Update on ACT’s International Computer-Based Testing Rollout
The ACT, Inc. is poised to offer a computer-based test for international students in September 2018, with test registration opening in July. International students who enroll in July will be signing up for a digital ACT, without the option to take a paper-based test. The ACT, Inc. has released few details about the forthcoming test, and many international students and counselors have expressed anxiety over what this change will mean for their students. Here are the latest updates available.
Postponing the Computer Adaptive Format
Although the test makers initially promised a shift to Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) for September’s inaugural test, it appears the September test will simply be a computer-based version of a static, non-adaptive test. This is disappointing, for a static test form delivered digitally is not nearly as secure as an adaptive test. Cheating has plagued the ACT internationally for years and the move to CAT will vastly improve test integrity. Shifting to fixed-form computer based testing is only a half-measure, but it does signal progress towards the eventual adoption of CAT testing abroad and then in the U.S.
Digital ACTs are already established in the marketplace
Last year some 80,000 U.S. students took a digital ACT through the school-day testing programs offered by states and districts. The test is identical in form and section timing to paper-based tests. Until we learn more, we assume the ACT will use the system it has been using domestically for the digital test offered internationally in September. Students can use the Test Nav software to test-drive the digital ACT and experience some of the new tools available.
There is a magnifier which may be helpful on science and math problems and a line-reader mask that lets students isolate text as they read. This tool could help minimize distractions. The digital test also provides an Answer Masking feature that blocks out the answer choices until the student is ready to answer the question, allowing students to come up with their own answers first. There is an answer eliminator which puts a large red x over answer choices to help with process of elimination. And finally students can bookmark questions for later review.
One significant downside of the current digital test format is that there is no way to annotate the text, to highlight, write notes, or call attention to keywords. Students can use scratch paper and pencils to keep notes, and they will have to adapt to looking back and forth from their written notes to the computer screen.
Digital Test Sites and Availability
A major question that concerns international students and counselors is how many test centers will make the migration to digital testing. Many test centers that have administered paper-based tests are not migrating to digital testing. Test centers making the shift will need to have an adequate supply of computers. They will also need to have adequate test security and a reliable infrastructure for digital testing.
Test Centers will be able to offer the tests over 6 potential testing windows – September, October, December, February, April, June. This is an increase over the current five test dates but it is unclear if test centers will administer tests on all the available dates. In each testing window, test centers can offer the tests Friday morning or afternoon and Saturday morning or afternoon. Having more testing opportunities will allow schools and test-centers to spread out their available computers and laptops and not have to use them all at once. Afternoon testing is an exciting development for students who perform better in the afternoon. It remains unclear whether test centers will offer four discrete testing times over Friday and Saturday, or if those are merely possible testing times a test-center can choose from.
Test Security Concerns Remain Central
Although this move to digital testing allows the ACT greater control over its product, and the ability to administer test forms randomly to different testing sites, it does not solve the problem of reusing static test forms. Students can still memorize test forms that are in circulation and have a profound advantage on test day. The ACT will only fully solve its security and reliability problem when it makes the full jump to CAT.