The September 2016 ACT – Test Report

We are pleased to report that the September administration of the ACT seems to have gone off without a hitch. No stories of widespread cheating or score-cancellation drama (at least, no high-profile stories) have emerged from the sea of students that sat for this weekend’s test. It seems, actually, that this Saturday’s ACT was both uneventful and highly predictable: the test held few, if any, surprises.


On the English section, in passages whose topics ranged from Little Richard to the Liberty Bell, the ACT has maintained the long-term trend of emphasizing punctuation rules, particularly those relating to commas.

There was one particularly taxing iteration of a comma question that falls right in line with a question type we’ve seen more and more of in the past few years: the dreaded conjunctive adverb question. These questions take advantage of the strict usage rules surrounding conjunctive adverbs (words like however, instead, and nevertheless), usually by testing whether students know how to properly punctuate these words and whether they can use conjunctive adverbs as transitional language between clauses without creating run-on sentences. Students who were able to field this tricky punctuation question correctly knew to treat the conjunctive adverb as nonessential information and block them off with commas.

There were also a number of questions that tested students’ ability to gauge whether a particular piece of info is relevant or irrelevant, which highlights the most important skill for the reading section: framing the scope of a passage. This is just one example of the overlap of skill sets shared between ACT English and ACT Reading.

We also saw a verb tense question on Saturday’s test that was a bit tougher than usual, as it forced students not only to differentiate between past and present, perfect and continuous, but to choose between complex verb tenses that string together variations of helping verbs and verb fragments, a challenge even for the most natural and native of speakers.


While the ACT Math section has not changed significantly in years, each exam seems to add one minor concept that previously went untested. This week’s test was no exception.

cartesian planes quadrant system ACT math

For the first time, we saw questions directly testing “set theory,” otherwise known as union theory, which states that the union of a collection of sets is the set of all distinct elements in the collection (easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, right?). Clearly, this is a concept students will have to be ready for when they sit the next exam. We will be keeping an eye on any developments in how the ACT tests unions.

Other demanding questions appearing on this week’s ACT included a difficult trigonometry question that relied on students’ understanding of triangle inequality theory, the translation of points that make up a triangle in the context of the Cartesian plane’s quadrant system, and a number of rather difficult questions made easy by the ACT’s allowance of calculators. So, know how to use the tools you are given!


This week’s reading section did not feature anything too out-of-the-ordinary. Questions and passage types seemed to fit squarely within the ACT’s established style range. The most unusual characteristic of Saturday’s ACT Reading section was that it did not contain a paired passage, even though the ACT began to include paired passages on every test less than two years ago. We will keep our eye on this development as well.

Literary Narrative (formerly Prose Fiction) – A narrative text about a slow learner, Joanna, and her sister, Sylvia, that takes places in the early 20th century, excerpted from “There is Confusion,” a 1924 novel written by Jessie Redmon Fauset.

Social Science An expository text dealing with the history of London Coffeehouses during the time of Charles I and II. This wasn’t the most traditional social science topic the ACT has ever featured, Geothermal phenomena of Yellowstone Park ACT but the structure and content of the passage were fairly straightforward.

Humanities – A narrative text that seems to merge Social Science (Psychology) and Humanities (Art History), this passage centered on the account of a museum director traveling to NYC in order to “discover” and assess the quality of a previously unknown Michelangelo.

Natural Science A descriptive text that delves into the science of volcanology, focusing on the geothermal phenomena of Yellowstone Park.


muon decay ACT ScienceThankfully, the ACT continues to include 6 passages per section, rather than the previous 7, a real difference for students who struggle to finish ACT Science in time.

This week’s science section was relatively standard. There were no “curve balls,” nothing unexpected thrown at test-takers. On the whole, the section was Physics-heavy, including entirely expected topics, like light refraction, although the test also featured one daunting Chemistry passage on mixing solutions and a Biology passage on how temperature affects populations of microorganisms.

The conflicting viewpoints passage on this week’s test was pretty challenging. It dealt with three students’ perspectives on how a muon (an elementary particle) might decay before hitting the earth traveling close to the speed of light, grounding their theories in mathematics.



The Essay prompt dealt with whether people should compare themselves to others. It introduced the subject by asserting that while many think comparing oneself to others helps an individual better him or herself, others think doing so can have negative consequences. The three perspectives roughly break down as follows:

P1 – What’s a bit of competition? It helps us improves ourselves.

P2 –You don’t know what others have gone through to get to the point they are at, so there’s no use in comparing yourself to others.

P3 – We should appreciate our unique selves and learn to accept ourselves.

All in all, this Saturday’s ACT test did not hold many surprises, but we at The Edge will remain vigilant to any and all changes to the ACT and report back to you as soon as possible.

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