Posts

Realistic Expectations

When you think about the ACT, what do you imagine? Do you picture a calm setting, pencil in hand, calculator charged, and the feel of confidence rushing over you? Or, do you picture standing in line, calculator out of batteries, rumbling stomach, and the weariness of an impending test? Both scenarios could turn out to be real life for many students.  The question is, how do you prepare for both scenarios or a combination of both scenarios? Do you have realistic expectations for your ACT test?

 

Each school district has a number of Test Center Locations that offer ACT testing throughout the year, but not all test centers are created equal. You may get a proctor who is running late, or has gotten sick. There may be a student who tries to enter the test location after the test has begun or a student whose watch starts beeping in the middle of the Math section.  There may be a dog barking down the street or the classroom may be too hot.  Regardless of the circumstance, how prepared are you for any of these situations?

Setting realistic expectations

 

To prepare yourself, eliminate what you can control.  Get a good night’s rest, eat a healthy breakfast, charge your calculator the night before, make sure you have your ACT ticket with you, and last but definitely not least, be prepared for the test. Walk into the test with confidence!

 

Get Smarter Prep has a number of different courses ranging from One-On-One Private Tutoring, to Semi-Private Tutoring, to Group classes depending on the students’ scoring range.  Each class or tutorial will equip you with more knowledge, insight, and confidence to walk into the ACT knowing what kind of questions will be on each section of the test, strategies to approach each section, and time management skills to get through each section of the ACT.

 

Study hard, prepare the best you can, and be confident in the skills you’ve learned for this test.  The more you prepare for the test, the more confident you will be.  However, at the end of the day, the ACT is one test.  I guarantee no one will remember their ACT score in 5 years, so don’t put added pressure on yourself! Take a deep breath, walk into the test with your head held high, and dominate the ACT!

The Infamous 30 ACT Composite Score

The infamous 30 ACT composite score. Why does every student desire a 30 on their ACT?  Just to say they have a 30? What does a 30 composite score actually get you?  More scholarships? Entry into a highly selective school? The ability to say you scored a 30?  Maybe.  Maybe a 30 composite score will get you all of those things, but let’s take a closer look to see if that score is the right score for you.

Did you know that the National average ACT score for college bound students is a 21? The average for the state of Kansas is 21.7 and the average score for the state of Missouri is a 20.4. The average for Blue Valley District is 25.4., the average for Shawnee Mission District is 22.7, and the average for the Olathe District is 23.8, the three largest districts in JOCO.

National Average

Kansas Average

Blue Valley District

Shawnee Mission District

Olathe District

Notre Dame de Sion

Rockhurst High School

St. Theresa’s Academy

The Barstow School

21

21.7

25.4

22.7

23.8

27.1

26.5

27

28

Overall, Johnson County is performing well above the state and national averages.

So why does a 30 ACT score haunt high school students?  For most students, scholarship money is what drives a student to achieve the very best score they can. For example, The University of Kansas gives a break down of scholarships related to ACT/SAT scores, plus their GPA score.  The funny thing is, the break down doesn’t provide any more money for a 30.  The additional scholarship money is awarded when a student goes from a 28 to a 31. If a student already has a 28 on their ACT, the infamous 30 shouldn’t factor into the discussion.

Make sure you at least have an outline of the types of colleges you would like to attend and then take those schools’ scholarship requirements into consideration. Most students would be shocked to realize the break usual isn’t at 30, but closer to 31, if not a 32 or higher.

The same principal applies to college entry.  Highly selective schools typically don’t look for a standard of a 30 ACT (or it’s SAT equivalent). They look for higher scores starting at a 31 or 32, plus a fantastic GPA of around 3.75 or higher. For example, Vanderbilt University in Nashville typical accepts students scoring in the 32-35 range. The middle 50% of scorers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois is 31-34, similar to that of Duke University in Durham, NC. The bottom line is, do your research on the schools with which you’re truly interested and figure out if a 30 is sufficient or if you need to score even higher.

