It used to be that American students with college aspirations would, in the course of their junior or senior year, make a choice between two of the popular college admissions tests: the SAT or the ACT. However, a growing number of kids are now taking both to improve their chances of getting into their top-choice school.
According to Tamar Lewin of The New York Times, they're doing this despite the fact that no college or university in the country requires applicants to submit scores for both.
Although the SAT had long been the leading college admissions exam, preference between the two was chiefly regional. While East Coast schools expressed clear preference for the SAT, the ACT was quite popular in parts of the South and the Midwest.
But for the first time this year, more students are taking the ACT than the SAT, although the difference is small. As Lewin explains, this growth is chiefly caused by prospective college students who are taking both.
It's not that the SAT is losing customers. On the contrary, the number of test takers has grown. It's that the ACT is growing much faster, in part because 12 states now require, and pay for, all public high school juniors to take the test. But that's not the only reason for the ACT's rising popularity. There is also a real shift in the behavior of top high school students, with many more choosing to work toward impressive scores on both tests.
Of this year's 26,000 applicants to Princeton, 13 percent, or 3,477 students, submitted only ACT scores — up from 2 percent (385 of 17,000 applicants) for fall 2006. And almost 8,000 this year submitted scores from both tests. That is just fine with Janet Rapelye, dean of admissions — maybe even desirable.
Some admissions officers at top tier schools are not happy about the development. Preparing for one test is already time intensive, but preparing for two – moreover two that require different strategies for success – could make test preparation into, in Lewin's words, the junior year's chief extracurricular activity. The University of Pennsylvania's chief of admission Eric J. Furda says that he understands why students are taking both tests in an effort to leave no stone unturned — over the last 10 years, the top-tier college admissions game has become much more competitive.
If it were up to Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, an advocacy group critical of standardized testing, neither test would be required. (His organization compiles a list of hundreds of colleges that are test-optional.) But he does see one positive aspect in the rise of the ACT as a state-mandated test.
"In 2013, there were proposals in a number of states to integrate a college admissions test into the state system, and as states come out of the recession, we may see more," Mr. Schaeffer said. "Using a college admissions test as the state's high school test cuts out one test, which responds to growing pressure from teachers that enough is enough."