SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

ACT Computer-Based Testing: Everything You Need to Know

Posted by Christine Sarikas | Jul 13, 2020 1:00:00 PM

ACT General Info

 

body-students-computer

Have you been told you need to take a computer-based ACT or heard that some people take the ACT on a computer and want to know if it's an option for you? Who is allowed to take ACT computer-based testing, and who is stuck still making sure they have a #2 pencil on test day? We answer all your questions about computer-based ACTs in this guide, including if taking a computer-based ACT will give you a higher or lower score than a paper test, why computer-based ACT is being offered, and how you can prepare for this new version of the test. 

 

What Is ACT Computer-Based Testing? Who Is It Available To?

Is the ACT online or on paper? Computer-based ACT testing is where you take the ACT on a computer instead of the traditional paper and pencil version. The content and format of the computer-based ACT (often known as the ACT CBT) is the same as the traditional ACT, just this version is taken on a computer. This isn't an online test, and you'll still need to register for a test date and take the exam in a test center. It's just as official as the traditional ACT and accepted by all schools that accept paper ACT scores. 

So, will you take the ACT on a computer? It largely depends where you're taking the test. The ACT CBT is primarily available to students taking the ACT internationally. If you're taking the ACT in the US, you'll probably still take the paper and pencil test. Some schools offer ACT CBTs on certain ACT school days (this is where you take the ACT at school, during the school day), but they're currently the minority. If you register for a national test, you'll take it with pencil and paper. Beginning in September 2020, however, the ACT CBT will become available on national test dates across the US.

However, computer-based ACTs are already being used abroad. In fact, if you're taking the ACT outside of the US, you must take the computer-based test. The paper version of the test is no longer available internationally. The only exceptions are if you have certain accommodations that allow you to take a paper version of the test.

 

ACT Computer-Based Locations and Test Dates

If you take the ACT anywhere outside of the United States, you'll be taking the computer-based version of the exam. There are typically seven international testing dates a year, in February, April, June, July, September, October, and December. These are the 2020 international ACT test dates:

Test Date

Registration Deadline

Late Registration Deadline

February 7-8, 2020

January 17, 2020

January 31 ,2020

April 3-4, 2020

March 13, 2020

March 27, 2020

June 12-13, 2020

May 22, 2020

June 5, 2020

July 17-18, 2020

June 26, 2020

July 10, 2020

September 11-12, 2020

August 21, 2020

September 4, 2020

October 9-10, 2020

September 18, 2020

October 2, 2020

December 11-12, 2020

November 20, 2020

December 4, 2020

 

You can find a PDF of all the international ACT test centers here. Remember, taking the ACT internationally costs more than taking it into the US. Currently an international ACT costs $150 if you don't take the optional Writing section, and $166.50 if you do include Writing.

 

Why Does ACT, Inc. Offer Computer-Based Testing?

ACT Inc., the organization that designs and administers the ACT, hasn't given a definite reason for why they require international test takers to take computer-based ACTs. They've mentioned that it allows them to offer more test dates and return scores more quickly.

Many have speculated that ACT Inc. is also requiring computer-based testing internationally to reduce the potential of cheating. ACT Inc. itself has alluded to this by saying computer-based tests allow them to provide a "secure experience for test takers." Computer-based ACTs can be easier to monitor and can offer the questions in different orders for each student to reduce cheating. By requiring ACTs to be taken on a computer, ACT Inc. hopes to minimize any cheating so that scores are more fair and accurate for everyone who takes the test.

 

body_computerkids

 

How Does Computer-Based ACT Testing Differ From Traditional ACTs?

Besides the fact that you take one test on the computer and the other with pencil and paper, how do computer-based and traditional ACTs differ? We cover the main similarities and differences in this section.

 

Similarities

Same format

  • Both versions of the ACT will have the exact same format, number of questions, section order, and time per section.

 

Same content and difficulty

  • Despite what you may have heard, ACT computer tests aren't harder than the paper and pencil version. Both test the same topics and have the same difficulty level. The computer-based ACT was designed so that a person who gets, say, a 26 on the paper version would highly likely get a 26 on the computer-based version as well.

 

Same scoring
  • Both ACTs are scored on the same 1-36 scoring scale.

 

Must be taken at a test center
  • Unfortunately, you can't take the computer-based ACT from the comfort of your own home. For any ACT, you must register well beforehand and take the exam at a set time in a set place. The paper version of the ACT is often taken at schools, while the computer version will generally be taken at specialized test centers.

