Nov 7, 2009

ACT Marks 50th Anniversary

November 7, 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of the ACT college admission and placement exam. The first ACT was administered on November 7, 1959, to about 75,000 college-bound high school students in 16 states. Within two years, the number of student test-takers more than doubled, and tests were administered in all 50 states as well as more than 120 countries around the world. By 2009, a record 1.5 million students—45 percent of all US high school grads—took the ACT.

Originally dubbed the American College Testing Program, the ACT was devised by the makers of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and primarily focused on the midwestern college market. Lovingly referred to as “Brand X” by College Board trainers, the ACT has steadily gnawed away at SAT market share on both coasts as well as continued to strengthen its midwestern base. Nationally, the test has grown 25 percent over the previous five years. In fact, Virginia test-takers alone increased a whopping 66 percent, with Maryland and DC increasing by 54 percent and 52 percent respectively.

Unlike the competition, the ACT test has always measured skills taught in high school and considered important for success in college. Its content is based on the results of the organization’s National Curriculum Survey, which is conducted every three to four years to determine what skills are being emphasized in the nation’s high schools and those expected of college freshmen.

Beyond these gradual adjustments, the ACT has undergone two significant facelifts in 50 years. In 1989, the test was restructured into four separate exams—English, mathematics, reading, and science. And in 2005, an optional writing exam was added to the battery of tests.

Reflecting its growth and successful expansion into wider geographic markets, the ACT celebrated its 50th anniversary by scheduling its first nation-wide September test date this year. “From its inception, ACT’s mission has been to help individuals succeed in education and career,” said Richard L. Ferguson, ACT’s chief executive officer and chairman of the board. “While the organization has grown significantly since 1959, it has stayed true to the vision of its founders. We at the ACT are proud to celebrate 50 years of working to help people achieve education and workplace success.”

ACT in Perspective

The Test



Company name

American College Testing Program


Registration fee



Test Takers


1.5 million*

Number of employees



States with test centers



Number of colleges accepting


All (~2500)

Annual national test dates



*2008-09 academic year

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