It’s so important to set proper goals based on what you are interested in, your ability, and what is tangible for you. If you take a pretest and score a 17 composite score, a 30 is big stretch – to say the least! Do you have endless amounts of time to study? What about your class schedule in high school? You don’t want to fall behind on your regular classes to study hours and hours for the ACT.

Another factor to consider is all of your extracurricular activities. Studying for and taking the October ACT while you are in football or volleyball will be totally overwhelming. How full is your schedule this semester? Do you even have the time and energy to spend on achieving a 30? The ACT has several test dates from which to choose throughout the year; choose one that makes sense for you and your schedule. Get Smarter Prep has different prep options for any type of student: from small group courses to semi-private and private tutoring. Select an option and test date that will set you up for success, not overwhelm you.  Setting a tangible goal score will the best way to assure success, whether it’s the infamous 30, a solid 26, or a Kansas average of 21.7. 

Top 5 reasons to take the December ACT Test

Many high school students debate which ACT test date is the “right” test date for them. And although there may be not be a “right or wrong” answer, Get Smarter Prep has a five strong reasons why we like the December ACT better than others.

Reason #1:

We do this for a living. That’s why when we suggest the December ACT as our favorite ACT and have proof to back that up, we want students to heed our advice so they can achieve their highest possible score on the ACT.

Based on an in-house study from June 2014 to June 2017, we’ve seen the largest average improvement on the December ACT. With nearly an entire point difference over the yearly mean, why wouldn’t you try to target the December test? One extra point could get you in-state tuition at a college out of state. One extra point could get you that scholarship you’ve been needing. One extra point could make the difference in getting into the university you’ve been dreaming about attending.  Don’t get us wrong, there are pros to other test dates, but based on our students’ results over the years, we continuously see higher scores on the December ACT. We don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Reason #2:

The December ACT is before high school finals. This year the ACT is on December 9th, which means it’s the week (or two) before finals. Why not take the ACT before you have to worry about high school finals, projects, and presentations?  Course Prep for the December ACT begins in the middle of October, so you will have been studying for this test for 8-10 weeks prior to the test date. Our Standard ACT Course includes 20 hours of instruction, 3 practice tests, and Office Hours with an instructor, leading right up to the actual test date.  You’ll be well-positioned to be able to dominate the December ACT, all before your first semester finals begin! We hate to see students “pile on” with ACT prep during some of their busiest times of the academic year, and the December ACT allows for students to finish one thing and move on to the next fairly seamlessly.

Reason #3:

Hello Winter Break!  I don’t know about you, but I like to make a list and check off the items on my list.  Presents bought and wrapped…check.  Winter break movie list made…check. December ACT taken…check.  It’s a good feeling to check everything off your list and truly be able to relax over Winter Break.  Who wants to go into Winter Break with a big, looming test to study for instead of drinking hot cocoa around the fireplace with your family? Besides, Winter Breaks won’t last forever. There are only a few more years to enjoy these extended breaks away from school.  Take advantage of them!

Reason #4:

Baby, it’s cold outside! With temperatures in the 30’s and with the potential of a lovely snow, why take the chance of having to stay indoors to study when you could be putting your snow pants on and building Olaf or Frosty? Take advantage of the extra time you have, since you already took your ACT, and take a walk in the crisp, cool air. Build a snow fort. Have a snowball fight with your friends and family. Or just stay inside and cuddle on the couch watching your favorite holiday movie like Elf or Home Alone. Either way, you’ll be able to participate in activities you want to do since you have more free time.

Reason #5:

Students are already in the swing of school when course prep starts in October for the December ACT, so part of your academic skills that seeped out of your brain over summer have been shaped up, and you’re back at the peak of your ability.  Students should be used to homework, study sessions, and tests by the time October rolls around.  With two months of studying for school under your belt, 2-3 extra hours of homework each week in preparation for the ACT should be an easy transition.

