Taking ACTion to improve test scores

Nov. 12, 2006, midnight | By Nathan Goldstein | 14 years, 2 months ago

Blair seniors weigh sending ACT scores over SATs

Last May, an envelope marked ACT, Inc. arrived in senior Daniel Keller's mailbox. Putting his anxiety aside, Keller sat down on his living room couch, ripped it open and stared at its contents in shock.

To his amazement, Keller scored a 34 out of a possible 36 on the ACT - a score that unofficially corresponds to a 2280 out of 2400 on the new SAT - 160 points higher than the 2120 he had scored six months before.

In the U.S., the number of high school graduates who took the ACT reached a record 1.2 million last school year, according to the ACT 2006 National Score Report. The number of college-bound seniors that took the SAT, on the other hand, dropped almost 10,000 to 1.465 million from 2005 to 2006, according to the SAT 2006 National Report. But, the popularity of the two tests is regional - the SAT is better known on the coasts, and the ACT is more popular in the South and in the Midwest. Although less than 12 percent of Maryland high school graduates take the ACT - a rate that is among the lowest in the country - Blazers like Keller are beginning to embrace the less common test.

Like most high school students on the east coast, Keller first took the SAT. When the proctor signaled the end of testing, his pre-test anxiety turned to relief as he glanced at his completed answer sheet. "It was a tremendous amount of work," he remembers. "I didn't care what my scores were."

But relief turned into disappointment six weeks later when the results arrived in the mail. Although he knew his score was good, he wanted to do better.

Senior Ebony Winfield also wasn't satisfied with her SAT score of 1700 last June. In December, she will take both the ACT and the SAT in because she heard that some colleges prefer students to report both scores to better gauge a student's abilities. "It will give me an advantage in some cases for colleges to know that I have taken both tests," she says.

The University of Maryland has seen an increase in the number of students submitting ACT scores for consideration, according to Shannon Gundy, senior associate director of undergraduate admissions. Gundy explains that ACT and SAT scores are given the same weight in the admissions process, so students should send the result for the test on which they scored highest.
"We will use the scores that work most to the student's advantage," says Gundy.

Senior Nick Mozer decided against taking the SAT after doing poorly on the PSAT his junior year. Instead, Mozer chose to take the ACT because he thought the differences between the SAT and the ACT might work in his favor. "I heard that it was a different test - that it was more based on what you had learned and not logic," he says.

In the spring of his junior year, Mozer arrived at the ACT testing site a bit apprehensive. When his scores came in the mail about a month later, Mozer was all smiles. He is confident that his score of 27 will help him get into college, although he is still uncertain where he wants to apply.

For many students who have taken both tests, the ACT often seems like the easier of the two, says Cathy Henderson-Stein, Blair's college and career information center assistant. Since the ACT includes a science section as well as reading, writing and mathematics tests, many students feel the ACT is a better test of the material they have learned. She also thinks that the penalty for guessing on the SAT, which the ACT lacks, may boost the ACT's appeal. "I think it is a well-designed test to measure what students may have learned in high school," Henderson-Stein says.

Keller agrees - he believes that the ACT was a more effective judge of his knowledge. Even though most students on the east coast may not start opting for the ACT over the SAT anytime soon, he thinks a shift will occur eventually as students realize the advantages of the ACT. "As it gains popularity, people will understand that it's more comprehensive and a better indicator of knowledge," says Keller.

Signing up

According to a PBS Frontline report, the SAT was administered to high school students for the first time in 1926 in order to measure pure intelligence, regardless of the quality of the test taker's education. In 1959, the ACT organization was formed and became the SAT's largest rival. Now, the majority of colleges all over the country require at least one of the scores for undergraduate admissions. Registering for the SAT can be done online at http://www.collegeboard.com. The deadline to register for the Jan. 27 SAT is Dec. 26. ACT registration forms can also be completed online at http://www.actstudent.org. The registration deadline for the Feb. 10 ACT is Jan. 5.

Nathan Goldstein. Nathan is a junior in CAP who is really excited to be killed by Silver Chips and AP work. When he isn't doing homework, he loves playing and watching sports. He is also the host of BNC's Double Overtime show which everyone should watch. Even … More »

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