Now Available: The New ACT- What’s the Hype All About?

Changes implemented in the September 2015 ACT test spotlight the career focus of the ACT. Lisa Zimmer Hatch,  author of ACT for Dummies and other books, delves into the updated ACT: the revision of the essay, the new English Language Arts (ELA) and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Score (STEM) on the ACT. How should it be interpreted? How will colleges use it? Join Lisa to learn tips and strategies you can use with students and parents.

The New ACT- What’s the Hype All About? from GuidedPath
Recording: The New ACT- What’s the Hype All About?  from GuidedPath 
Game Changers: ACT and SAT- FAQ's
1. In recent years, many colleges (including some competitive ones) have waived Subject test requirements if the student takes an ACT. In some cases it depends on the strength of the score, but not always. No telling yet, I guess, but do you see the new SAT, because it is aligned with the ACT format, being treated the same way?
We will see some colleges back off the SAT subject tests given the revisions to the SAT. Yale’s decision to drop the SAT subject test requirement was informed by the changes to the SAT:
Other schools will surely fall in line. Many colleges will want to wait for institutional data reflecting the correlation between the revised SAT and college GPA, particularly for certain majors/academic programs. A number of colleges use the SAT subject tests to select students for particular programs, given the historical correlations between testing and academic performance, particularly in the math/science domains. Colleges will likely want more evidence that the revised SAT provides as strong of a prediction as the SAT subject tests before dropping the testing requirement.
2. Do you know which colleges aren't accepting the old SAT from juniors. (My student, who is a junior, prefers to take the old SAT & her top school is Columbia.)
To my knowledge, Virginia Tech is the only school who will not accept the current SAT for the class of 2017. Other colleges may join VTU, but we do not expect many colleges to adopt this position. The vast majority of colleges have come forth to announce they want to make things easier for the class of 2017 in this year of testing transition.
3. It sounds like you should be studying for the new SAT earlier than 10th grade.
My position has always been that test prep should begin and end (whenever possible) in the 11th grade. When sophomore year wraps up, test preparation can begin in earnest. The summer before junior year is a fine time to commence preparation. And Ideally we wrap up testing by June of junior year, to allow students to focus on applications over their summer before senior year, and make all early deadlines.

I rarely endorse early preparation, except in circumstances where a student’s score on the PSAT could affect their academic tracking into more advanced classes. When high schools use the sophomore PSAT to select students for an eventual AP track, I’m okay with those students preparing for that test. Additionally, when working with a population of low SES students for whom college attendance is not a guarantee (e.g., many KIPP schools) early test preparation (as early as the 9th grade) and a heightened focus on testing has proven beneficial.
4. I like the fact that the new SAT is more challenging, but I will bet that there will be many more colleges going "test optional" because they have to fill seats. Do you agree?
Colleges typically go test optional because it serves their interests. Going test-optional leads to a rise in the number of applications, increasing the selectivity of the institution. Additionally, lower-scoring students cease submitting scores, thereby increasing the average SAT scores and enhancing the profile of the institution. I do not believe the heightened difficulty of the revised SAT will drive colleges away from testing. Demographic changes and self-interest will move more colleges into the test-optional camp.
5. How do you know these curves are going to be sustained when they actually start the testing?
When it comes to the curves, all we have to work with are those that have been released by the College Board: We expect there to be some modifications once the official tests are released, but no major surprises or overhauls. It is clear the math test will have a different curve, a more forgiving curve, than students are used to on the current SAT.
6. When do you expect PSAT scores from Oct to be released?
Here’s the PSAT release schedule from the College Board:
January 6, Educators can access online reports. January 7, students can access online reports. January 29, Educators will receive paper score reports.
7. What do you know about the new online prep programs to be released by ACT tomorrow? Will this be a good tool for test prep?
This is a very new application that we are currently exploring. It seems fairly basic- a diagnostic, practice tests and questions: $40 per license. It seems like the developers are closely imitating the Khan model, adding some tracking and gaming features. I imagine this will be useful for students looking for supplemental practice.
8. What are you recommendations for international students who attended high schools abroad?
The counsel may vary according to the country and the ability of students to access testing centers. If both the ACT and SAT are readily offered, I’d advocate that students take baseline diagnostic tests and select the test that is optimal for them. If students will have a difficult time accessing enough official testing administrations for either the SAT or ACT, I’d typically advocate selecting the test that is more accessible to avoid serious logistical hassles. If you have an SAT center in your town and you’d have to travel 400 miles for the ACT, simply take the SAT. In this new world, the SAT and ACT will overlap some 90%, so the differences will be less significant than ever before. Thus, I’d advocate that international students typically pursue whatever path is easier.