Hopefully, these five reasons are enough to push you over the edge if you’re considering taking the December ACT.  At Get Smarter Prep, we believe the December ACT is usually a great option for our students, helping them see significantly higher score improvements. We want you to reach your desired results as well, and if taking the ACT in December will help you reach those goals, then go for it!

ACT, SAT, or Both? Deciding which Path is Best

This debate may be familiar to many of you. ACT? SAT? Both? Some students and families enter junior year with a perfectly clear answer to those questions, but the reasons behind those decisions may be less clear. Do any of these sound familiar?

He’ll take the ACT, of course. He wants to attend a school in the Midwest.

We’re an SAT family. Her older brother scored much better on the SAT.

Of course I want to prepare for both exams!

The ACT and SAT originated in different places, for different purposes, and developed different reputations over the years. Despite the many changes to each test, some of those perceptions persist.

The SAT, originally developed by the College Board for use in admissions to elite, northeastern schools, remains more popular on the coasts than in the Midwest. The ACT came later, designed to provide an admissions test for regional and public universities that didn’t use the SAT; it is still more popular in the Midwest than the SAT.

Although these regional patterns persist regarding which test students tend to take, the initial reason for those patterns – which test your college of choice might accept – no longer holds. The final school to accept the ACT finally did so in 2007, meaning that the choice of which test to take is really up to the individual student.

Until the roll-out of the Redesigned SAT in March of this year, our goal as tutors was to encourage each student to take both a practice ACT and a practice SAT before deciding which test to prepare for. There were substantial differences in the structure, with the ACT favoring fewer, longer sections and the SAT preferring more, shorter ones. The ACT had the dreaded Science section to contend with, while the SAT tested those also-dreaded vocabulary words. Many students would score about the same on each test, and choose based on their preference, while some would perform significantly better on one than the other.

The discussion of which test to choose has been complicated somewhat since the SAT redesign. The new SAT features fewer, longer sections, just like the ACT. It has done away with the vocabulary sections. And while the SAT hasn’t added a Science section, the charts and graphs that permeate each part of the test will look somewhat familiar to those who have spent time with the ACT.

There are still differences, though, between the ACT and the SAT, that one should consider when deciding between the two exams, and they don’t have anything to do with the geographical distribution of your college list.

First, how strong are you at math? On the SAT, math counts for half of your score, while on the ACT math makes up only ¼. That’s a significant difference. Consider, also, how well you’ll fare without a calculator, as the SAT has a section that must be completed without one.

How much do you want to improve your score? Because of the changes to the SAT, there is much less practice material available than for the ACT, which means fewer opportunities to practice and improve your score. If you’re looking for a significant boost, you might lean towards the ACT.

How much do you struggle with timing? The timing on the ACT is more difficult for some students. The SAT provides more time per question, which might be an asset. Taking a practice version of each will help you to know if that is the case for you.

A final consideration is that the SAT, during and since the redesign, has been a bit unstable. There have been data breaches, score delays, and debates over how the new scores stack up to the old ones.

If you know you’ll be taking an ACT through school, or (for those who haven’t already taken it) you plan to prepare for the PSAT, those factors might influence your choice as well. The goal is to prepare for only one exam. The ACT (or SAT) is only one part of your college applications, and your college applications are only one part of your life. Preparing for both tests – or choosing the wrong one – is a recipe for doing more work than necessary and taking time away from all of those other activities and classes that make up your high school career.

By Audrey Hazzard, Premier-Level Tutor

A Resolution to Read More in 2017

Reading skills are critical to success on standardized tests. While that is hardly the most important or convincing reason to read more, it’s one that is particularly interesting to us at Get Smarter Prep. According to the American Library Association, students who read for fun have higher test scores than those who don’t. Students who discuss what they read at home also perform better on exams.

It makes sense that students who read for pleasure score achieve higher reading scores, but a study in the UK found that students who read for pleasure also score more highly on math exams. Being able to read and understand questions easily can simplify math questions – especially those that are longer or phrased in tricky or unusual ways (something we’re very familiar with on the ACT and SAT!).

