ACT News Flash: The end of self-paced extended timing; mandatory experimental section

Today the ACT, Inc. released a news brief that will affect many of our students and push some to consider completing their ACT testing in June or July before these changes take effect in September.  What are the changes? The end of self-paced timing and a mandatory experimental section.

Eliminating Self-Paced Extended Time

The ACT is rolling back its policy of allowing students to self-pace their extended time testing administrations. Previously, students could apportion the extra time among the four sections as needed. Under the new policy, students will have 50% extra time per section, with a hard stop at the end of each section.

Here is the official announcement:

“Examinees approved for National Extended Time or for Timing Code 6 will have 50 percent extended time for each section of the ACT, with a hard stop after each section. Examinees will no longer have to self-pace through the four multiple-choice sections over the allotted five hours. All examinees in the test room will begin the same section at the same time and have the same amount of time to complete that section.”

This new policy is a major setback for students who are granted an extended timing accommodation. Allowing students to advance to the next section at their own speed has always been a significant benefit to students with attentional deficits. The old policy enabled students to complete the ACT at their own speed without having to wait to move on to the next section. Under the new policy, students who finish a particular section in less than the allotted time will have what amounts to a forced waiting period before starting the next section. This approach increases the attentional demands on students who are receiving an accommodation for ADHD.

Students with extra time are receiving an accommodation for a diagnosed disability. For many of these students, the new policy will make ACT extended time less valuable, and in some cases eliminate the value of the accommodation. We’ve always viewed to the extended timing accommodation on the SAT as a double edged-sword for students with attentional deficits; although the extra time is a benefit, it also forces students to sit and wait until they can move forward. Some students with SAT timing accommodations choose to take the test with standard timing to void these forced waiting periods. ACT extended timing will now also be a double-edged sword for students with ADHD and attentional issues.

This change goes into effect in September: students who require extended time on the ACT are advised to secure their accommodations for the June and July test while the current policy is still in place.

Mandatory Experimental Section

Starting in September the ACT will require all students to take a 20-minute experimental section that will not count towards their score. Here is the official announcement:

“We are expanding the Tryout program, which helps shape the future of the ACT. On National test dates, examinees testing under standard timing conditions, whether testing with or without writing, should expect to take a fifth test after Test 4. The fifth test is 20 minutes long and doesn’t impact the examinee’s ACT Composite score or subject test scores. Examinees testing with extended time will not take the fifth test.”

This is not great news for students. While this will allow the ACT. Inc to test and validate items for future assessments, it will have no immediate benefit to the students sitting for the test. In the prep industry, we were all excited when the SAT scrapped its experimental section with the 2016 redesign, as it decreased the time on a lengthy assessment. That experimental section, however, was indistinguishable from other sections. The ACT will not be able to fool students with this “fifth section.” Knowing the section doesn’t count, many students will blow it off or abstain completely- and who can blame them? If it doesn’t affect their scores, why should they invest time or energy in helping the ACT conduct research? Regardless, the ACT, Inc. will still be able to glean usable data, even if a large portion of students bubble in answers randomly or using a pattern; ACT’s psychometricians will be able to run pattern analysis on the student responses and remove skewed results.

Implications for essay takers

For the roughly 50% of students who take the ACT with the optional ACT essay, extending the test an additional 20 minutes will require greater mental endurance. Adding more time to the test simply increases the attentional challenge. For some students, this will be significant. As this change will not be implemented until September, those students who have yet to complete the essay section and intend to do so for their college applications should attempt it on the June or July test dates.


These changes serve the needs of the ACT, Inc, but don’t benefit students. Removing the self-pacing extended time is going to put an increased burden on some students and render their accommodations less helpful.

If your student is considering taking the ACT with extended time or taking the ACT with the essay, sign up for the June and July ACTs and you’ll avoid the effects of these new changes.

Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 866-789-PREP (7737) or

  • Rachel

    There is nothing on ACT’s official website confirming these changes. Where is your source?

  • Nala Saah

    Three ‘forced stops’ during the test merely adds more anxiety. How can this help any student, timed or extended time? The ‘experimental’ section at the end will be invalidated by definition…it is optional, it is subject to random completion and it benefits no one…except perhaps giving extra practice in the test center for students who make it that far and have the surplus time and energy to play the game yet another way. Where do these geniuses get this stuff?

  • Amanda Patrick

    I cannot find this on the ACT site or anywhere else. Can you confirm your source?

  • Amanda Patrick

    I’m looking for same and cannot find it.

  • Jed Applerouth

    This was sent out as an official communication from the ACT by Julie Wilt, Director of
    ACT Test Administration. The ACT, Inc. sent this email announcement to college counselors across the country. This info has not yet been posted to the ACT website.

  • Jed Applerouth

    Give them a few days to make an official announcement. The Director of ACT Test Administration notified college counselors Thursday morning. This info should be made public soon.

  • Jed Applerouth

    Nala- I’m with you. Particularly when it comes to students with disabilities- and even more so with students who have attentional issues. If students have difficulty regulating their attention, making them sit and wait, requiring greater mental endurance, does not seem like a thoughtful policy. in terms of the experimental section, given the 2 million students who take the ACT each year, even if a relatively small fraction of the students complete the section in earnest, the test writers will be able to get enough good data to run item analysis and determine the difficulty level of items and determine if items reveal any bias. It’s a free way to do market research, but it really is of no direct benefit to the students taking the test. The ACT writers could pre-test items in other ways, at their expense, but they are looking to the national test administrations as a way to get massive amounts of data at no incremental cost: the beauty of having a captive audience.

  • Amanda Patrick

    Thanks so much for clarifying. And for the info!

  • Nala Saah

    Thanks for your concurrence…this is meaningful coming from the guru of test prep. (read the name backwards to find a friend!)

  • JanLLB

    Many students identified as ADHD actually also have other special needs including clinical anxiety and sensory processing issues (eg.auditory/Visual processing disabilities). These students usually meet the criteria to write at their home school during the three week window, though many never apply for the latter. If they do so successfully however, the hard stops and elimination of self pacing will have little or no impact as most students write one or at most two sections in a sitting.
    Janyce Lastman, The Tutor Group, Toronto ON Canada