ACT Superscoring Means Major Shift in Student Test-taking

June 2020 Update: ACT has announced that the launch of section retesting has been postponed to fall of 2021. The postponement was to accommodate the larger number of students needing to take the full test in the fall after COVID-related test cancellations in spring of 2020. One Thing is Constant: Change  ACT is introducing three major changes: 1) providing superscore reporting; 2) allowing single section retesting; and 3) administering test sections on computer, not on pencil and paper. These changes are controversial, and I’ll summarize the pros and cons of each change below.  First, however, I want to provide some context. After twenty years of preparing students for standardized tests, I’ve learned when it comes to ACT and SAT, one thing is constant: change.  Since its inception in 1959, ACT has undergone significant changes. In the 1980s, the “enhanced” ACT increased focus on problem-solving skills through the introduction of Reading and Science Reasoning sections, replacing the previous version’s Social Studies and Natural Science sections, and in 2005 ACT appended a new Essay section. Unlike previous, more structural changes, the forthcoming 2020 ACT changes affect only how the test is administered, not constructed.  While these upcoming ACT changes will be significant, they are trivial compared to the identity crisis that ACT’s rival SAT has experienced. Since it was introduced in 1926, the SAT has changed its name four times, and its construct has undergone eight significant revisions. It was originally called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, then the Scholastic Assessment Test, then the SAT I: Reasoning Test, then the SAT Reasoning Test, and now simply the SAT. These name changes have paralleled shifts in the test’s identity. Initially designed as an adapted version of an IQ test, the first SAT was intended to give a snapshot of intrinsic academic promise. Early adopters included the then-president of Harvard University, who appreciated that the SAT measured intelligence rather than quality of high school education. Over time, the SAT has changed radically in content, construct, and purpose. One revealing way to see this shift is through analysis of number of questions and time per question on the SAT, at its inception in 1926 and today.  Test Questions Minutes Seconds/Question 1926 SAT 315 97 18 Current SAT 154 180 70 From a student’s perspective, the current SAT allows 289% more time per question than initially provided in 1926—a shift that allows for a dramatically different problem-solving approach. Relaxing time pressure and including academic content much more like that which students see in school, the SAT has shifted from an intelligence test to an academic achievement test, a seismic shift. The most recent SAT revision in 2016 explicitly aligned the test with the Common Core State Standards and high school curricula. Today, the writers of the SAT state explicitly that the best way to prepare for the SAT is to take and excel in challenging high school coursework. ACT’s identity, on the other hand, has always been clear since Everett Franklin Lindquist, Professor of Education at University of Iowa, first designed it: ACT is a test of academic achievement, [...]