 

Not adaptive

  • Like the paper version, ACT computer-based testing is not adaptive. Adaptive tests change depending on how well you're doing on the test. For example, if you get the first question correct, the second question might be more challenging, while if you get the first question wrong, the second question might be easier. However, neither version of the ACT is like this. For both, the question order is set before you take the test and won't change.

 

Can go back within a section to review answers

  • For both versions of the ACT, you can review answers to any question on the section you're currently on. However, you can't go back to previous sections. So, say you're currently taking the Science section. During that time, you can review any of the 40 questions in that section, but you can't go back and review a Math or Reading question.

 

Use physical calculator

  • Some computer-based tests have onscreen calculators you'll use for math questions, but for both versions of the ACT you'll use a physical calculator you'll need to bring with you on test day. The same calculator rules apply to both tests.

 

Differences

You'll receive scores faster for the computer-based test

  • One of the best advantages of the computer-based ACT is that you'll receive your score in only about two business days, compared to 3+ weeks for the paper test. If you take the Writing section, you'll receive those results about two weeks after the rest of your results.

 

Colleges receive computer-based test score results faster

  • Just like how you receive your scores faster with the computer-based test, colleges you select to receive your scores will also get those scores faster, usually a day or so after you receive your results.

 

Computer-based tests may have more test dates and testing locations

  • This hasn't happened much yet, but ACT, Inc. has stated one of their reasons for requiring computer-based ACTs internationally is to offer more test dates. These tests also have the potential to be held at more test centers and at different days/times, so it could be easier for you to find a test date that works for you.

 

Type instead of write your essay

  • The Writing section on the ACT is optional, but if you decide to take it, you may have an easier time with it on a computer-based test where you'll be able to type your essay instead of write it. As most people type faster than they write, this can save you valuable time.

 

As you can see, the content and format of the exams are the same. The main differences are in how the test is taken, where you'll take it, and how soon you'll receive your results.

 

body_computer_lab_school

 

How Can You Prepare for a Computer-Based ACT?

Practice versions of computer-based ACTs are available so that you can get a sense of what taking the test on the computer will be like. The practice tests work best if you're using Google Chrome, and you can take the tests either timed or untimed. You'll have access to the following number of questions for each section: 

English: 75 questions 
Mathematics: 60 questions 
Reading: 40 questions 
Science: 40 questions 
Writing: 1 essay prompt 

 

Together, these sections are equal to one full-length ACT (complete with optional Writing section). These practice questions have the same format and interface as the official computer-based ACT you'll take on exam day. Taking these computer-based practice tests are key because they'll get you used to the layout of the computer-based ACT so you don't waste any time on test day looking for the correct button to press (I had to spend a few seconds searching for the "next" button when I first took the practice tests).

However, as study resources, they do have limitations. The biggest is that there are no answer explanations; you'll only be able to see which questions you answered correctly and which you answered incorrectly. This makes it difficult to learn how to solve questions that stumped you. Also, these are the only computer-based ACT practice questions available, and you'll likely need to take much more than just one practice ACT to reach your goal score. We recommend taking at least three to six practice ACTs.

Fortunately, there are more resources available. There are six official paper versions of the ACT available for free, and you should absolutely use at least some of them. Although they won't have the computer-based format, the content they cover will be the same, so you'll learn which areas of the ACT to focus your studying in. We recommend studying for the ACT while taking several of the paper practice tests, then taking the computer-based practice test near the end of your studying period so the format is fresh in your mind. Take the computer-based practice test timed and all in one sitting to get the most accurate score possible.

 

Summary: Is the ACT Taken on a Computer?

ACT computer tests are available, but only to students taking the ACT outside of the US. If you're taking the ACT within the US you'll take a paper and pencil version, and if you're taking it in another country, you'll take ACT computer-based testing. Other than the format you're taking the test in, there are actual not many differences between the two test versions. Both have the same format, content, difficulty level, and scoring. If you're taking a digital ACT test, we recommend you take the official practice ACT computer test so you can get a sense of what to expect on test day.

 

What's Next?

Wondering if the ACT will become an online exam in the future? Read our guide to learn about the status of online ACTs and how those plans are being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Practice tests are one of the best ways to prepare for the ACT. Check out our collection of every ACT practice test available.

Not sure how to register for the ACT? Our step-by-step guide to ACT registration walks you through every step you need to take.

 

Want to improve your ACT score by 4+ points? Download our free guide to the top 5 strategies you need in your prep to improve your ACT score dramatically.

Raise Your ACT Score by 4 Points (Free Download)

 

Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Christine Sarikas
About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.



Get Free Guides to Boost Your SAT/ACT
100% Privacy. No spam ever.

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!