Aug 14, 2015

Will the ‘rush’ to the ACT result in a rush to seats at overbooked test centers?

Changes to the SAT, set to debut in March 2016, could very well result in a bonanza for the ACT.  Already the most popular college entrance exam administered in the United States, ACT could be in for an embarrassment of riches in terms of projected registrations for 2015-16 test dates.

A recent survey of 273 independent educational consultants (IECs) showed that the overwhelming majority (99.25%) would be recommending that students in the Class of 2017 register for and take the ACT next year. And these recommendations are being felt throughout the world of college admissions, including among test prep providers.

“We are currently seeing an uptick in requests for ACT prep in all of our markets, providing further evidence that this is going to be a very big year for the ACT,” said Jed Applerouth, founder of Applerouth Tutoring Services.  “Some test prep companies, particularly in markets historically dominated by the SAT (i.e., New York), are scrambling to assemble new materials for the ACT.”

And Robert Franek, senior VP-Publisher at the Princeton Review agrees, “At the Princeton Review we’ve seen a 25% increase in enrollment for our ACT prep courses and tutoring programs—online and in person.”

But many school and independent college counselors are concerned ACT execs may not be as prepared as they might be for the “rush” to take their test next year.  Even though ACT testing has grown nearly 18 percent in terms of the number of ACT-tested high school graduates in the U.S. since 2010, this year could be a real challenge.  

“I’m advising my students to register sooner rather than later, if they want to take the test close to home,” said Charlotte Klaar, of Klaar College Consulting.  “I haven’t seen any evidence that ACT is developing new test sites or adding seats at existing sites to accommodate all the juniors who will want to avoid the new SAT.”

Julie Pohl, of Educational Answers, agrees, “I’m telling my students that if they don’t want to be taking the ACT in the next county, they better register soon.”

According to Katie Wacker, public relations associate for ACT, ACT does not make registration numbers available, so it’s hard to know if there’s been any observable uptick in numbers in any parts of the country.

“We monitor registration volume regularly and do our best to accommodate students in any geography,” explained Ms. Wacker. “That may entail working with our existing test centers to expand their capacity on test days, or it may mean adding test centers.  Students who register early are more likely to be able to reserve a spot in their preferred center, but we do try to keep additional test centers within a reasonable distance.”

ACT test dates for 2015-16 are:

  • September 12, 2015
  • October 24, 2015
  • December 12, 2015
  • February 6, 2016 (New York exempted)
  • April 9, 2016
  • June 11, 2016

Thanks to state law (“Truth-in-Testing:  Section 342 of Section 7-A), which makes it “onerous on standardized test makers to have more than five test dates per year,” there are no ACT test centers scheduled in New York for February.  What impact that will have on test centers in surrounding states or within reasonable distance of state lines remains to be seen.

According to Ms. Wacker, “We offer six national test dates, so we picked the month when registrations in NY were typically lower (February) and don’t offer the test there during that month.”

For specific test center locations, dates, and codes in the U.S. and Canada, ACT provides “search” capability on its website.  Note that if a test center is not to be found within 75 miles of home or within reasonable traveling distance, students may request “Arranged Testing.”

In view of uncertainties about the “new” SAT, students may want to get organized and claim a spot at an ACT test center in the near future.  Julie Pohl is telling her students, “You need to lay out your plan, pick your months, and get registered now.”

“Our advice to every family out there is to take an ACT and SAT practice test,” suggests Robert Franek.  “Review your scores with an expert and then decide which test is right for you.”

Jed Applerouth adds, “Students would be wise to sign up early for convenient test centers. I trust the ACT will accommodate the demand, though it will be advantageous for students to test at convenient and familiar centers to minimize the stress on test day.”

And that all sounds like pretty good advice!

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