Imagine a class where the teacher gives you a stack of notes. He or she tells you that to do well on the test all you need to do is to study the notes. Wanting to do your best, you do just that, carefully memorizing each point. When you sit down to take the test, however, the material is not quite the same. The questions are much harder and the concepts, while similar to those found in the notes, are far more difficult.
The obvious reaction is to feel you’ve been hoodwinked, that the teacher has intentionally mislead you. Yet, this is pretty much what the ACT has been doing for years: releasing an “official” guide purporting to give you real ACT tests, real ACT questions, and then making actual test questions that are far more subtle and difficult than those found in the book. More egregious still, the essay prompt entirely changed a few years back. But there was no way of knowing that if you simply thumbed through the ACT Prep Guide, 3rd Edition, released in 2011.
And grumble many did. But that changed a year or so back when the ACT announced that it would be releasing an entirely new Real ACT Prep Guide, called The Official ACT Prep Guide 2016-2017, replete with new tests and questions reflecting what students would see test day. Yet what we got were questions that could already be found online, questions from the old ACT prep guide, and, at best, a smattering of new questions. The furor has been palpable—the book currently has a two-star rating on Amazon, the kind of opprobrium typically reserved for memoirs of alien kidnappings.
By letting a dated prep guide stagnate in the market only to finally replace it with one that is but a mishmash of this dated material is a major letdown. And to mislead in this way is just plain wrong. So I’m making several impassioned pleas.
1. The ACT should do what College Board did with the old SAT and what it plans to do with the May 2016 SAT: release a full official practice test, not one cobbled together from old and new questions, forming a Franken-test.
2. The ACT should remove any book that provides old ACT questions. By old, I mean questions that were from one of the five original ACT “official tests” in the outdated 2011 guide. That means the current prep guide—the one just released—should be revised next year with brand new practice tests, not recycled ones.
3. For the next edition–whenever that is–provide more practice tests that reflect what students will actually see on test day. The old Real ACT Prep Guide had 5 practice tests; the new Official Guide only has 3.
4. Provide more new ACT essay prompts. Right now the official guide prep guide gives only three writing prompt reflecting the new essay format. To effectively practice students will need to have a selection of prompts so they can get a better sense of the range of topics. The old SAT released essay topics after each test; the GRE (the exam for graduate school) has hundreds of essay prompts on his home site. ACT, don’t you think it is time to step up your game?
For the last ten years, Chris Lele has been helping students excel on the SAT, ACT and GRE. In this time, he’s coached 5 students to a perfect SAT score. Some of his GRE students have raised their scores by nearly 400 points. He has taken many GMAT students from the doldrums of the 600s to the coveted land of the 700+. Rumor has it he does a secret happy dance when his students get a perfect score. You can read Chris’s awesome blog posts on the Magoosh High School Blog, and study with his lessons using Magoosh SAT Prep.