Complicating matters is that the students who enjoy these benefits are those who read because they want to, not because of an assignment or a requirement. So how can parents encourage their children to read without pressuring them or making it feel like work?

One of the simplest is for parents to model the behavior. If children see parents engaged in reading, they are more likely to want to read as well. Talk to your children about what you’re reading and why it is enjoyable to you. Demonstrate that it’s an important part of your life, and a worthwhile use of your time.

Many parents read to their young children, but reading to your child can evolve into reading together as your child gets older. Reading aloud to grade school children can open up more advanced content than what they might find accessible on their own. Books like The Wind in the Willows may be interesting to grade school students, but above their reading level. Reading together can facilitate discussion about unfamiliar vocabulary words as well as themes and ideas within the book.

Encourage children to read what appeals to them, even if it’s not to your taste.  You might find dragons boring, but they might be just what your child is interested in at that moment. Obviously, considerations about age appropriateness are relevant. But reading material need not be high literature for a student to reap the benefits. Trips to the library can encourage students to explore different subjects.

Talking about what your student is reading, encouraging them to become engaged in a series, and connecting reading to their other goals and interests can also help support their reading habits.

Increased test scores are only one of the many benefits of reading. Reading can increase empathy, improve social skills, and reduce stress – for adults, too! Let’s all resolve to read more in 2017.

By Audrey Hazzard, Premier-Level Tutor

Making the Most of Winter Break

Finally, winter break has arrived! There is time to breathe, to sleep, and to think.

Also to study, spend time with friends and family, travel… a Winter Break To-Do List can become rather unwieldy, especially if you don’t have a clear plan. But managed carefully, winter break can provide the extra time you need to get caught up on everything from sleep to college applications. Here are some tips for making your winter break as enjoyable, and productive, as possible.

Make a List

First, make a list or plan of what you want to accomplish. You may not be much of a list person, and that’s OK! Your list could be as simple as “sleep 9 hours per night. Finish college applications.” (January 1 is just around the corner!) Time can seem to evaporate when you don’t have a plan, so having a sense of your goals is important. Break up each goal into small, manageable sections, so that you’re not panicking the last night of break about how much work remains.

Be Realistic with your Plan

Try to be realistic when making your plans.  If you plan to catch up on your reading, visit two colleges, and travel to visit out-of-town family, this may not be the time to learn oil painting or start your own podcast. Similarly, if you plan to work on applications for an hour a day, keep in mind that you may not get that time on, say, Christmas day.

At the same time, keep a “no thanks” in your pocket for events or invitations that might not fit into your schedule. While we all have obligations that are pretty mandatory this time of year, if you’re feeling swamped, take a good look at everything on your calendar and ask yourself if you might politely extricate yourself from something in order to facilitate the rest of your agenda, even if that’s just getting enough sleep.

Some things you might consider including in your list of goals: catching up on (or even getting ahead on) school work in a challenging course, working on your college list (for juniors) or finishing up last-minute applications (for seniors).

You could spend some time researching and applying for scholarships, summer programs or internships. If you’re a Junior who hasn’t yet begun to prepare for the ACT or SAT, now is a great time to start with a practice test.

Getting caught up on sleep should be a priority, especially if you’ve been skimping to get through exams. Sleep can help you focus, be more efficient, and even affect how well your flu shot works.

Have Fun

Finally, try to make time for something fun that you might not have time for when school is in session.  Go ice skating, drink some hot cocoa, or visit the penguins at the zoo. Whatever you choose, aim for a balance of rest, fun, and productivity to make sure you’re refreshed and ready for 2017.

 

Planning for the Week Leading Up to the Test

The week leading up to the ACT can be very stressful. Here are some tips for focusing on the most important things to help ensure your success!

  • Sleep.

I know, you’ve got a thousand things to do and it’s Simply. Not. Possible. But here’s the truth: there are an immutable number of hours in each day. Only a certain number of things can fit into those hours. If you have more things than hours, you have to prioritize. Making a decision to sacrifice sleep is also a decision to sacrifice test performance. This is science, and you’re not exempt from scientific reality.