9. Have you gotten any word on whether National Merit will take the old SAT as a “verifying score” to the new PSAT (for the class of 2017)?
Yes. The College Board will accept the current SAT as a verifying score for the class of 2017.
10. Will currently approved SAT accommodations carry over to the new SAT?
To my knowledge, Yes. Accommodations will carry over. The College Board typically gives accommodations across their range of products- PSATs, SATs, APs, SAT subjects…. If a student is acknowledged by the SSD (Services for Students with Disabilities) to have a disability, that student will not need to apply for a new accommodation for each assessment.
11. Will the Khan Academy partnership with PSAT be a game changer?
Game Changer is too bold. It will be a useful add-on, a supplement, a solid resource. Students who are self-regulated learners will love Khan for its free practice and lessons. Public schools love that Khan is free and will not be an additional budget line item- thus they can check the box for test-prep without incurring any additional expense. Here in Georgia, we had free College Board test prep for several years. I remember when the Board of Education inked a multimillion dollar deal with the College Board to give every GA student free online test-prep:,2668,78006749_79688147_93274261,00.html. And I remember how few students bothered to log in and use it! Self-regulated learners will actively use free prep, but many high school students will not use a free resource, even its readily available to them. High school kids often need some support, some scaffolding, to do things that are good for them. The College Board will try to push more students to Khan, and the impact will be bigger than it was with the College Board’s own online product. Some students- including those with motivation issues or anxiety issues or LDs- need much more than a free-practice resource can provide. That being said, we are certainly excited to have access to Khan’s free practice tests, to supplement the paltry 4 new SATs that we currently have from the College Board.
12. Will you be issuing study guides for the new test as you did for the “old” SAT and ACTs?
The updated guide to the Revised SAT will go to press this week! We’ll have the first edition in mid-January and a significant update early this summer.
13. Have you assessed efficacy of Khan Academy help around SAT test prep?
We have been scrutinizing the Khan program since it came online. It is getting better with time. The learning pathway is a great concept- that a student has to attain mastery over a skill to move forward- that echoes the approach we take in tutoring. Khan is particularly useful in that it goes deep into remedial concepts. If a student cannot attain mastery over an SAT foundational concept, the student will dip into Khan’s deep library of remedial content. Khan is also quite good at using data analysis to serve up the next right problem for a student. There are some weaknesses. I’ve never been very impressed with the production value of Khan’s SAT videos. The delivery is also fairly dry and will not be intrinsically motivating for all students. Those students who are self-motivated and self-directed could certainly benefit from the content. Others will need additional support. We have no idea how many points a student can pick up solely from using the Khan resources. Our research shows that time on task significantly predicts performance, so students spending more time practicing and getting corrective feedback should derive benefit.
14. Will there be a conversion test between ACT, new SAT, vs old SAT?
We have comparison tests for the ACT versus current SAT and we are about to unveil our revised SAT-ACT comparison test. Those will be available to students and schools in 2016.
15. For non-native English speakers, does Jed recommend the ACT over the SAT, all other differences considered?
Given the heightened reading demands for the revised SAT– the reading-heavy math section and the more advanced texts in the Reading and Writing sections– I would not be surprised if many non-native speakers prefer the ACT. In a perfect world I’d have every student take practice tests for the SAT and ACT before selecting a test. However, if I had to make a choice without that baseline data, I’d default to the ACT for non-native speakers.
16. Do you think that the ACT scoring of the new essay is still in flux? The scores seem awfully low.
We’ve also noticed some significant variability in the new ACT essay scoring. I was shocked when certain high-scoring students came back with essay scores in the low 20s. I had our tutoring team run analyses and scatterplots and trend lines. It turns out there is a fairly normal distribution of essay scores. I was shocked by the lower essay scores from strong students, but I was relieved to see a significant number of scores in the 30-36 range. I think as your data set gets bigger, you’ll see a wider range of scores. Also- one interesting early finding was that from our data- the correlation between reading and writing scores and the essay scores seem to be higher on the new ACT! Our data set is still too small to draw any kind of meaningful conclusions, but that was surprising. Irrespective of the scores themselves, students need to learn to write a different kind of essay, a much more analytical essay, for this new scoring rubric.
17. Will the Khan Academy prep also help kids with ACT, even though not meant for that?
As the two tests overlap some 90%, Khan could help students prepping for the ACT, particularly when it comes to reading and writing. Khan will be somewhat less helpful for the ACT math, as that is where the two tests diverge most significantly. But some students needing to refresh math fundamentals will benefit from practicing on the Khan site. Students struggling with exponents or factoring or other fundamental concepts can get in some good practice on Khan that will apply to both the SAT and ACT.
