A lot of things have changed since our parents sat down to take the SAT and ACT eons ago, back when there was no color television and you had to dodge dinosaurs on your way to school. But the tests themselves, a staple in the college admissions process, have stayed remarkably, well, standard. There’s always a long list of analogies on the SAT, and the science section of the ACT consistently includes the analysis of way too many graphs.
But all that is about to change. The SAT has been losing market share to the ACT every year for a while now, but in 2011, for the first time ever, the number of students who took the ACT surpassed the number who took the SAT. This has prompted the SAT to introduce plans for a major overhaul in order to stay relevant.
The SAT has always been more “skill-based” than the ACT, but is planning to reinvent itself to align more closely with what students are actually learning in the classroom. That means that the SAT is doing away with its traditional analogy section, increasing the difficulty of its math section, and focusing its questions on analyzing evidence. Although SAT president David Coleman has made no effort to hide his dislike of the essay (as it’s currently scored, a student could earn full points for describing how the Lannisters and Starks fought alongside Elvis in World War II, as long as their version of events was well-argued), it seems unlikely that the essay section, first introduced in 2005, will be removed. Ironically, the result of these changes will be an SAT that is increasingly similar to the rival ACT.
The ACT, on the other hand, is flying high. If the SAT has been “skill-based,” the ACT has always concentrated more on high school curriculum, a focus that it makes no plans to change. Instead, the ACT will be the first of the two standardized exam giants to make the leap to digital testing. Starting in 2015, the ACT will also offer a digital exam in addition to the usual pen-and-paper version. Computer versions of the test will include more creative exam questions, like a free-response one where students manipulate solutions and beakers and write conclusions based on observed results. The ACT fully admits it has a good deal of logistics to figure out: What if schools don’t have enough computers for all students? How will it account for the different kind of questions found on digital versus paper tests? Will students be able to choose which test they take? Nevertheless, the ACT has expressed excitement over being the first to offer a more engaging college admissions test to students.
The ACT has also revealed plans to begin offering standardized testing for students as young as in third grade. It cites college readiness as a goal that begins in elementary and middle school, instead of in high school. Alabama has already signed on to use these new tests as end-of-year assessments.
So what does this mean for you? If you’re a young Prospector who won’t be taking these college admissions tests for a few years, get excited for the chance to take a test without your hand cramping up from hours of filling in Scantron bubble sheets. If you’ll take the tests in the next year or two (or are already in college), too bad, you missed the boat, but look at it this way – at least you won’t have to be drilling your kids on SAT vocabulary 20 years from now.