If you’re already in the habit of ruthlessly going to bed on time, that’s fantastic! If you aren’t, it’s time to begin to cut down on your sleep debt this week. Please don’t think you can stay up all week studying and go to bed at 8:00 PM on Friday night and make it all up. The math just doesn’t work. Think about what you might be able to skip or postpone until after the test, and get to bed earlier.

  • Keep studying.

If you’ve been preparing, you should feel pretty ready by the week before the test. (If you haven’t been studying, and you know you’re not prepared, consider not taking the test.)

Continuing to practice your strategies this week is a great idea. Pick a couple of specific things that you feel you could still improve on. This isn’t the time for radical changes, but maybe you want to decrease your time per Reading passage by one minute. Maybe you need to review punctuation questions one more time, or spend some more time with geometry formulas.

Spend a bit of time each day studying, if you can. But don’t skip sleep to study, don’t plan to take eighteen practice tests this week, and don’t practice when you’re not feeling at least mostly calm, focused, and alert.

  • Eat well. (But don’t make drastic changes).

This is not the week to start a juice cleanse or to cut out sugar completely. It won’t hurt, however, to eat a few more fruits and vegetables. And if you’re not in the habit of eating breakfast, start now! Breakfast on test day is important, and starting a week ahead will give you a chance to see what works best for you. Does cereal leave you hungry ninety minutes later? Do eggs and bacon make you feel sluggish? Maybe smoothies are more your speed?

  • Get everything ready ahead of time.

Make sure your ticket, ID, pencils, calculator, watch, and snacks are all ready to go, well in advance. Double-check batteries in anything that needs batteries. Make sure your calculator is approved by ACT. Put everything in one place Friday evening, so that the morning is as simple as can be.

  •  Take it easy on Friday, and wake up early on test day.

Don’t plan to spend Friday working on ACT prep. Use Friday to relax and get to bed early.

In the morning, leave yourself plenty of time to wake up, eat breakfast, and get to the testing center. If you end up with extra time, take a quick walk or read a bit – anything to make sure you’re fully awake, especially if you’re not a morning person!

The ACT can be a stressful experience, but preparation is key! Having a clear plan and getting plenty of rest can ensure that you’re ready to face the test and reach your goals.

By: Audrey Hazzard, Premier-Level Tutor

The Hazards of Anecdotal Advice

Preparing for the ACT or SAT can seem daunting. Often, people instinctively turn to friends or online articles for advice. While some guidance from these sources is helpful, it’s important to examine the limitations of students who could be referencing an outdated version of the test, whose only knowledge of the exam comes from taking it, and who may have needs that are dramatically different from your own.

Our students commonly pass along what they’ve heard from their peers, and while some of it is good, solid information, a lot of it rings completely or, at least, partially false. For instance, some students will swear that “C” is correct the majority of the time when in reality, the answers on the test are evenly distributed throughout the exam – so C is no more likely than any of the other options. Another common tip passed around among high schoolers is to take the test on a particular date – take June, for example – because it’s easier than the others. There are several issues with this. Maybe June felt easier for one particular student, but, as everyone’s strengths are different, that didn’t necessarily hold true for others. Additionally, if the June test in 2015 truly was easier for most students, that doesn’t mean that the 2016 test will follow suit. Most importantly, the curve on the ACT renders any differences in difficulty irrelevant. If the June test truly was less difficult, then the curve would just be harsher.

Additionally, we recently worked with a student who scored higher on the ACT, but was told by a friend at Harvard that she should take the SAT solely because she had already taken the ACT previously. This was amidst the new changes (which made the SAT unstable and a bad choice for the majority of students). Combine that with the fact that every college will accept either exam, and her friend’s direction amounts to some pretty rotten advice. In the end, the student remained focused on her stronger test and exceeded even her expectations.

