Friday, June 10, 2016

The new ACT book is out - and it's interesting

Cut to the chase take-away:  Rising seniors who retake the ACT in the fall should be prepared for a math section that includes up to three AP Statistics multiple choice questions.

The new ACT book has been released a month before I was expecting it, and the first interesting change is the title:  The Official ACT Prep Guide 2016-2017.  The "old" book (referred to among tutors as "the Red Book") had been published in 2011 and has been out of date for at least two years.  It did not reflect the addition of paired passages in the reading section, the change from seven passages to six in the science section, new emphases in the math section, or the new essay prompts.  (Note that the essay prompts were the only change that the ACT officially announced, and were likely the reason we get a new book.)  A new book was long overdue and greatly anticipated.  There were few practice tests available that reflected the new changes, and we were eager for more.  I took the April 2016 test for the sole purpose of getting a copy of the test - I paid for the question and answer service - and that brought my number of complete, up-to-date practice tests up to a grand total of 2.

The Red Book included five practice tests, but it was the 3rd edition, and they had slowly been adding to it since 2005, so I figured five tests was overly optimistic.  I was hoping for three newly written practice tests.  I was expecting the book to contain the December 2015 test, the April 2016 test and the June 2016 test.  (Remember that I thought the book would be published in July.)  I got a book with three practice tests.  One is the June 2015 test, except for the math section.  One is the April 2015 test, except for the math section.  One is sort of out of the Red Book, except for the math section.

First, let's address that Red Book test:  They did alter it by dropping the last science passage and then adding questions to the other passages to bring the total up to 40.  This reflects recent changes to the science section.  They did NOT, however, replace one of the reading passages with a paired passage.  As someone who has scrambled to find good paired-passage practice, I am more than a little annoyed.

On all three tests, the math section is a strange jumble of June 2015, April 2015, Red Book questions, and a few questions I don't recognize.  The second test is actually based on the second Red Book test with questions from April 2015 and other Red Book tests, along with a few new questions.  How odd.  The last test is based on the fourth Red Book test.There has been a lot of online speculation as to why.  Why not just put the June 2015 math test in as-is?  If it was good enough to give to students at the time, why isn't it good enough to practice with now?

There has been a great deal of speculation as to what they were trying to accomplish.  One theory is that they wanted to prevent people from being able to say, "Well, I won't bother buying this book.  I'll just access the released tests online instead."  Another is that they are signaling a change to the math section.  To examine that last question, we should ask, "What did they pull out, and what replaced it?"

The most interesting thing to me is the 23 questions that I saw for the first time.  It's extra work to write brand-new questions, assuming that is what they did, so what are these questions about?  Ten of them are on probability and statistics.  Many of those actually use notation that a student would be familiar with if he or she had taken the AP prob/stat course, but likely will NOT be familiar with otherwise.  They aren't difficult questions, but many students will be stymied by the notation.  There are also two questions on vectors.  I think it's clear that we can expect to see more questions on these topics on future ACT tests.

Students who plan to take one last shot at the ACT in the fall will want to learn some rudimentary probability and statistics to increase their chances of a top score.

You can order The Official ACT Prep Guide below:

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