The Rise Of The ACT

The SAT has predominantly been the staple of standardized tests for students hoping to be accepted into the nation’s top colleges. However, in recent years the ACT is becoming more popular, according to an article by Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, published in The Washington Post.

The SAT was created over 80 years ago, and 20 years ago 75% more students took the SAT than the ACT. The ACT was largely a regional test, more popular in the South, Midwest, Southwest and Mountain states.

However, most students in the 2010 graduating high school class took both tests. There were very few discrepancies of students who took one test but not the other.

Schaeffer argues that the ACT has been marketed more effectively than the SAT, which has greatly increased its popularity. The ACT is more consumer-friendly, and it always had a score choice function, which allowed students to pick which scores were sent to which colleges. The SAT finally implemented that program this year.

The ACT better represents what students learned – or should have learned – in their high school classes. Also, the ACT includes a science section, where as the SAT does not. If students do decide to take the ACT instead of the SAT, they can prep by working with a tutor or using ACT practice tests.

The ACT also has an optional writing section. The SAT’s is mandatory. Therefore, students who are not applying to schools that require a writing score can skip the section, saving time and money. Schaeffer argues that this is the most attractive aspect of the ACT.

The ACT also persuaded state administrators in Illinois, Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee and Wyoming to administer the ACT to all students. The ACT convinced these state administrators that doing so would increase the number of college applications. The College Board, which is the SAT’s sponsor, only signed up Maine to administer the SAT to all students.

The SAT has also been experiencing many problems. The test was redone in 2005 because of many criticisms, most notably from then-University of California President Richard Atkinson. The College Board then promised to redo the test to make it a more effective forecaster of a student’s success in college. However, the test-makers’ own research determined that it was neither an accurate determiner of college success nor a fair admissions tool.

Schaeffer writes that there is no significant difference how well the two tests predict student success in their first year in college. In fact, he argues that neither test accurately determines how well a first-year college student will perform. He states that high school grades are and have always been the best predictor for first-year college grades.

Both the ACT and College Board admit that their tests do not forecast first-year grades. However, this is the aim for both of the tests.

Schaeffer cited Crossing the Finish Line, which was published in 2009. This book considered many different data factors to determine that high school grades are 3 to 10 times more effective at determining college graduation rates.

Some colleges are beginning to respond to poor standardized tests by either creating their own admissions test or dropping it altogether and becoming test-optional schools. In the past five years, over 70 schools have taken this route. There are nearly 850 test-optional colleges, according to Schaeffer.

[RELATED: What is an Average ACT Score?]