How did the “Avis” of college standardized testing overtake the “Hertz” of the field? That’s the question Bob Schaeffer addresses in his Washington Post blog post on how the ACT caught up with the rival SAT, the dominant college entrance exam for the past 80 years. A new report shows that for the first time ever, the same number of high school seniors – about 1.5 million — took each test this year. But that’s not because the ACT is a better test than the SAT, says Schaeffer, who is the public education director of FairTest. In fact, neither test is as good at predicting college academic performance as high school grades, he writes. Both tests also have similar problems with biases against minorities, he adds.
There are actually three key reasons why the SAT lost its dominant position, Shaeffer says. For starters, the ACT is more “consumer-friendly” because it does not deduct points for incorrect answers and has always allowed students to decide which scores colleges receive. In contrast, the SAT still has a “guessing penalty” and implemented its “score choice” this year. In addition, the ACT content better reflects high school classroom work and includes subjects such as science, not covered in the SAT. Last but not least, the writing section is optional in the ACT in contrast to the mandatory writing section in the SAT. It’s not surprising therefore that all colleges that still require applicants to submit standardized test scores now accept the ACT as an alternative to the SAT. This is good news for students who now have two equal choices in college admissions exams. But, according to Schaeffer, it’s even better news that more and more universities are dropping admissions exam requirements altogether. These so-called test-optional policies, he says, offer students the best alternative of all.