Looking to current college students for help – particularly those who attend prestigious schools – seems intuitive on the surface. However, students who attend top schools are often scoring in the top 99th percentile of college bound students nationwide, and therefore do not reflect the reality for the majority of other students. Also, these students have a very limited experience. Scoring well on a test does not make you an expert – especially as the tests continue to evolve.

The newly revised SAT gives a perfect example of this. In this article, Business Insider presents the perspective of a “Harvard grad with a perfect score on the SAT.” In the article, Chris Ryan (the aforementioned Harvard alum) offers last minute tips to scoring well on the SAT. There’s a major problem with taking his advice: the test that Ryan took years ago hardly resembles the current SAT.

In another article, titled “College Students Share Their Best SAT, ACT Test Strategies,” students from Washington University in St. Louis and Harvard University are consulted. Their advice includes some valuable tidbits, such as beginning to study well before the test, striving to learn new strategies, realizing that these tests are “not the be-all, end-all,” and the importance of skipping questions that are sucking up all of your time. Alternatively, some of the advice falls flat and illustrates a lack of expertise. When counseling students on time management, the WashU student claims that you should skip passages on the ACT Science section that include charts if you struggle with reading them. This information is not only inaccurate, it’s potentially quite harmful. Of the six ACT Science passages, five of them will reliably have charts, while only one may not. If a student were to try to follow this advice on test day, they’d end up frantic and confused – as they’d potentially be trying to skip over all of the passages.

Overall, it’s vital to use discretion when following advice about college entrance exams that comes from friends or articles. While some of it may be valid, keep the source in mind. Just because your uncle recently had his home remodeled, that doesn’t mean you’d want him creating blueprints for yours. Instead, you’d turn to the experts.

Test-Optional Schools: Just how optional are those test scores?

Since the spring of 2015, 44 colleges have made the decision to drop the requirement of college admission test scores from their application process. According to FairTest, this brings the total number of test-optional colleges and universities to over 850. Unfortunately, it seems this growing trend in higher education holds more benefits for the schools who implement this policy than it does for their potential applicants.

Test-optional universities typically get a boost in the number of total applications received. In turn, this influx of applications results in more rejections which brings down the school’s acceptance rate, creating the illusion that the university has become more exclusive. Additionally, schools expect low scoring students to opt out of reporting test scores, which in turn could raise the average test score of the student population by removing many of the lowest scores from the equation. These statistics favorably impact college rankings for test-optional colleges.

Not all test-optional schools are created equally. The application process varies greatly from institution to institution. In fact, scores may not be optional for homeschooled students or in order to be considered for scholarships or financial aid packages. Many schools also require extra essays or minimum GPA requirements for students to forego the test scores submission process.

It is important to remember that even if you choose not to disclose your ACT/SAT scores when applying to a test-optional university, you will still be competing for admission with applicants who have submitted their scores for review. The general assumption schools make is that applicants who choose not to submit test scores do so out of fear that the score would weaken their application. Therefore, other aspects of the student’s application will be reviewed with a greater level of scrutiny. Test-optional schools are a great option for students who are otherwise well-rounded or who possess a specific skill or talent but perform poorly on test day.* The test-optional application process most certainly is not a simplified procedure but rather an alternative to the traditional path toward college acceptance.

            *It’s important to note that while many students score lower than they anticipated,
             only a very small percentage of students can’t improve their test scores in a meaningful way.

Written by Standard-Level Tutor, Jennifer Murphy

ACT Explains their Essay Scores

We’ve talked about the new ACT essay and its associated issues and confusions. ACT has released a document hoping to clear up the misconceptions, titled “ACT Research Explains New ACT Test Writing Scores and Their Relationship to Other Test Scores.”

I don’t want to ruin this delightful saga for you, but you should know going on: there is no relationship. Beyond that, ACT says there’s no relationship between individual subject scores, either.

ACT addresses the discrepancy between the Writing scores and the other scores by acknowledging that there is a difference in scores, but that concern about that fact is rooted in a lack of communication about how scores should be understood.

