Using a Formative ACT for Skill-Driven Test Prep

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SWBAT ascertain skill strengths and weaknesses to improve instruction and ACT preparation by taking a digital practice test and continue gathering relevant, credible research to support their argumentative research projects.

Big Idea

Want to grade 150 Reading & English practice ACTs in 3 minutes while generating student-specific and whole-class skill reports? Read this!


5 minutes

Today students will be taking a practice ACT test.  Announcing this prior to today would cause significant whining and groans (and, perhaps, more absences!), so I will spring this on them when they come in the door.  While many teachers pummel away at ACT Prep, I really, really hate it as a rule.  It isn't consistent with the Common Core.  It takes FOREVER to grade.  For example, this 0359F practice test is the one available for free in the 2003-2004 "Preparing for the ACT Assessment" Booklet, and when I was having students take it on paper, it would take me HOURS to hand-grade and even longer to enter them into the computer to make any sense of the data!  Additionally, ACT prep isn't engaging.  And, oddly enough, it isn't usually effective.  What IS effective is being a good teacher over the course of the year.  However, one of the benefits to 1:1 instruction this year is the fact that all of my students are able to give me feedback nearly instantly...on anything.  AND, good teachers seek out feedback...on everything!  For several years, I've made some of this feedback come to me in the form of this "Practice" ACT, and while some students will be eager to see how they'll do, many will NOT care about a test that they may perceive as arbitrary and irrelevant to their future career path.  I explain in my reflection for this section my own thoughts on the value of this assessment, but to open the class period today, I will take about 5 minutes to build value for this practice assessment with students using these points:

  • Many of you have taken the ACT before, and many of you are taking ACT prep classes right now, so you might not think this activity is all that helpful, but you're wrong.  This practice test does what most other tests don't tells you what specific skills you can work on to improve your score next time.  Instead of seeing a couple subscores and an overall score that really means nothing to you, then taking it again hoping for different results, I'm going to break down your results by skill and give you THREE top areas that you can work on.  Instead of trying to prepare for every grammar concept out there for the ACT, which is overwhelming and not that effective, you'll get a report that will tell you three specific subareas (like maybe commas, apostrophes, and pronouns) that would improve your score the MOST with the LEAST amount of effort.  We'll take another test down the line, but this way we can be working on these general concepts throughout the year.  Then, if you improve on these three areas, the second "post" test we'll take will give you three more areas that might still need work.  Doing your best on this assessment will give you the GREATEST chance to know where you can maximize your effort for maximized results.
  • I've seen students have the potential to go up 10+ points in English only by working on these three items.  That's pretty awesome, and the focused work makes it SO much more attainable.  
  • Even if you're not planning on going to college right out of high school, and thus think the ACT is incredibly pointless, consider that you may decide to go to college one day.  I will let you in on a little secret.  You WILL get dumber after high school (at least in the school-subjects sense), especially in subjects like math and grammar.  You want to do well on the ACT so that you can keep your options open for the future.  I can guarantee you that you don't want to go back and learn Trig or the appropriate use of "whom" when you're trying to get into college again at 30.  It's not fun.  
  • No matter how unhappy you are with your score today, YOU CAN (AND WILL) IMPROVE.  Your solid effort now will lead to a greater ability to improve.  One totally focused class period can be the start to that improvement.
  • If you are definitely going to college and are looking at scholarships, remember that a higher ACT score means more money for you!  Even if you've gotten a 28 in a practice test before now and think that's pretty good, you wouldn't believe how much of a monetary difference a few points more will make on your award amount.  It's worth the effort.

After I've made my pitch for effort, students will open their browsers to the first part of the test and wait for my start.

ACT English Pretest

45 minutes

In order to take the test and allow me to score it efficiently, I put it online.  Students will navigate to my Practice English ACT page.  Their responses will be collected with the embedded English 0359F ACT Practice Test Form.  If you would rather give students a paper version of the test and then have them enter their answers into a form like this one, that would work as well.  All of the resources are set up to coordinate with this form (for automatic scoring, etc.), so if you want to utilize that without any changes, you'll need to make a form with the same responses.  This is easily done within your own Google Drive account by starting a new form, then copy/pasting my questions and answers into the form.  Please note that simply giving students the test link shared above will NOT allow you to view their responses.  In order to collect responses from your students and make use of the data, you must copy & past the information from the Practice Test Form above into your OWN Google Form.  While students take the 45 minute assessment, I will write up on the board the times remaining.  I like to put up there 1/3 done, 2/3 done, 5 minutes left, and DONE times so that students can easily pace themselves at the 25, 50, and 75 questions.  Also during the test, I will be monitoring students to make sure they really are giving effort and keeping track of students who submit their forms ridiculously early.  I will follow up with these students after class (or via email) to inquire about their rationale and urge them to use all or most of their time on the assessment.  

