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Digital ACT vs. In-Person ACT: Which Is Better?

Since 1959, the ACT has helped high school students demonstrate college readiness and qualify for scholarships. But in February 2024, ACT (which is also the name of the organization that designs and administers the exam) launched its biggest change in years: offering a digital version of the ACT as an optional alternative to the classic pencil and paper exam format.

While no content or formatting features of the test will change, this still presents all test-takers with a new dilemma: to take the old, paper-and-pencil version or this new digital version of the ACT. This article will help with that decision by breaking down the advantages and disadvantages of both options offer as well as providing proven tips for determining which version will help you maximize your ACT score.

What’s Changing About the ACT?

The ACT has actually been offering a digital version of the exam in some states and districts since 2016, as well as for international students since 2018. But it’s only now that high schoolers all over the U.S. will have the chance to choose a digital option on the ACT’s mainstream national testing days.

The pilot versions of the digital ACT were first administered in December 2023, with 5,000 test takers participating. ACT began offering broader access starting in February of 2024, with increasing numbers of testing centers around the country offering a digital option.

The main reason for the change is that the digital version offers accessibility features that help more students to take the test on a level playing field. This change should make the ACT more accessible to a wider variety of students to be a more effective tool for admissions and scholarship committees to make effective award decisions.

Some important features offered by the new digital ACT include:

  • Support for screen-reader users
  • Text-to-speech functionality
  • Live videoconferencing
  • Answer masking
  • On-screen calculator

What’s Still the Same?

The ACT organization is adamant that nothing about the content or structure of the test itself is fundamentally changing, only the option to take the test in a new format. In particular, the following features of the test will remain the same for the new digital option and the paper-and-pencil option:

  • Test and question content
  • Timing
  • Registration
  • Score reports
  • Testing fees and fee waiver programs
  • Acceptable calculators
  • Availability of special accommodations
  • Use of scratch paper
  • The test’s fundamental goals and principles: evaluating college applicants’ knowledge and college readiness, determining their starting skill level for course selection, and helping students connect with scholarship opportunities

Digital ACT Advantages

Depending on the student, the new digital ACT option may offer several advantages.

  • Accessibility: Not every ACT test taker is the same. Every student has their own skills, needs, knowledge, and challenges. It’s not possible to design a test that perfectly assesses every applicant’s college readiness, since a test is a simulated environment in which every student will perform differently. But the new ACT is an important step closer to meeting every student where they are and enabling each to succeed equally.

    The new features of screen-reader support, text-to-speech functionality, zoom, and answer-masking will help more students perform at their true talent level. And that’s a big win for everyone.
  • Time Management: As anyone who has prepared for a standardized test knows, time management is a skill independent of academic knowledge. Many students know the subject of the ACT quite well but fail to demonstrate that knowledge because they’re not as skilled with time management.

    The new ACT comes with an on-screen timer, which can help students to manage their time more effectively and efficiently.
  • Familiarity/Test Prep: This is another very important dimension. As any good tutor knows, it’s important, throughout test prep, to simulate testing conditions as closely as possible. This helps students prepare for the actual test, and not merely the academic subject matter.

    However, most practice tests and test prep software are available digitally. This has meant that most students have experienced a large gap between their test prep routine and the actual experience of the test. By offering the digital option, students will have a greater ability to conduct their test prep in a way that prepares them for test day. And by increasing your sense of familiarity, you should be better equipped to demonstrate the benefits of your ACT test prep.
  • Test Anxiety: Test anxiety is one of the biggest factors that keeps students from performing up to their true potential on the ACT. But all of the above features can help mitigate testing anxiety, enabling test takers to perform at their best.
  • Improved Writing Efficiency: Most students in 2024 have adapted to writing on computers and electronic devices and find this a much more efficient format for organizing their thoughts than pencil and paper.
  • Faster Score Reports: The new digital ACT option can shrink the wait time for score reports from a minimum of ten business days to ten business days. This can help students who are applying on a tight deadline.

Which Version Is Best for You?

All of the above does not necessarily mean that the digital version of the ACT is the right move for you. It’s a highly subjective decision and the right answer will vary from student to student. That said, these are some questions you can ask yourself to help make the right decision for you:

  • What is your personally preferred testing format?
  • Do you feel more comfortable working on a computer, or on a paper booklet?
  • Do you need extra accessibility support?
  • Do you live near an available digital testing center?
  • Do you need a faster score report?

The most important consideration will be availability of the Digital ACT in your area. You'll need to visit to determine where you can take the digital version of the exam and not all testing centers will have both versions of the test to offer.

Of course, making the right decision with all this information is still a tall order. One thing you might consider is making an appointment with an ACT tutor. MyGuru’s expert tutors can help you assess your test prep needs. From there, they can help you choose the right approach for you, and they can help you design a customized 1-on-1 study plan that will allow you to do your best on the ACT and put yourself in the best position to get accepted to your dream school.