The Ultimate Guide to Digital ACT

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Have you heard the news? The ACT exam, The American College Testing examination, is evolving! It is becoming a digital exam as opposed to the traditional pen-and-paper format. But why is this change happening? And what exactly does it insinuate? Is it going to be more complicated? And how does it differ?

Well, this article is your ultimate guide to the digital ACT. We will highlight the key differences from its traditional counterpart and offer insights into its structure and means of scoring. If you’re a first-time test-taker, you might be overwhelmed with this new change. But don’t fret! We cover everything you need to know here.

Why is ACT Going Digital?Why is ACT Going Digital?

So, why exactly is the ACT exam going digital? Well, according to the ACT organization, there are several accessibility features that they want to tap into. By offering text-to-speech, zooming, and answer masking options, they make the exam more accessible to students. Hence, it becomes more inclusive.

But the reasons extend beyond that. There are many reasons as to why the ACT is transitioning to a digital format, and some of them include:

  • Adaptation to modern technology trends: Almost all other standardized exams have already offered online exams. That includes the SAT, GRE, GMAT, and LSAT. Moreover, since students today are familiar with digital platforms, this transition is often seamless.
  • Flexibility and choice for students: Remember that you can still take the test on paper. Hence, the digital ACT merely aims to provide greater flexibility and choice for students, allowing them to select the format that best suits their learning and testing styles.
  • Efficiency in score reporting: Students taking the digital ACT may receive their scores faster than those taking the paper version. Digital tests can be scored more quickly and often with fewer mistakes, reducing the turnaround time for results and enhancing scoring efficiency.
  • Maintaining test integrity: The move to digital also addresses concerns about test security. Historically, breaches in test security have been an issue with paper-based tests. Hence, the digital format could offer more robust measures, reducing the risk of test content leaks.
  • Enhanced accessibility features: As we initially mentioned, the digital format is designed to increase accessibility for students who benefits from text-to-speech functionality, screen readers, and zooming abilities.

It is essential to emphasize a few other points about the digital ACT. First, remember that the content and scoring will remain the same as the paper version. This consistency ensures students can prepare for the ACT using the same strategies and resources.

Second, the digital ACT will be administered at test centers using the devices provided, which ensures uniformity and reliability in the testing experience. This approach addresses potential concerns about access to technology and internet connectivity.

Digital ACT vs. ACT Paper Version

Digital ACT vs. ACT Paper Version

The transition of the ACT to a digital format introduces several differences and changes compared to the traditional paper version. However, some things have not changed at all. We will further provide a detailed breakdown of these differences and points below.

Content and Structure

The paper ACT consists of four sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science, with an optional Writing section. The questions are 75, 60, 40, and 40 respectively. There is only one writing prompt. The minutes allocated for each section are 45, 60, 35, 35, and 40, respectively.

As for the digital ACT, the number of questions remains precisely the same as the paper version. The number of questions is exactly the same, and the time allocated for each section is identical to the paper exam.

Test Environment and Delivery

The paper ACT, as the name suggests, is conducted on paper. It requires students to fill out answers on a physical answer sheet. As for the digital mode, it is administered on a computer at designated test centers. The test is proctored, and the test centers provide devices.

However, you should still get your calculator, which you must also do for the paper exam. You can review the allowed calculators on the ACT website. Another critical point is that international students sitting for the exam outside the US can only take the exam through the computer.

Accessibly Features

Undoubtedly, the paper ACT offers little to no accessibility features, as it follows the traditional exam format and is limited to physical accommodations, such as extended time. As for the digital ACT, it offers enhanced accessibility features like text-to-speech, magnification, and color contrast functionality.

Scoring and Results

When you sit for the paper ACT, you should expect your multiple-choice results to be available at least ten business days after you take the exam, but sometimes it can take up to a few weeks. However, if you’re sitting for the digital ACT, you can expect your multiple-choice questions to be scored within two business days.

Hence, the digital ACT offers a faster turnaround for students. Yet, you should keep in mind that if you submit the writing section as well, you will receive the score for that one day or even weeks after your multiple-choice scores. That is because they are graded by professionals who take time to grade your pieces.

Test-Taking Experience

When sitting for the paper ACT, the environment is familiar and paper-based, allowing for physical note-taking and underlining. As for the digital version, it features an on-screen timer for better time management. The testing platform includes a built-in calculator, although you can always bring your approved calculator.

Registration and Accommodation

Both the paper and digital versions allow for accommodations and follow the same registration process. Fee waivers are available for both formats, and the exact identification and admission ticket policies apply.

How is Digital ACT Structured?

How is Digital ACT Structured?

How are digital ACT exams structured? Well, the way it was designed offers flexibility and modernizes the ACT experience while retaining core aspects of the traditional paper version. Now, we will further discuss the specific structure and content of the digital ACT exam.

This is the structure of the digital ACT exam, which is identical to the paper ACT:

  • English: 75 questions in 45 minutes
  • Mathematics: 60 questions in 60 minutes
  • Reading: 40 questions in 35 minutes
  • Science: 40 questions in 35 minutes
  • Writing (optional): 1 prompt in 40 minutes

As for the testing environment, you must take it at one of the designated testing centers on the provided digital devices. You cannot take the exam from home or use digital devices. As mentioned earlier, the digital format also includes additional accessibility options to help you enhance performance.

How is Digital ACT Scored?

How is Digital ACT Scored?

So, how does the digital ACT scoring differ from the traditional format? There are some minor differences, which only revolve around the time it takes to receive the scores for the multiple-choice section.

