You made your way through four hours of standardized testing, whether the SAT or ACT. Maybe you are reviewing your strategies for the optional ACT essay or simply looking forward to going home. Either way, the sudden appearance of a fifth section can be an unpleasant surprise.
So what is the fifth section on these standardized tests, and how should you approach it?
What Is the Experimental Section?
The fifth section of the SAT or ACT is an extra 20–25 minute section, given either at the end of the test (for the SAT) or just before the optional essay (for the ACT). This section contains additional questions derived from one of the standard test sections, such as Math No-Calculator for the SAT or Science for the ACT. Although these questions can come from any section, they will not come from multiple sections.
The College Board and the ACT use these sections to try out new questions in a similar testing environment as the actual test itself. Ultimately, both the SAT and ACT want to ensure that their tests are fair and pose the same level of difficulty from one official sitting to another. Doing so allows students to be evaluated fairly and helps colleges make the best decisions possible when selecting applicants.
As of 2021, taking the ACT’s optional essay does not affect whether or not you will receive an experimental section, and, to our knowledge, students who have an extended time accommodation are not given the experimental section.
How Should I Approach the Experimental Section?
First, avoid panic! This may be different from the practice tests you have taken (either with us or on your own), but there is no reason to worry. This is a normal part of the testing process.
The ACT is clear that these experimental sections do not count toward your score. Nevertheless, we advise you to give them your greatest effort. You will be helping the makers of the ACT create a test that is fair for everyone, which, if you plan on taking the test again at a later date, could be you.
The College Board, the producers of the SAT, are less specific about whether or not the fifth section counts toward your score—explaining that some questions count, while others do not. Their goal is to make sure students try their hardest on the experimental questions; you can’t get good data if your subjects are blowing off the questions. No matter what, we encourage you to do your best.
Have any other questions about the experimental section or standardized testing in general? We are here to help.