ACT Explodes in Popularity

While the SAT exam was the most popular college admissions test for decades, ACT has grown dramatically in popularity and now outpaces the College Board’s SAT. According to a recent report by, a record 1.9 million students in the Class of 2015 took the ACT test, ahead of the roughly 1.6 million students who took the SAT. In the past ten years alone, the popularity of the ACT has leapt by 60%.

Test Bubble SheetSo why the big jump in the number of ACT test takers? One reason is that more students are evaluating both tests and finding they score better on ACT. Since all colleges accept ACT and SAT on an equal basis, students are starting with the test where they score higher. All it takes is about three hours to take an ACT practice test and compare those results to the SAT or PSAT. Another factor is that 13 states require all juniors in public high schools to take the ACT. The number of ACT states is growing, while there are about half as many states with similar arrangements for required SAT testing.

In turn, colleges report more applicants are submitting ACT scores. At some highly selective colleges, as many as 25% of applicants report scores from both ACT and SAT. This represents a major shift as higher test scores become more critical for students to compete for coveted seats in freshman classes as well as scholarship money. In an interview with the New York Times, Janet Rapelye, Princeton University’s Dean of Admissions, was quoted as saying, “I don’t know all the pieces of why this is happening, but I think more students are trying to make sure they’ve done everything they can. And for us, more information is always better. If students choose one or the other, that’s fine, because both tests have value. But if they submit both, that generally gives us a little more information.”

The most important steps for success with either ACT or SAT are: develop a plan, prepare in advance, and arm students with all the resources available to best showcase their academic skills. At Dogwood Tutoring & Test Prep, our ACT test prep services offer the most effective strategies and methods to prepare students for the ACT. Our Master’s degree tutors work one-on-one with each student to identify gaps in academic skills, then customize lessons to meet those individual needs. At Dogwood’s professional learning center in Sandy Springs, expert tutors provide customized ACT test prep that students need to achieve their best results. 

Counselors overwhelmingly recommend ACT for the class of 2017

students_testingUpcoming changes to the SAT, scheduled to debut in March 2016, are affecting advice independent educational consultants (IECs) give their students about which college entrance exams to take—the “old” SAT, the “redesigned” SAT, or the ACT, according to a survey conducted in August of 273 educational consultants.

While specific recommendations vary on a case-by-case basis, educators are in total agreement about one thing: nearly 100 percent (99.25%) of the educational consultants surveyed will be recommending that their students in the Class of 2017 register for and take the ACT this school year.

“For this year only, my preference is the ACT since the new SAT is such an unknown quantity. The biggest issue I see is that students won’t know how they did on the March test until late May or early June which will impact their ability to retake as needed,” wrote Alison Parker, of Parker College Planning. “If you are a risk-taker, you could roll the dice, but that isn’t me. I do think this year’s crop of ‘new SAT’ takers will be a self-selecting group and I don’t know how that will pan out with norming the test.”

“I’m suggesting that most of my junior students forgo the SAT. Let the College Board work out the kinks for a year, and then we’ll reconsider,” said Vita Cohen, of Cohen College Consulting.

Cori Dykman, of Annapolis College Consulting adds, “I am absolutely steering my 2017 students to the ACT because it is an assessment which they can better prepare for, because they will have test scores back in a reasonable timeframe, and because the new SAT will have swarms of tutors taking it and possibly changing the normed score.”

“Timing one’s testing plan will be important and most students should plan to start testing earlier than usual this cycle,” explained Marla Platt, of AchieveCoach College Consulting. “I am advising all my juniors to consider doing themselves a favor by planning ahead and sitting for both the current SAT and the ACT to avoid a revised test that, from what we are hearing, appears to be fairly daunting and challenging to prep for.”

Slightly over two-thirds of those surveyed indicated they would be recommending students, who are academically prepared, take the current version of the SAT to avoid changes, capitalize on known skills, satisfy coaches, or otherwise get the test out of the way. IECs specified the following groups of students might consider taking the more familiar “devil you know” old SAT:

  • Students who perform better on the old SAT (using a test diagnostic)
  • Students who are academically mature
  • Student-athletes who are prospects for D-1 colleges
  • Rising juniors who have completed (or will complete as juniors) Algebra II
  • Students with attention or processing issues, given the personal timing challenges inherent to the ACT
  • Students with strong backgrounds in Algebra
  • Students scoring over 154 on the PSAT in October 2014
  • Students who read voraciously
  • Students who like testing and understand the new/old SAT model

Pat Gildersleeve, of the College Advisory Service, wrote, “I could be wrong, but I feel that colleges will know exactly what to do with scores from the ‘old’ SAT or the ACT but not exactly yet what to do with the ‘new’ scores unless they are very good or exceptionally poor ones. Some high schools are good at Common Core teaching; others are fighting it. How will colleges know whether a low SAT score this year is due to the student’s ability or to teachers who are resistant to teaching the Common Core skills. With that in mind, I advise students who have done exceptionally well on their PSAT and who plan to take an SAT to take the current test and the rest to take the new SAT and/or the ACT.”

Of those recommending the new SAT, there seemed to be a slight preference for the June, 2016 test date—after the dust settles. More than one respondent kindly referred to March test-takers as “guinea pigs,” suggesting the perceived experimental nature of the first administration of the redesigned SAT.

“The new March SAT results won’t be a quick 3 week turn around, but probably a 6 to 8 week turn around, leaving students in the dark as to whether to retake the test,” explained one IEC who counseled avoiding the March date.

If nothing else, the recent survey of IECs showed basic distrust of the College Board and its new product. Unlike previous changes to the SAT, the one debuting in March comes with many more “unknowns.”

This posting is reproduced with permission from Biltmore Tutoring in Asheville, NC.