT, Inc. take very different approaches to revising the SAT and ACT. The College Board makes major changes to the SAT and widely-publicizes those changes. The recent overhaul of the SAT is only the most extreme example of this. ACT, Inc., on the other hand, prefers to make incremental adjustments to the ACT. These adjustments are made with little to no fanfare, placing the burden of keeping up with the changes on students, parents, and teachers.


We’ve covered some of these modifications in the past, such as the introduction of paired passages to Reading and “perspectives” to Writing. Today we’re going to look at something a bit different: changes to the subscore system for the 2016-2017 test year. While these changes won’t affect how the ACT looks and functions on test day, they will impact how various skill are presented on score reports.


To be clear, the 1 to 36 composite and subject scores will remain the same. However, the subscores that appear under each subject on a student’s score report will differ from those of past exams. The purpose of this subscore redesign seems to be to provide a more accurate and nuanced breakdown of which college readiness skills students excel in and which ones they have room to improve in. All four multiple choice sections on the ACT (English, Reading, Math, and Science) now have at least three subscore categories. We’ll examine the new categories in depth in future lessons, but our first impression is that the new subscores will be far more helpful to students, parents, teachers, and colleges than the old subscores were. Problems such as questions that overlap two categories being arbitrarily assigned to one or the other (English) and categories that aren’t really descriptive of the skills being tested (Reading) have been fixed. Likewise, the Math section has an even more thorough breakdown of mathematical skills than it did before, and the Science section finally has subscores of its own.

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