The Latest on the ACT and Computer-Based Testing

Posted on 1st November 2018


What’s happened?

In September 2018, the ACT became an online test (Computer Based) internationally. Students taking the test outside of the USA are now required to take the test on a computer at a test centre, unless they have special accommodations.

Additionally, for each test sitting, students can decide whether to take the test on Friday mornings, Friday afternoons, Saturday mornings, or Saturday afternoons. There is also a new test date in February 2019, so there are more flexible opportunities to take the ACT.

I heard there were issues with the September and October tests?

There were some technical difficulties in some test centres. Some students experienced delays, and one or two students were turned away when computers didn’t work. It was worse in some countries than others, but overall things went fairly smoothly, and no worse than what can happen with paper tests such as tests not turning up, or there not being enough for all the students!

We expected there to be some technical glitches, and while some students were affected, it generally went quite well.

Has the format changed?

No. The test and its sections are the same length and format as the old paper-based test, just on a computer. Instead of filling in answers on a bubble sheet, students now select their choices on screen. The Writing section has to be typed, rather than hand-written as before.

The test centre will provide scrap paper for you to work on, and you still need to bring an approved calculator.

The best thing about the change is that scores (except the Writing) come out within 48 hours!

But what about underlining?

Well, you can’t underline on the screen, but there are online tools such as highlighting, zooming, and answer choice blanking.

Is it harder than the paper-based version?

It doesn’t appear so. Our students in the UK and Europe haven’t had many complaints. In fact, we’ve had quite good feedback.

Where are the tests held?

There are test centres across the world in most major cities. In the UK, most of the test centres are operated by PSI, an external testing company. We have created a list of London test centres here .

It can be difficult to work out where the test centres are when you register. When you choose a test date, search by city (noting that some cities are spelt in capitals letters and some in lower case letters on the ACT’s system!). Once you select a test centre and date/time and add it to your Cart, go to your Cart to see the exact address. If it’s not correct, delete it from your Cart and go back to add a new test centre; this can be tedious but is the only way to see the full address at the moment.

When are the next ACT tests?

The full list of upcoming dates is:

  • Friday 7 th  and Saturday 8 th  December 2018
  • Friday 8 th  and Saturday 9 th  February 2019
  • Friday 12 th  and Saturday 13 th  April 2019
  • Friday 7 th  and Saturday 8 th  June 2019

How should I prepare for the Computer-Based ACT?

As with all tests, preparation and practice is the key. There shouldn’t be much change in the way you prepare for the ACT, except that you should bear in mind that you won’t be able to write on the actual questions themselves. We recommend always doing working on separate scrap paper (carefully dividing the paper question by question) as you will have to in the test. Using paper tests is fine to start with, but as you get closer to the test date make sure you’re using online tests so you get used to how it feels.

We run mock CBT tests ourselves, which are a proven way to improve your score. You can register for these here .

Where can I find free ACT practice tests?

There are official practice CBT tests for the ACT available here:

  1. Go to and click on 'Practice tests' (no need to log in).
  2. Log in to and click on 'Practise Test' near the bottom.
  3. Go to and sign up as a student. Once logged in, click on 'Take a practice ACT test'.

How do I register for the ACT?

To register for the ACT outside of the US, you should go to this site to create an account and register. Note that this is a different site to the one for US-based tests!

What if I need extra time (accommodations)?

Just as with the old paper test, students can apply for extra time (called accommodations). Depending on their needs, this could be 50% or 100% extra time. In some cases, students will be allowed to take the test on paper in their school. If not, some PSI test centres accept students with accommodations, but not many.

Applying for accommodations takes time, and it’s best to work with the student’s school. You should apply at least eight weeks before the test. You can apply online when you register for the ACT – select that you require accommodations, and follow the instructions, and involve your school straight away. Please contact us if you need any advice on this.

Should I take the SAT instead?

In our experience, the new CBT tests haven’t had an impact on students’ performances on the test, as long as they prepare properly. We think students should still choose the test that is right for them based on content. Take a look at both tests and consider taking a diagnostic test like this one from UES . The test that’s right for students depends on how good their maths is and how fast they can process information. The SAT has more in-depth maths, but the ACT is more time-pressured, so each has their own strengths and drawbacks! You can read more about the differences here .

What’s happening now?

CBT (Computer-Based Testing) is here to stay. The SAT will likely follow suit at some point, as there are lots of advantages, not least that it’s so much quicker to mark and tests don’t have to be shipped across the world!

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you practise as much as possible, and ask for help if you need it! Please contact us if you have any questions.

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