When students have completed this assessment, an "English 0359F ACT Practice Test Form (Responses)" file (or whatever you named your Google Form) will appear in your Drive.  The responses from this document are what you will need to enter into the Instant ACT 0359F Grading Workbook, which is contained in the "Grading" section below.

ACT Reading Practice

35 minutes

Immediately after time is called on the practice English section, we will take a VERY short breather and launch into the practice Reading test.  To encourage them to keep trying their best, I will thank them for doing so so far, and I will remind them that this test, too, will come with a detailed skill breakdown to help them improve their score the MOST with the LEAST amount of effort.  I will also write times on the board to help students keep track.  For this test, I usually write when it's going to be 1/4 done, 1/2 done, 3/4 done, 5 minutes left, and DONE.  This way, students can use their progress on each passage as a guide to their time.  Since it's only 35 minutes, I usually short the first section and give it only 8 minutes on the board, as Prose Fiction is the easiest in my opinion.

In order to access this test, they will access the Practice Reading ACT 0395F Form.  Since this test incorporates more text, I chose to embed each passage into the form itself, but if you're recreating the form for your own use (and you're not into exploring Google Forms to embed the image), you can simply copy/paste the question & answer sets like you did above, then print or link the images.  In order to make the image larger (for viewing or printing), you just need to right-click on the text (which is an image), then select "Open in a New Tab."  I will tell students this as well, since some may want it larger, and a new tab will let them zoom in on the text.  I highly doubt students will use this option for this though, as most of them can read ridiculously tiny print!  I anticipate some students will choose to pop it into a new tab and view them side-by-side, however, so I will mention it.  In order to make this easier, I'll include all the separate links below:

Once students have completed the test, you will use the Instant ACT 0359F Grading Workbook and the Responses generated in your form (based on my Practice Reading ACT 0395F Form) to plug your data in and get instant student results.  This resource is contained below in the Grading section.



For both the English and Reading sections of the 0359F Practice ACT, I use the Instant ACT Grading Workbook to score and analyze the results.  This will turn what was once an hours-long exercise into one that literally only takes 3-5 minutes, with the help of Google Forms, Google Sheets, and Microsoft Excel.  The grading workbook in the resources section opens with clear directions on how to use it, but I've also included the video below that shows you both how to use the scorer and what instant-information you have access to as a teacher to improve student achievement!  


5 minutes

In the final minutes of class, I will assign students research homework and answer any questions they may have about it.  They will need to continue gathering relevant, credible research articles into their Evernote accounts using Web Clipper, and they will need to continue building their notecard collection to a total of 60 tagged notecards by the class period after next.  Last time we built outlines to help them with collecting relevant, helpful research, so I will stress that the easiest way to find research that they actually need for their paper is by searching for the specific parts of their outline that they lack evidence to support.  Sometimes students have a habit of finding several sources with either limited or repeated information, and I really want to prevent that from happening!  Ultimately, they end up taking notecards from weak sources and needing to do more research (and create subsequent notecards) later if they don't find good sources now.  As an added layer of protection against this poor research habit, students will also need to prepare an Annotated Woring Bibliography using the information and samples available through the OWL at Purdue, taking care to match the format of citations and the bibliography itself to the MLA requirements.  Annotations do not have to be lengthy, but I will require at least 2-3 complete sentences for each source they are considering using that gives a detailed summary of the article and how, specifically, they intend to use it.  Simple summaries like "this is about animal fighting" will not be tolerated, as if their topic is animal cruelty, many of their articles will have the same general topic.  The summary should be enough to differentiate articles in their mind (and in my mind), and if they are finding that their articles are not very much different, I will suggest that they find a wider array of supporting material instead of duplicating research.  See a sample of an acceptable annotated bibliography in the resources section.

Since most students will not work ahead on their notecards, and will instead do it next class period, I am also going to require them to read the remainder of the novel by next class period.  Though it seems like a lot of homework, continuing research and notecards is more of a suggestion than a requirement, so it's really just finishing the novel and getting together an annotated bibliography!

Next Steps

Before the next class period, I will send an email to each student showing them their subscores, overall scores, and three areas to work on (highlighted by the Excel document and fine-tuned by me in cases where they have ties!).  The email will not be very long.  Typically my emails look like this:





Areas to Work On:





Areas to Work On:


We will discuss what their results mean more in-depth in coming class periods.