There are a Few Tools and Quirks That Students Need to Be Aware of Before Taking the CBT International ACT
The ACT recently launched computer-based testing (CBT) for all international students testing outside of the United States. A first sitting of the ACT in the CBT format occurred in September, and while there were a few bumps with the initial proctoring of the exam (test centers cancelling administrations last minute and materials not arriving on time) it seems that the ACT has finally ironed out some of the quirks. Here’s what international students need to know about the computer-based ACT – including some of the quirks with the new tools and practice materials.
Test Day Computer Tools
To grant CBT students the same opportunities as paper exam test takers, the ACT has created a ‘toolbox’ of resources available for international students. Seen in the upper right-hand corner of the examination, students are able to access a tool dropdown, enlarge or minimize the question size, and see the time remaining in the section.
A useful feature that is offered on with the CBT format is a dropdown toolbar which includes a Magnifier, Highlighter, Liner Reader, Answer Eliminator and Answer Masking features. These tools aim to provide the same experience for students as they would have taking a paper examination – if not better.
This tool “makes an image larger in a graph, chart, picture, or block of text to help you see it better and view details, like data points within a graphic.” (ACT Tool Sheet, 2018)
What to Know: Since there is a Zoom in option on initial toolbar, this magnifier option is not overly useful. However, if a student is struggling seeing a graph or chart in the math or science, this may be a benefit. For reading passages, the zoom in button in the top right corner of the screen would be more seamless for student use.
This tool “highlights words and phrases in a test item to help you remember or sort out important points while you’re reading.” (ACT Tool Sheet, 2018) The highlighter tool mirrors underlining on the paper test version.
What to Know: It’s important to note with this tool, as well as all of the tool box drop down items, that you must click to activate and deactivate the tool. The tool will stay active if you click to progress to the next question. However, this could help students when answering multiple reading passages back to back, since the tool will already be active, and a student can metaphorically “jump right in”!
This tool “pulls up a window that emphasizes a single line in a block of text, helping you separate that line from the text around it (and focus on important content while figuring out your response)”. (ACT Tool Sheet, 2018)
What to Know: In theory, this tool should be a wonderful asset to students looking to section off pieces of a passage. However, the tool is a bit awkward to navigate since a student needs to adjust the inner box to the section of the text they wish to read, the grey block to hide the section they are looking to disregard, and then move the entire piece onto the section of the passage. This could be seen as a time wasting “pit” for students.
This tool “crosses out answers that you know are incorrect, helping you narrow down your choices.” (ACT Tool Sheet, 2018)
What to Know: This is a tool that a student should be encouraged to click on and leave active for all questions of the ACT if they are implementing the process of elimination testing strategy or looking to narrow down answer choices to encourage educated guesses.
This tool “hides answers that you know are incorrect, helping you narrow down your choices”. (ACT Tool Sheet, 2018) If having the answer choices visible is distracting for a student, the answer masking tab could be of assistance.
What to Know: For Math problems where students are using the “plugging in” strategy, it would be counterproductive to mask the answers that you would need to utilize.
“See the number of items on the subject test, navigate among items, and flag items you’d like to review.” (ACT Tool Sheet, 2018) The navigation bar is a convenient way for students to go back and review any questions of concern. When a question that is a challenge, a student is able to click the flag button to mark an area/question they need to return back to.
What to Know: Compared to the paper version of the test, this may in fact be an advantage. Previously, students needed to flip back through their answer booklets to find the questions they marked for review. However, with all questions noted at the bottom of the ACT CBT format, students can seamlessly switch among questions.
“The test timer is a helpful way to keep track of how much time you have left in each section.” With this tool, Students are able to easily access their time left on the section of the exam. Additionally, students are still able to use wrist watches.
What to Know: It may be distracting to some students since it does actively count down minutes and seconds. There is not a way to ‘turn off’ the clock, so a student who dislikes this timer format are encouraged to bring a standard wrist watch that does not make any noise.
A change that the ACT has not been overly transparent about to students is the transition from scrap paper to a whiteboard. Students will be given a whiteboard to supplement the scrap paper that was previously distributed during paper examinations. During the September distribution of the examination, not all testing sites were able to receive their whiteboards for the sitting. Because of this, testing centers still provided scrap paper for students to utilize. Looking ahead, students should be prepared to test using a whiteboard that is gridded on one side and blank on the other.
What to Know: The whiteboard could be seen as a disadvantage to students, since they now need to worry about ‘wiping clean’ their boards as they move through problems, as opposed to writing through scrap paper. However, one may argue that this may be a helpful resource since the whiteboards are distributed at the beginning of the examination and can be utilized throughout the entire exam (across sections).
The ACT has made available an online component to their test preparation book. For international students, it is worth investing in the ACT Online Prep Pack to have access to the two full-length practice examinations, as well as hundreds of practice problems. Check out the ACT’s website for additional information on the prep pack! Additionally, ACT Academy has numerous resources available to students looking to prepare, including two additional online practice tests that are different than the ones offered in the prep pack. Examinations included in the Prep Pack, as well as ACT Academy, are previously administered ACT examinations.
What to Know: The online formatting for these practice tests does not simulate all the functions and tools provided in the CBT format of the exam. These examinations have some of the Tool Box available, but not all. Additionally, while two of these exams are recent (74F and 1572C) the examinations offered in the Prep Pack online date back to 2014 and 2015. However, the ACT’s online International site does offer a semi-recent practice examination (71C, from June 2013) that fully simulates the testing experience for students. While this examination is the oldest of the lot, it does have all the tools and resources that are provided on test day. For access to 71C, click here.
While the computer-based testing model is still very new, it’s important for international students to consider which test is the best-fit for their abilities content-wise. At IvyWise, we recommend students take a diagnostic of both the SAT and ACT in order to determine which exam students should prep for.