ArborBridge’s Guide to Computer-Based Testing:

What We Know & What We Don’t Know

Updated October 16, 2018

Reports from Testing Rollout

This fall, the ACT administered its first computer-based exams for all students outside the U.S. Here are some highlights from the initial rollout, gathered from news sources as well as ArborBridge’s students and counselor networks. Further down, you’ll find updated general information about test sites, dates & deadlines, and more.

Overall Student Experience 

The vast majority of students were able to successfully take the exam, and many found certain aspects of the computer-based format to be intuitive and easy to work with—or, at the very least, no more difficult than the paper-based experience. Additionally, most ArborBridge students received official scores comparable to those of their best practice exams during the preparation process, putting to rest fears that the computer-based format would unpredictably swing either individual success or overall scoring.

Test Center Cancellations

While the vast majority of test administrations went smoothly, there were significant problems in some places. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, at least 39 non-U.S. test sites were cancelled at the last minute (within one week of the exam) because they weren’t ready to administer the exam. Students registered for these sites were reassigned to sites within two hours’ commuting distance where possible. If no site was available within that radius, students received refunds for their September exam, or could contact ACT directly if they were willing to travel more than two hours to take the exam for help in finding a seat at a center farther away.

Test Day Glitches

Students at some sites were not able to complete the exam due to technical issues. On social media, we saw reports from site administrators that when they opened for testing on the day itself, the ACT’s computer system experienced glitches that prevented them from checking in students. After troubleshooting with ACT for hours as students waited, these test sites had to cancel the exam. Meanwhile, our own students and test takers reported small tech glitches that disrupted but didn’t cancel testing (such as the entire site’s computers shutting down midway through a section). In these cases, student progress was saved and timers paused so students could resume testing when systems restarted. Our students also reported non-technical hiccups (such as proctors unsure of how to deal with issues or generally unfamiliar with the new exam format).


While most students taking the ACT outside the U.S. going forward can expect to have a positive experience, the prevalence of issues so far, both big and small, reinforces the fact that students must have a back-up test date and plan in mind. They must also be prepared for the glitches that may disrupt their test experience and have the tools to get back into the test mindset once the test resumes.

What We Know & What We Don’t Know

Site Changes

What We Know: In the summer of 2018, the ACT released a full list of 2018-2019 test locations by country. Some schools that have historically hosted the ACT are continuing to do so; others are no longer on the roster. The ACT has also partnered with computer centers that routinely administer other computer-based exams (like TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, etc.). For an in-depth analysis of how test site access has changed, read ArborBridge’s blog post on the topic.

What We Don’t Know: The list of test centers has already changed since they were first announced, and we can expect the landscape to continue changing. You can access the ACT’s recent master list here (updated September 30), but for the most accurate, up-to-date, and relevant information, students should view available sites via the registration process at


What We Know: The test will be offered six times a year (September, October, December, February, April, June). That’s one more time than in the past.

What We Don’t Know: It is up to the test centers which dates they will offer, and many are not offering all six. Students should check exact date availability at their desired test centers via the registration process at

Four Testing Windows

What We Know: For each “test date,” ACT will offer the test four times (Friday morning and afternoon and Saturday morning and afternoon), with a stated intention that this will create more flexibility for students and centers. The ACT has requested that centers that offer the afternoon test on any given day need to also offer the morning test. Students will have the option to select their testing window at the time of registration, pending center availability.

What We Don’t Know: It is up to the test centers to decide which testing windows they will offer, and many are not offering all four. Students should check exact testing window availability at their desired test centers via the registration process at


What We Know: The cost of the international ACT without writing will be $150 (up from $103.50); with writing, it will cost $166.50 (up from $120).

Registration Details & Deadlines

What We Know: Registration for the all 2018-2019 test dates is currently open. Students register for the international test via a new portal, Students who took the paper-based exam previously will have to make a new registration account. There will be no standby testing available at CBT centers. Late registration deadlines will be a week before the exam. See the full table of international dates and deadlines for the 2018-2019 school year below.