First, the digital ACT and the paper ACT are scored on a 36-point scale. Each of the four sections – English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science – is scored individually, and the composite score is the average of these four scores.

But the digital ACT might be winning the race regarding the scoring system because of the potential for quicker score reporting. While the paper-based ACT scores can take a minimum of 10 business days and sometimes up to a few weeks to be released, digital test takers might receive their scores in as little as two business days. This is highly beneficial for students with tight deadlines for college applications.

Digital ACT Timeline

Digital ACT Timeline

So, now we will delve into the digital ACT timeline. This will provide insights into when you can sit for the digital version and will allow you to understand further the timeframe in which the ACT is developing the digital version of the exam.

First of all came the announcement. The ACT initially announced its plans to offer a digital version of the test, aligning with broader trends toward digitalization in education and testing. This announcement came in May of 2023. Registration for the pilot phase also commenced in July 2023.

However, before its proper launch, the ACT decided to a hold a pilot phase. The first pilot of the digital ACT was scheduled for December 2023. This pilot phase was limited to 5,000 students at select locations, providing an initial opportunity to experience the digital format.

After the initial pilot program, the ACT planned to expand capacity for digital testing throughout 2024. Starting in February 2024, it will begin offering the digital version worldwide. This expansion aimed to gradually increase access to the digital format for more students across different regions.

Digital ACT vs Digital SAT

Digital ACT vs Digital SAT

The shift to digital formats for both the ACT and SAT represents a significant evolution in standardized testing. Understanding the differences between them is crucial. Hence, we will dive into the differences between the two exams while briefly explaining the differences between the digital and paper versions.

Test Structure and Content

As discussed before, the digital ACT maintains the same structure and content as the paper version. It includes four sections (English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science) with an optional Writing section. The number of questions and time for each section is identical to the paper format, with 215 questions that take 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete.

As for the digital SAT, it has a different structure compared to the paper version. The digital SAT is shorter, around an hour less than the paper SAT and the ACT. It only takes 2 hours and 14 minutes to complete. It replaces the paper SAT’s four sections with two sections comprising two modules each, reducing the total number of questions from 154 to 98.

Adaptive Testing

The digital ACT does not use adaptive testing. Each student’s exam will be predetermined before they receive it.

However, the case is different for the online SAT exam. It uses adaptive testing, meaning that the exam adapts each student’s exam based on their performance in earlier sections.


Both tests maintain their traditional scoring scales in the digital format. That is 36-point system for the ACT and a 1600-point system for the SAT.

Testing Environment

Digital ACT is only offered at select locations worldwide. This means it is administered at specific testing centers provided by the centers. Personal devices will definitely not be allowed.

As for the digital SAT, it allows students to test on their own digital devices as long as the College Board approves them. This option is subject to specific rules and conditions, including taking the exam at the testing center and not at home.

Availability and Transition Period

As discussed earlier, the ACT will still offer two options: either the digital version or the paper format. You can choose either, with the digital one becoming available in February 2024. As for the digital SAT, it plans on being fully digital starting at the beginning of Spring 2024.

Turnaround Time for Scores

While the digital ACT might potentially offer quicker score reporting, possibly within a few business days, the digital SAT is not the same. While the results might be submitted faster, it can take 2-3 weeks for you to receive them.

5 Helpful Practice Resources for the Digital ACT

5 Helpful Practice Resources for the Digital ACT

This wouldn’t be the ultimate guide to digital ACT without some references to resources you can utilize while studying. Remember that you should use the same study resources and techniques as you would for the paper ACT. However, some resources allow you also to simulate the online environment. Here are the top resources to use:

Official ACT Practice Tests

The ACT website offers a range of free resources, including practice tests that reflect the actual test format and content. These official tests are the most reliable materials for understanding the type of questions you’ll encounter on the digital ACT. The tests are available in both printable and online formats to help you adapt to the digital testing environment.

ACT Prep Guide

The Official ACT Prep Guide is a comprehensive resource that includes full-length practice tests (both in the book and online), digital flashcards, and online lessons. This guide is often referred to as the “Big Red Book” as it offers expert advice and test-taking strategies directly from markers of the ACT.

Additional Online Practice Resources

Websites like Test-Guide provide a variety of ACT-style practice tests and questions for each subject. These resources are useful for identifying your strengths and weaknesses and creating an efficient study plan. While they aren’t official ACT questions, they can still be valuable for additional practice.

Free Online Test Prep and Events

The ACT, in partnership with Kaplan, offers free online test prep and events. These include live online classes and practice tests, which can be particularly useful for getting accustomed to the digital format.

Focused Subject Practice

The ACT website also offers subject-specific practice questions, allowing you to target particular areas where you need the most practice. This targeted approach is crucial for addressing specific weaknesses in subjects like Math, English, Reading, and Science.

Remember, the key is to familiarize yourself with the digital test-taking environment. Regular practice with online tests and resources can help you become more comfortable with this format. Utilizing resources effectively will undoubtedly enhance your readiness for the digital ACT.

Wrapping Things Up: The Ultimate Guide to Digital ACT

Adding a digital ACT format marks a significant evolution in standardized testing. It addresses modern educational needs and technological trends. This will allow for enhanced features and better accessibility. The digital format also promises efficiency in score reporting, potentially reducing the turnaround time for results.

Compared to the traditional ACT, the content and structure of the exam would be the same. Compared to the digital SAT, the digital ACT maintains its original form without adaptive learning. Preparing for the exam involves online resources, including official practice tests and targeted practice for specific subjects. This comprehensive shift reflects a broader educational trend towards embracing digital solutions while maintaining the integrity and core aspects of the ACT exam.

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Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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