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In a turn of events that perhaps isn’t surprising, the ACT announced in June that it would revamp its tests. This move follows the ACT’s assessment rival, the SAT, who announced a facelift for the test in fall 2013.
The SAT had previous announced changes in the types of reading and vocabulary that students would be tested on. The famed (and dreaded?) ‘SAT words’ – long and generally non-colloquial items of vocabulary – will be replaced next year by more context-relevant vocabulary. Similarly, readings selections will feature more practical selections. Such changes generally align with the proposed Common Core standards, which focus on correct usage and vocabulary across a wide range of reading materials. Other changes that fit with Common Core standards include a stronger focus on critical reasoning skills across both the math and writing tests. The SAT comments that these changes strengthen the test’s function as a predictor of postsecondary success, as analytic ability is highly valued in a college classroom.
The ACT has long had a reputation as a better measure of a student’s high school abilities, and is widely popular in the US Midwest and South. This year, students piloted the computerized testing system, which will become widely available in 2015/6 (paper tests will still be available). This aligns the ACT with graduate school testing such as the GRE and GMAT. A computerized test adapts to the test-taker’s abilities, but also feature interactive questions that are impossible on paper. A number of scoring changes are also being introduced. The most notable are a grouped ‘STEM’ score to encourage students to consider careers in STEM fields, and a change to the optional essay.
Although both the SAT and ACT aver that they are constantly updating their materials, some suggest that the increased focus on analytic ability comes in response to increased criticism of standardized testing.