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The ACT exam is a significant assessment for high school students preparing for college. This standardized test plays a crucial role in the college admissions process, evaluating students’ knowledge and skills in English, math, reading, and science. This winter, the ACT is introducing a choice that makes test-taking more flexible for students: the option to take the exam either on paper or online. We will explore the pros and cons of each format in this blog post, helping you make an informed decision about which is right for you.

The Paper-Based ACT

Traditional Comfort:

The paper-based ACT is the classic, time-tested format that has been used for decades. For many students, this familiarity can provide a sense of comfort. You’ll use a physical pencil to mark your answers on the question booklet, and many find this tactile experience reassuring.

No Technical Worries:

One advantage of the paper-based test is that it eliminates potential technical issues that can arise during online testing. With paper, there’s no need to worry about internet connectivity, software glitches, or hardware malfunctions. That being said, ACT test centers will have additional test-ready devices on hand to swap out if technical difficulties occur during an online test.

Ideal for Some Accommodations:

Certain students with special accommodations may find the paper-based format more suitable for their needs. For instance, those who require a reader, scribe, or extra time may prefer the traditional test.

The Online ACT

Enhanced Navigation:

The online version should allow for smooth navigation throughout the test. You can easily move back and forth between questions, review and change answers, and mark questions for review. This flexibility can be particularly beneficial for managing your time effectively during the test. Additionally, you won’t have to take extra time to bubble your answers on a scantron sheet.

Environmentally Friendly:

In an era where environmental concerns are paramount, the online format is a greener option. It eliminates the need for printing millions of test booklets, reducing paper waste and conserving resources.

Ideal for Some Accommodations:

The following accessibility tools will be built into the ACT’s testing software and should be immediately available to accommodate the needs of a variety of test takers:

  • Choice of colors and color contrast 
  • Magnification 
  • Line reader tool (mimics straight edge used in paper testing for visual tracking) 
  • Text-to-speech functionality
  • Highlight text or parts of an item 
  • Answer-masking or custom masking 
  • Mark an item for review 
  • Option eliminator 
  • Indicator of time remaining 
  • Online calculator

Factors to Consider When Choosing

Comfort with Technology:

ACT test centers will provide students with devices to take the test; currently, Chromebooks and Windows PCs are first in line to support ACT testing software. If you’re tech-savvy and comfortable using any computer or tablet, the online format may suit you well. However, if you have limited experience with digital tools, you may prefer the traditional paper version.

Special Accommodations:

If you have special accommodations, consult with the ACT organization to determine which format can best accommodate your needs. You can also read our advice on Digital vs paper testing for students with accommodations: click here to learn about the Digital SAT for students with accommodations, here to learn how the SAT and ACT compare for students with accommodations, and here to learn whether the Digital SAT is better than the paper ACT for students with accommodations.

Online vs Paper ACT 1


While the paper and digital versions of the ACT offer new choices and opportunities, everything about the test itself will remain the same. The number of questions and time allotted for each section of the test will not change, nor will the testing fees, fee waivers, or score reporting. The choice between the paper-based and online versions of the ACT depends on your individual preferences, comfort with technology, and specific requirements. Both formats have their advantages and drawbacks, so consider the factors that matter most to you when making your decision. Ultimately, the goal is to perform at your best, so choose the format that aligns with your strengths and circumstances. 

Regardless of your choice, thorough preparation is key to achieving your desired ACT score and advancing toward your academic goals. Mindfish can help you prepare for the test and maximize your score with our variety of 1-on-1 Test Prep Tutoring Programs. For more information, contact our Admin team at 720-204-1041 or admin@mindfish.com.