18. Will you have a test to ID which test a student should take?
We will have an SAT/ACT comparison test, as we have had for several years. Many schools like the one-shot combo assessment, to get it all done in one morning. As an educational psychologist, I don’t love the combo test, for you inevitably lose some reliability when you significantly reduce the number of test items, change up the timing and format, and thereby introduce a greater degree of error into the equation. In a perfect world, I’d give a student a full SAT and ACT and then let the numbers predict which test is best. But, for the sake of expediency, and because the market wants it, we do offer a combo test, which is directionally useful, but less accurate than taking a pair of intact, properly administered SAT and ACTs.
19. How can we talk down the parents who read the articles that say ""don't do the new SAT?"" and so now are freaking out about the new SAT?
You have to speak from a place of authority and expertise. Parents are looking to you as the experts. And parents by now should know not to believe everything they read in print. The revised SAT is a fine test and will be the optimal test for certain students, given their particular skill sets. The extra time per item on the SAT will be a boon for many students and could make a very significant difference. Likewise- for those students who grapple with ACT science- the SAT may be a better alternative.
20. How will students with learning differences achieve a level playing field in regard to their ability to stay focused on longer passages and handling more reading across subjects?
Some students with LDs will struggle with the attentional challenges of the longer sections and the heightened reading demands of the revised SAT. The College Board SSD office will need to address this through the granting of appropriate accommodations. Some students will need additional breaks. Others will need additional time. Some students will do better on the ACT. The ACT multi-day testing with extended time is the gold-standard accommodation for students with LDs. I’ve seen tremendous score gains from that accommodation. Students with LDs will be wise to explore both the SAT and ACT and begin the accommodations process early.
21. Do you have any sense of whether any test-optional colleges will rethink their policy based on the predictive value of the new SAT?
I would be surprised if test-optional schools reverse position and begin to require testing again, even if the predictive strength of the SAT increases. Many schools that make the test-optional move cite a desire for increased diversity as a primary motivation, (and rarely mention the concomitant spike in applications or higher average SAT scores resulting from the removal of lower non-submitter scores). A handful of schools (e.g., Bates) cite validity as a reason to drop the testing requirement, but most schools focus on diversity (e.g., Wake Forest, Worcester Poly). There is a high likelihood that the ethnic/racial score gaps that currently exist on the SAT will manifest on the revised SAT, just as they do on the ACT. So if schools are interested in more diversity, a more valid SAT will not help them there. I think the test-optional movement has less to do with the validity of the SAT and ACT, thus a more valid test will not make a major difference to most test-optional schools.
22. Do you think there will be any plans to migrate to computer-based testing?
Without question, the computer-based tests are coming. The ACT has been beta-testing its online product this year, and the computer-based SAT is coming in 2016. There is still a significant digital divide that exists- separating the schools/districts with adequate resources to provide every child a computer to take the ACT/SAT. Vendors will certainly rise to the occasion to provide the technological infrastructure to allow widespread computer-based testing, but the funding for these broad-scaled projects is still forthcoming. Paper-based tests are, by their nature, profoundly limiting. We are seeing meaningful innovations with the online PARRC assessments (, which take students well beyond the limitations of multiple choice assessment. Likewise the GRE and GMAT are exploring more dynamic content, allowing a deeper assessment of knowledge than that offered by simple multiple choice. It’s a matter of time before the tests are offered exclusively online, in a more dynamic, engaging form.
23. How do we get the free book for independent counselors?
IECs can request a free copy of the revised SAT book by emailing We’ll be happy to send that your way. And we’ll have an even better version out in June.
24. Let me fix my prior question…how do you know that the preliminary curves which seem more generous will hold up when the actual test debuts?
There is no way to know with 100% certainty that the curves on the 4 practice tests will be identical to the curve on the upcoming March SAT. We can look for patterns only, and it seems there is a consistent pattern across the available math tests- that students can miss more items and receive a higher score than they would on the current SAT. The College Board may reverse position and create a drastically different test and subsequent curve, but that would be uncharacteristic. They’ve crafted the provisional curves from smaller samples of students taking practice tests, and the psychometricians and statisticians at ETS are doing their best to approximate a normal sample and normal distribution of scores. There could certainly be some error in this smaller sample, tiny by comparison to the March 2016 norming sample, but I don’t believe they will be drastically off. I believe the current curves will be directionally useful, (hopefully calibrated within some 10-30 points per section), but not dramatically off.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *