Recently, ACT Inc. announced that they would be offering a new test: the PreACT. This test will be available to sophomores starting this coming fall. It includes the same sections as the regular ACT but without the optional writing section. It’s also an hour shorter than the full-length ACT, clocking in at about 2 hours. The purpose of the test is similar to that of the PSAT: to give students an idea of what the ACT will be like and to give an idea of how well students will do on the test. Here, we’ll take a look at the new PreACT as well as offer some advice on who should take it.
The PreACT is to the ACT as the PSAT is to the SAT
First, let me explain what the PSAT is. The PSAT is a shortened version of the SAT that is commonly given to high school sophomores. The PSAT is almost identical to the SAT, and in many ways is good practice for the SAT. Since 1971, there has been no equivalent thing for the ACT. That has just changed. The PreACT has been born. Students in some places will take it Sophomore year, and it’ll give them a preview of the ACT.
You don’t have to take (or worry about) the PreACT
Every time there is a standardized test change that includes the acronyms SAT or ACT, parents panic, worried that the rules of the game have changed in a way that will affect educational opportunities for their children. They worry for good reason: sometimes they’re right. In this case, there’s no need to worry. The PreACT has no direct implication on college admissions. The score isn’t seen or submitted to colleges. The PreACT isn’t important, and it doesn’t change the rules of the game (very much). It has one strategic implication, which is that if you are going to take the PreACT and not the PSAT, then you should commit to the ACT as your college admissions test. I’m also (because I’m a testing geek) going to elaborate on a bunch of minor strategic issues for information purposes that you should absolutely not stress out about.
Students in ACT states will be the most affected
There are 12 states that give all students the ACT as part of their basic high school process. It has always been kind of weird that many students in those states have taken the PSAT, then turned around and taken the ACT as part of their high school requirements. Now, all those schools will be able to offer the PreACT instead, which makes a whole lot more sense. After all, if you’re going to be taking the ACT, wouldn’t it make sense to do a practice test that’s very similar to the ACT instead of the SAT? Well, now that’s a reality. The PreACT and PSAT are administered by local schools and are supported with an allocation of teachers and class-time. It’s is highly unlikely that your local school will offer both. The question then, is will your school choose to offer the PreACT, or the PSAT? Schools in states with a required ACT are far more likely to use the PreACT, so that’s something to watch for. In all cases, the place to contact to determine which test your children will be taking is your children’s school.
If you are going to take the PreACT, then take the ACT (and skip the SAT)
The one strategic implication affected by the PreACT is time allocation during prep efforts. We at Testive have been collecting data on this for 6 years, and has data on over 300,000 students. What our data show is that one of the strongest predictors of performance is time spent studying. This is somewhat unsurprising. Basically, the data is saying the following: the more you prepare, the better you do. Because of this, for most students, the best choice is to pick one test (either the SAT or the ACT) and stick with it, not to bounce back and forth. So, if you’re going to take time to practice for and then sit through an administration of the PreACT, then you should stick with it and go whole hog on the ACT.
If you’re already planning to take the SAT, then skip the PreACT
Instead (if you can), pull your child out of school that day and have them sit for a full-length SAT practice test instead. That way you’re spending their precious time and attention on something that is strategically helpful for doing well on the test they’re going to take anyway.
This is a little aggressive because everyone at your child’s school might be taking the PreACT, and you’ll have to do extra work to put the wheels in motion, but this is what I will do with my two daughters. If you need someone to administer a practice test, call us, and we’ll get you set up.
If you take the PreACT, you aren’t eligible for National Merit
National Merit qualification is an ‘honor’ that you get if you are in the top 1% of PSAT test-takers in your state. (The cutoff line is different for every state, but is typically somewhere around 200. You can google it to find the qualifying score for your state from the prior year. Note: you can’t do this right now because there was a scoring range change on the PSAT. So this advice won’t be relevant again until next year). The PSAT is the qualifying test for National Merit. In fact, the PSAT is also known as the NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). Although PSAT scores can qualify you for National Merit, being qualified does not mean your student will automatically get the scholarship.
The PreACT was created to recruit more ACT test-takers
The PreACT is an obvious strategic move by the ACT to compete with College Board’s PSAT.
There is a war raging between the testing giants College Board (maker of the SAT) and the ACT. The latest attack that the ACT has launched is the release of the “PreACT”.
There has been a ‘Pre’ SAT for a long time: the PSAT. The PSAT took stage in 1971, when it combined forces with the National Merit program.
Here’s the official line from the ACT about what the PreACT is: “The new PreACT™ helps students practice for the ACT® test experience and empowers them with valuable data and insights.”
Here are all the things the ACT claims the PreACT will do and my opinion about how realistic those claims are:
The PreACT provides “A Realistic Testing Experience”
This is very true and it is very valuable. An analysis of the over 300,000 students that have used Testive shows that test-taking experience in test-like conditions is very valuable for improving performance. When real data emerges regarding students who have taken the PreACT and then the ACT, I expect it to show that students who have taken the PreACT outperform their peers who have not.
The PreACT is a little “More than a score”
We would all love for the PreACT to be a formative testing experience that teaches students valuable things beyond simply giving them a sneak preview of their likely performance on the future ACT, but it’s mostly just a score. Creating a framework that incentivizes students to learn valuable things so that they can get a better score is a good thing, and the test does that. To that extent the test is good. However, there is nothing special about the test that delivers insights beyond what the regular ACT would do anyway.
The PreACT is “meaningful to educators”
The PreACT is very meaningful to educators. Here’s how it works. Students will take the test. Then, their scores and sub scores will be released. Then, they can sit down with an educator and use their test and their scores to create a personalized learning plan that helps them understand their strengths and attack their weaknesses. This is awesome and is the basic format for all great learning: challenge, analyze, learn, (and repeat).
The main purveyors of this analysis and learning will be people that you hire outside of the school environment. Unfortunately, schools don’t have enough resources to allocate to each child to effectively utilize this information in a personalized way. That’s where Testive comes in. We take the analysis the ACT sends back and work with you to pick up the ball and carry it further down the field. Once you have your score report back, give us a call and we’ll sit down with you and build a plan. We don’t charge money for these planning sessions, which are valuable in themselves. We do charge money if you choose to work with one of our coaches to execute the plan.
Stay on top of PreACT and ACT deadlines
As ACT test dates come and go, students are prone to falling behind schedule. Of course with a full plate of sports, schoolwork, activities and friends, sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds will almost undoubtedly deprioritize test prep. Like paying taxes or going to the gym, prepping for the ACT is important but not urgent.
The best way for parents to make sure students don’t fall behind schedule is to be aware of upcoming test dates. And we created an email newsletter to alert families of every deadline they need to know.