|Princeton likes having both the SAT and the ACT|
For more than a half century, the ACT ran a distant second to the SAT in the college admissions test-taking race. It was the Avis, “We Try Harder,” entrance exam—popular in the Midwest and the South but hardly worthy of notice on either coast.
But all that has changed. Two years ago, the ACT pulled ahead of the SAT in terms of absolute popularity among high school graduates. And since then, the ACT has continued to widen the gap by remaining more user-friendly and aggressively marketing for use as statewide assessments.
It’s not that the College Board is losing customers. A look at SAT results for the class of 2014 shows a modest increase in participation. Over 1.67 million students took the SAT—about a seven percent increase over 2013.
But the number of high school graduates taking the ACT soared to 1.84 million students in 2014. In fact, over the past 10 years, the number of ACT test-takers has increased by 56 percent, leaving the College Board with something serious to think about.
In all fairness, about one-third of the growth experienced by the ACT is a direct result of the adoption of the ACT for statewide assessment (Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming). These students are required to take the ACT—like it or not.
Even so, the Washington POST recently found that in 29 states there were fewer SAT test-takers in the high school class of 2013 than there were in the class of 2006, a statistic the College Board doesn’t care to talk about.
And the erosion of popularity is clear in what were once SAT-friendly states. In California, for example, the POST found that the SAT grew by 22 percent while the ACT grew by 92 percent. The SAT edged up slightly in Massachusetts and New Jersey, but the ACT rose by 80 percent in Massachusetts and tripled in New Jersey. And in New York, home to the College Board, the POST reported that while the SAT grew by 3 percent, the ACT increased by 78 percent.
But the bad news for the College Board doesn’t end there. Not surprisingly, the number of tests submitted for admissions purposes shows a similar trend. Colleges are definitely seeing way more ACT scores than they did ten years ago. And it appears that many more students are taking both tests and submitting both sets of scores for consideration by colleges, particularly uber-selective institutions.
According to the New York Times, there appears to be a real “shift in the behavior of top high school students,” as many more are choosing to work toward top scores on both tests. And that’s okay with the uber-selectives.
“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,” said Janet Rapelye, dean of admissions at Princeton, in an interview with the Times. “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.”
And applicants are getting the message. Those with top scores on both tests want colleges to have the benefit of knowing they did well on both. On the flipside, those who did significantly better on one test or the other tend to only submit one set of scores.
Regardless, based on test-submission patterns easily tracked for colleges posting Common Data Set information, the College Board has a very real challenge making up for ground lost between 2005 and 2014. And a redesigned SAT may or may not be the tool needed to reverse the trend.
Here is a sample of test-submission statistics for the freshman class entering in 2005 as compared to the class that just entered in 2014 (note that yearly totals exceeding 100% indicate colleges considered both the SAT and the ACT for some students).
2005 SAT: 96% vs. 2005 ACT: 22%
2014 SAT: 77% vs. 2014 ACT: 40%
Carnegie Mellon University
2005 SAT: 98% vs. 2005 ACT: 17%
2014 SAT: 87% vs. 2014 SAT: 35%
Case Western Reserve
2005 SAT: 89% vs. 2005 ACT: 58%
2014 SAT: 60% vs. 2014 ACT: 59%
College of William and Mary
2005 SAT: 97% vs. 2005 ACT: 3%
2014 SAT: 84% vs. 2014 ACT: 36%
2005 SAT: 98% vs. 2005 ACT: 18%
2014 SAT: 80% vs. 2014 ACT: 41%
2005 SAT: 89% vs. 2005 ACT: 11%
2014 SAT: 65% vs. 2014 ACT: 35%
2005 SAT: 92% vs. 2005 ACT: 20%
2013 SAT: 85% vs. 2013 ACT: 40%
2005 SAT: 100% vs. 2005 ACT: N/A
2014 SAT: 84% vs. 2014 ACT: 36%
2005 SAT: 97% vs. 2005 ACT: 23%
2014 SAT: 86% vs. 2014 ACT: 39%
2005 SAT: 99% vs. 2005 ACT: 14.9%
2014 SAT: 77% vs. 2014 ACT: 44%
2005 SAT: 99% vs. 2005 ACT: N/A
2013 SAT: 90% vs. 2013 ACT: 39%
University of Virginia
2005 SAT: 99% vs. 2005 ACT: 14%
2014 SAT: 86% vs. 2014 ACT: 40%
University of Michigan
2005 SAT: 55% vs. 2005 ACT: 66%
2014 SAT: 32% vs. 2014 ACT 79%
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
2005 SAT: 98.96% vs. 2005 ACT: 21.94%
2014 SAT: 84% vs. 2014 ACT: 69%
University of Texas-Austin
2005 SAT: 94% vs. 2005 ACT: 29.4%
2014 SAT: 81% vs. 2014 ACT: 57.1%
2005 SAT: 89% vs. 2005 ACT: 53%
2014 SAT: 41% vs. 2014 ACT: 62%
2005 SAT: 93% vs. 2005 ACT: 22%
2013 SAT: 75% vs. 2013 ACT: 26%
Washington and Lee University
2005 SAT: 80% vs. 2005 ACT: 18%
2014 SAT: 65% vs. 2014 ACT: 60%