The latest buzz-generating development in the world of college entrance examinations is that the makers of the ACT have announced that by the spring of 2015, the ACT exam will be administered via computer. The tech-challenged community can rest easy, however, as ACT, Inc. has promised that, at least initially, the paper-based exam will continue to be available. According to ACT Education Division President Jon Erickson, a determination has yet to be made regarding the question of whether or not students will have “the option to choose paper and pencil.” Mr. Erickson suggested that the company’s decision to change the test-taking medium has largely been driven by student interest.
The change is significant, considering that more college-bound students took the ACT (around 1.7 million) than the SAT in 2012. The creators of the ACT appear to be moving towards computer-based testing cautiously, a wise choice according to Robert Schaeffer of FairTest, an organization critical of standardized testing. Schaeffer cited several recent problematic examples of state efforts to adopt computerized testing systems for the Common Core State Standards exams.
Computer-administered or not, the ACT will stick to its current format of five parts: English, reading, math, science, and an optional writing component. There will, however, be some modifications. For the first time, the ACT will include some optional questions requiring that students go beyond simply filling in the bubble next to the answer choices. Test-takers will perform virtual tasks, such as mixing various chemicals and observing the effect of density on the orientations of those chemicals, which Mr. Erickson said will bring interactivity and intellectual engagement to the test-taking process.