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What Is the ACT Fifth Section? Answers From ACT, Inc.

Posted by Dora Seigel | May 4, 2016 5:00:00 PM

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If you took the ACT on April 9th or if you had friends who did, you might have heard there was a fifth section, which is abnormal. Usually, the ACT has four sections plus an optional writing section: Math, Reading, English, and Science. However, on April 9th, at certain test centers, there were five sections plus an optional writing section: Math, Reading, English, Science, and additional Science. What was this fifth section? Why was it there? I talked to the Director of Public Relations at ACT, Inc., and got the answers!


What Is the ACT Fifth Section?

This ACT fifth section was an experimental section. This was confirmed by Ed Colby, the Director of Public Relations at ACT, Inc. If you’re familiar with the SAT, you know that on every test they include an experimental section, which doesn’t count towards your score. If you took the ACT on April 9th and were panicked about the fifth section (the extra science section), do not fret!

The fifth section will not count towards your score.  Repeat, this section will not be factored into your ACT score, so do not stress about it.

According to Mr. Colby, this isn't the first time the ACT has included an experimental section. While the ACT is not as well known for having an experimental section, ACT, Inc., includes experimental sections with the ACT a couple of times per year. It’s not done on every test date, and it’s not done at all test centers.

Mr. Colby said that, typically, students who take the ACT without the optional essay will be the ones to see the experimental section. The ACT test writers know that it’s a long test and try to keep the experimental section as concise as possible. The experimental section is usually 30 minutes long. The experimental section could cover questions from any of the four sections: Math, Reading, English, or Science.


Why Is It There?

The experimental section is there to help ACT, Inc., field test potential new questions. On the April 9th test, it seems the ACT was testing out some new questions for the science section.

Think of the experimental section like an experiment. ACT, Inc., is conducting an experiment using you the test-takers. They have new questions that they think are fair, but they want to test that hypothesis. To test that hypothesis, they include the extra section after the normal test is complete.

They don’t tell you that the section is experimental or that it doesn’t count because they want you the test-taker to take the section seriously. If every student knew the section was experimental/didn’t count, how many students would just choose to sleep during the section and/or not bubble anything in the scantron? Probably quite a few students would not complete the section.

They need students to put as much effort into the experimental section as they would the other four sections, so they can compare how students did on the regular questions to how students did on the experimental section.

Based on how students performed, the ACT will decide whether the questions are fair. If they decide the questions are fair, the ACT will likely incorporate them into a future test. If not, the ACT likely tosses out those questions.

Mr. Colby noted that ACT, Inc., really appreciate all of the students who take the experimental section and hopes they take it seriously because it will help ensure their peers have a fair test.


 Students who took the section had varied reactions. 


What Were Student Reactions?

To gauge student reactions, I went to Twitter:

Students were generally very thrown off by the fifth section. Also, as I said earlier, students were not told this was an experimental section, and many students were/are afraid this section will count towards their score. 

Remember, if you took the April 9th test or if you take the ACT in the future and see a fifth section, this section is experimental and will not count towards your score.


What Does This Mean For You?

This means that if you're planning on taking the ACT sometime in the future, do not be worried if you see a fifth section. Know that this section is experimental and will not count towards your ACT composite score.

That being said, you should treat the section seriously since it will affect future ACT test. Try to complete it to the best of your ability, but don't stress about feeling unprepared for the content. You don't need to be prepared for the content since it will not count towards your score. 


What’s Next?

Getting ready to take the ACT soon? Check out our ultimate guides to the Reading, English, Math, and Science sections. Also, make sure you know the rules and regulations.

Applying to college? Not sure where you want to go? Read our guide to finding your target school and our guide to finding your target ACT score.

Stressed about your college application? Read our guides to letters of recommendation, personal essays, and the common app.


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)


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Dora Seigel
About the Author

As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.

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