PA Sees a Rise in the Number of Students Taking the ACT; Differences From SAT and Scoring Flexibility Cited as Main Causes

For decades, the SAT has been the standardized test of choice for almost all college-bound Andover students. Now, it seems that students are turning to other means of proving their ability to colleges. With growing skepticism towards the new SAT and its overall ability to judge a student’s intellect, students across the country are turning to the ACT. In the past few years, the number of PA students taking the ACT has grown to the point where the school has now become a test center itself. The majority of American public high school students have begun to take the ACT instead of or in addition to the SAT. As the ACT-over-SAT trend across the country continues to grow, Phillips Academy may be falling behind. The ACT is scored from 1-36 per subject. The overall score is calculated by averaging a student’s score on each of the ACT sections: English, Math, Science, and Reading. The highest score possible is a 36. Like the SAT, there is an essay, but unlike on the SAT, it is optional. In addition, you may choose which of your ACT scores are sent to colleges, while the College Board sends out SAT scores from each time a student has taken the test. Catie Shaw ’07 felt that taking the ACT helped her with the college admissions process, as her ACT score was comparatively higher than her equivalent SAT score. When asked about the major difference between the ACT and SAT, Shaw said that while the ACT had longer sections in time length, there were far fewer sections than on the SAT. She felt that although the ACT was only slightly smaller than the SAT, fewer sections made the test seem “a lot shorter and less mentally exhausting.” Shaw said that another pro of the ACT is that there is no penalty for incorrect answers, allowing students to take an educated guess without worrying about losing 1?4 of a point, as they do on the SAT. James Siddall ’07 took both the ACT and the SAT twice, and says that he much preferred the ACT. According to Siddall, the best part of the ACT is its format. “[The format] allowed me to concentrate on one skill at a time and then be done with it instead of having to keep switching from a math to a language mindset,” said Siddall, pointing out another one of the ACT’s differences from the SAT, which toggles through different topics throughout the test. Like Shaw, Siddall scored better on the ACT than he did on the SAT. In fact, his ACT score was near perfect, a 35 out of 36, while his SAT was around 2100. The conversion of a 35 on the ACT is about a 2350 on the SAT; and the difference between a 2100 and a 2350 is very significant. Maura Mulroy ’07 also preferred the ACT to the SAT. Mulroy believes that while the schools she applied to did see both scores, they also might have seen that “one test can’t summarize my academic strengths and weaknesses.” Mulroy found that the ACT had fewer trick questions than the SAT, a common finding among high school students who take both tests. Mulroy also believes that part of her preference for the ACT came from the fact that “there [was] less of a stigma about it being a terrible test, so it was less stressful. In addition, it was in a classroom—more like a test than a scary final.” However, not all students at PA are jumping on the ACT bandwagon. Joey Mensah ’08 chose not to take the ACT because he believes that the SAT “seems like a more legitimate test, and many more [students] take it.” Mensah felt that the College Counseling Office had provided him with much more information regarding the SAT than the ACT. Consequently, he chose to take only the SAT, which he says “went really well” for him. While objective-oriented students find solace in the science sections on the ACT, many are slightly intimidated by the prospect of taking science on a standardized test, as the SAT does not include a science section. “Although my college counselor seems to think I should [take the ACT], I’m not exactly a math-science person,” said Sally Poole ’08. “I would prefer to stay away from a test of my science abilities.” Many students have not taken the ACT because they simply lack the time. Stephanie Clegg ’08 found that with “so much going on between Saturday morning classes, studying for AP exams, and doing our actual homework, there’s no time to study or even take all of the other standardized tests.” Stating the feelings of the majority of PA students who opt for the SAT over the ACT, Nat Lavin ’07 said, “If it really helped with admissions, there would be more stress placed on kids to take it.” Other students brush off the less-promoted ACT as a way for those who performed poorly on the SAT to console themselves. In the end, many students simply feel that if a student does well on one test, they’ll do just as well on another. As the price to take the SAT and ACT increases, most students find it wiser to save their money, choose one test over the other and cross their fingers.