In the past, the SAT has always been the “gold standard” in college admissions tests, but in recent years, the ACT has changed from being the runner-up to being an equal. In fact, in 2013, the number of students who took the ACT across the nation in 2013 actually surpassed the number of students who took the SAT.
In Montgomery County, the story is much the same. For the fourth consecutive year, both participation and performance increased in the ACT. The average composite score of all MCPS students who took the test increased by .2 in the last year and is higher than both the state and national averages. The number of MCPS graduates who took the ACT increased by twelve percent from 2014 to 2015, and increased significantly higher than the year before.
The cause of the sharp increase in participation can stem from several sources. One is that there are simply more students in MCPS each year, thus there would most likely be an increase in participation for any test, be it the ACT or SAT.
However, according to several students in MCPS, the increase may be because the ACT is more comfortable for students to take. “I liked how I could sit down and concentrate on just one topic at a time then moving on and leaving it behind,” senior Maya Pasternak of Wootton High School said. “It’s really geared to what you learn in school,” junior Taylor Balfour of Richard Montgomery High School added.
In addition to the content and design of the test, another reason for the increasing popularity of the ACT is that it is written by an organization that has nothing to do with the College Board. “I heard also that it may be partially because College Board has this monopoly on testing and the ACT is an independent entity that’s not attached to that conglomerate,” Balfour explained, insinuating that people may just be tired of taking whatever test College Board decides put out.
The improvement in the scores, although seemingly counterintuitive, may be because more students are actually taking the ACT. “It’s possible more kids are taking it seriously because it’s becoming more favored, like they take classes and get the review books,” said Balfour before adding, “It may also be because I think our generation especially takes SO MANY standardized tests from basically kindergarten that maybe we’re just better at testing in general as a result.”
Regardless of why more students are taking the ACT, one thing is for sure. In the years to come, the SAT will no longer be the only option for students, and in a system where there is so little choice from picking classes to taking exams, a little more freedom for students can only be a good thing.
Article by MoCo Student MCPS editor Fonda Shen of Richard Montgomery High School