 

“It is true that scores on the writing test were on average 3 or more points lower than the Composite and English scores for the same percentile rank during September and October 2016. Some students may have had even larger differences between scores. This is not unexpected or an indication of a problem with the test. However, the expectation that the same or similar scores across ACT tests indicate the same or similar level of performance does signal that ACT needs to better communicate what test scores mean and how to appropriately interpret the scores.” 

Much of the article reads as an attempt by ACT to debunk the idea that their individual scores are very useful. For example, “the difference in scores across tests does not provide a basis for evaluating strengths and weaknesses….” The important thing to look at, they maintain, are the percentiles, because scores don’t really translate across subject lines. A 25 in Reading is not a 25 in Math, and you were silly to think, because they’re reported on the same scale and created by the same people, that there was any relationship between them. (OK, so they don’t actually call anyone silly. But they do say that “[t]ests are not designed to ensure that a score of 25 means the same thing on ACT Math as it does for ACT Science or Reading.” Check out that skilled usage of the passive voice there!)

There have always been some differences between the scores in different sections. Anyone who looks at a percentile chart will notice that. For the most part, they’re not huge.  But “even larger differences are found when comparing percentiles between the new ACT subject-level writing score and the other ACT scores. For example, a score of 30 on the ACT writing test places that same student at the 98th percentile, a full 9% higher than the reading score [of 30.] Similarly, an ACT subject-level writing score of 22 is over about 10 percentiles about the Composite or other ACT scores.”

Why change over to the new scale at all then? Don’t you think that the new scale might, you know, encourage those comparisons? The ACT admits the 1-36 score for the Writing “[makes] comparisons with the other scores much more tempting. Perhaps too tempting!”

ACT’s insistence on talking about the test like something that sprang into being all by itself and behaves in self-determining ways is giving me robot overlord concerns.

 

Didn’t they… design it? Didn’t they decide how the scoring would work? Unless the ACT test itself has become sentient and begun making demands, this doesn’t make any sense. Treating the scores as if they exist as something other than a product of a series of human decisions is absurd.

They put everything on the same scale. They’ve admitted that having things on an apparently identical scale invites comparison, and they’ve also said that “[c]omparisons of ACT scores across different tests should not be made on the basis of the actual score…” Oh, OK. What?

If the actual scores don’t really help in making comparisons (which is what standardized tests are for, after all – making comparisons), and everyone should just look at the percentiles, then why do we need the 1-36 scale at all?

In the document, ACT points out multiple times that this kind of variation is common on many tests. That doesn’t change the fact that they changed the Writing score to make it look like the other scores (except lower) which has caused confusion and will continue to do so. The math that turns an 8 into a 23 and a 9 into a 30 is not intuitive nor set in stone, and if they wanted to correlate a given Writing score and a Math or English score to the same percentile, they could.

Beyond that, as the ACT admits, “each test score includes some level of imprecision,” and that margin of error is considerably larger for the Writing test. They explain that “a score of 20 on ACT writing would indicate that there is a two-out-of-three chance that the student’s true score would be between 16 and 24.” (Put another way, this means there is a 33% chance that your “true score,” whatever that means, is more than 4 points away from what shows up on your report.”) The ACT cautions against using the Writing score on its own to make decisions, suggesting using the ELA score instead – an average of Reading, English and Writing. But if the Writing score on its own isn’t a useful metric, then perhaps it shouldn’t be reported?

Further complicating all of this, the ACT blames some of the low scoring on students’ unfamiliarity with the new version of the test: “students are only beginning to get experience with the new writing prompt. Research suggests that as students become increasingly familiar with the new prompt, scores may increase[.]”

The ACT claims that the essay tests “argumentative writing skills that are essential for college and career success.” If that were actually the case, familiarity with the test wouldn’t matter. Unless the ACT is arguing that as students become more familiar with this particular aspect of the test, they will also become more prepared for college. I suggest that those two factors – college readiness and ACT essay scores – don’t have a relationship, either.

Author: Audrey Hazzard, Master-Level Tutor