• 20 May 2018
What Do Students Need to Know About the Online ACT?

What Do Students Need to Know About the Online ACT?

Apr 24, 2018

As the nation’s big college entrance exams go digital, so are a growing number of school districts opting for online-only standardized testing. Here’s what’s new with the online ACT and how students should prepare for the exam.

Students are increasingly taking the ACT and its rival, the SAT, online. This year, juniors from 29 states and Washington, D.C. will be required to sit one of the two major college entrance exams, many of them in front of a computer as the exams and school districts transition to digital-only.

So what do students (and tutors) need to know about taking the ACT online?

What’s Changed

If a school district has opted for digital-only exams, most students will need to sit for the ACT using a school-issued computer or Chromebook. Only students with special accommodations for a disability can sit the paper exam instead. Some school districts have opted for mixed mode assessment, which gives students the option to sit either the online or paper exam.

To prevent issues like networks crashing or different internet speeds, the ACT test administrator, Pearson Assessment, has rolled out “proctor caching”: each test site has a dedicated local server where each student’s exam is stored before and after the exam. The data is then transferred to Pearson upon completion of the exam.

Students can bookmark questions to return to later and mark off questions they don’t want to answer. A time tracker indicates how much time is left for a particular section.

On test day, students can still use scratch paper and pencils to work through answers.

Preparing for the Exam

TestNav is the ACT’s online assessment portal, and provides access to a database of practice exams in English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and Writing, as well as guidelines for taking the exam. Students in certain states can also take practice exams for some state-based standardized exams, like Minnesota and Virginia.

The ACT has released a helpful how-to series for TestNav, including a video, guide, and a guided tutorial that takes students through each step of the online test experience.

There’s also the ACT Academy, which was launched this spring and offers students a convenient resource for test prep, with sample questions, full-length practice exams, and interactive learning content.

Tutors can work through the test prep material with students, and assess their students’ comfort level with the online test environment. After all, not every student is going to have the right fortitude to sit through an online exam.


Don’t forget that forewarned is forearmed: here’s the 2018 ACT (and SAT) exam schedule. Whether sitting the paper or digital, students need plenty of practice before the big day. So pencils up! (Or, er, get typing!)