test than their predecessors. Some experts believe that competition between the two tests spurred the flurry of changes. Others believe that the adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative forced both tests to change the way tests are scored and structured. It’s not the first time that the College Board, the SAT administrator, or ACT, Inc., the ACT administrator, has made changes. It won’t be the last. But, what does it mean for you as a student?
The ACT Changes: Large and Small
In June of 2014, ACT officials announced a series of changes that will take place in 2015. Most of the changes involve the addition of new scores designed to give students a better indication of strengths and weaknesses and identify areas where they excel.
New scores include the following:
Writing passages will include a “text complexity progress indicator,” similar to the current reading section.A separate STEM score, based on math and science section scores.Instead of a composite score on the optional writing test, students will receive scores on language use, development and support, ideas and analysis and organization.A new English language score based on the reading, writing and English sections.A “progress toward career readiness” score, designed to give students a heads-up about successful career paths.
The modifications to the ACT itself include an increase in probability and statistical questions in the math section and greater complexity in one or more of the reading comprehension questions.
Another change that has not received much press is a restriction in the type of calculators permitted in the exam room. A study conducted by Northern Kentucky University professor Stephen Newman found that simply using a calculator with Zoom Math (a common algebra software program) for algebraic questions on the ACT Compass test and guessing the rest of the answers always resulted in a passing score. Other researchers confirmed his findings. As a result of the study, Kentucky banned the use of augmented calculators from ACT Compass tests in April of 2014. In May, Ed Colby, ACT spokesman, said that the ACT had also banned augmented calculators for the ACT Compass test.
The SAT Announces Big Changes
The SAT has been around since 1926. It is no stranger to change. During the 1930s and 1940s, math questions disappeared and reappeared. The 1950s brought changes to the verbal section. The first major renovation came in 1974. The types of math questions changed from data sufficiency to quantitative comparisons. The verbal section saw reductions in reading comprehension questions and the number of antonym and analogy questions increased. A new section, the Test of Standard Written English, was introduced. The next significant group of changes came in 1994 when the reading comprehension portion was renamed “Critical Reading.” The math section was expanded and the written English standard test was dropped. An essay and writing section was introduced in 2005, all quantitative comparison questions were dropped, test time was increased and the score scale changed.
In early 2014, the College Board announced sweeping changes to the SAT. Scheduled to take place in 2016, these changes include:
The writing test will become optional. It is now required. It will also change format. Students will be given a passage to read and asked to analyze evidence and respond.The reading test will ask students to analyze evidence and support their answers.Point deductions for incorrect answers will be eliminated.Obscure vocabulary words will be eliminated. Contextual meanings will be tested.The point scale, which was changed to 2400 in the 2005 sweep, will return to 1600.Exams will include written passages from significant events in American history and science. Examples cited were selections from the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers and the written works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The ACT and SAT changes come at a time when an increasing number of colleges have gone to a “test optional” regime for college admissions. College admissions officials point out that it’s not test scores that most accurately predict success in college, but high school grades. The College Board’s decision to revamp the SAT is also indicative of its declining market share compared to the ACT. In 2012, for the first time in history, more students in the United States took the ACT than the SAT.