Test Content & Timing

What We Know: The number of questions, the content tested, and the timing in each section will remain the same as the current ACT.

What We Don’t Know: While the timing and content will remain the same for now, the ACT may switch to an adaptive test in the coming years, which could allow the ACT to shorten the test (it’s easier for an adaptive test to quickly narrow into a student’s score).

Score Release

What We Know: Many scores for the multiple-choice sections are now be available within two business days of the exam; Writing scores will be delivered within 2–3 weeks. CBT scores will be comparable to paper-based scores. Additionally, students can still choose at registration to automatically have their scores sent to up to four schools free of charge. As in the past, these scores will be sent to schools before students see how they performed. If a student selects four schools in this way, the student will have to rank the schools in order of implied preference, and schools will see how the student ranked them.


What We Know:

Students who take the test with Timing Code 6, or 50% extended time in one day, can choose either CBT at a test center or traditional paper-based testing at their home schools, based on advice from their counselors or teachers. (ArborBridge recommends that students who have a choice choose paper-based testing.) Any student with 50% extended time who opts to take CBT will take it at an official test center, just like standard students.


All other accommodations (testing over multiple days, stop-the-clock breaks, 100% extended time, etc.) will still take the ACT via “Special Testing” at their home schools on paper.


What We Don’t Know: The ACT has released different statements at different times regarding options from Timing Code 6 students. Policies for students with accommodations could continue to shift.

Practice Materials

What We Know: ACT has released ONE practice test students can use to test out the computer interface. You can view it here (scroll down to “Computer-Based Practice Tests” and click on a section title to view it). Students will also be able to view this same practice test on the MyACT registration portal once they have registered for a test. Students should carefully consider how they use this valuable resource. If you plan to formally prepare for the ACT, take care not to spend much time viewing the passages or content in advance of taking it as a full practice test. We recommend planning your use of this test with the guidance of a tutor in the context of a preparation program.

What We Don’t Know: If or when other official ACT practice tests will become available.

Testing Materials

What We Know: Students are now provided with a whiteboard and dry-erase marker, rather than paper, to use for scratch work during the exam. It will have one side blank and one side gridded. No computer-based calculator will be available; historic calculator policies will remain.

What We Don’t Know: Exactly what erasing tools students will receive. So far, students have had variable experiences depending on test site: some have received erasing tools; others have had to use their hands.


What We Know: Proctors no longer consistently read directions out loud; students read testing directions quietly to themselves on the screen, and can jump ahead through these directions at their own pace, meaning it’s possible that students could start and finish different sections at slightly different times.

What We Don’t Know: How precisely this will affect the testing room environment. So far, students have had varying experiences in precisely how proctors interacted with students and administered directions on test day.

Reason for CBT Transition

What We Know: This move is all about cheating and cost management. Moving to digital test will make it easier for ACT to prevent cheating abroad and ultimately in the U.S. when ACT feels confident enough to release it domestically. A few ways this move may curb cheating:


  1. If ACT learns of leaked material at the last minute, ACT can simply send out new test material via its secure server. No more last-minute cancellations like in September 2017.
  2. ACT may be able to better track student answer patterns and look for cheating anomalies after the test.
  3. ACT could mix up sections across the test centers, countries, time zones (i.e. one test center gets English Section A, Math A, Reading A, Science A; another English B, Math A, Reading B, Science A…). ACT may need to do just that to prevent cheating across the four testing windows on each test date.

Adaptive Testing

What We Know: The test in 2018–2019 will NOT be adaptive. But ACT will be adaptive eventually. This is the “gold standard” format for a CBT to prevent cheating. It would allow ACT to give every student a unique test.

What We Don’t Know: ACT has not indicated a timeline for such a transition and whether an adaptive test would change the test length, content, or format.