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The SAT and the ACT


Q. Are college admissions test scores worse today than a generation ago?


Not really. They're about the same on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT, formerly the Scholastic Aptitude Test) and the American College Test (ACT).


Ironically, the scores may be flat because (1) schools are doing better, or (2) schools are doing worse. In the first case, schools might be doing a better job preparing the "bottom of the barrel" among the student population, and so students who might not have tried to go to college in previous years are now taking the tests and seeing if they could get in to college. Naturally, their lower scores would keep the averages down. But if (2) is correct, then we have doubled the amount of money we spend per pupil in the last 30 years, even after adjusting for inflation, but are getting just about the same results, while the world is getting increasingly more complicated and everyone agrees we need graduates with better academic skills.


The SAT is published by the Educational Testing Service, Princeton, N.J. It consists of the SAT Reasoning TestTM (SAT) and SAT Subject TestsTM. The SAT is three hours and 45 minutes long and measures skills in three areas: critical reading, math, and writing. Although most questions are multiple choice, students are also required to write a 25-minute essay. The SAT Subject Tests are one-hour, mostly multiple-choice tests in specific subjects. These tests measure knowledge of particular subjects and the ability to apply that knowledge. Many colleges require or recommend one or more of these tests for admission or placement purposes. In general, colleges on the East Coast require the SAT, and colleges in the Midwest and West prefer the ACT. But many students take both. For more about them, see SAT


The ACT is in Iowa City, Iowa. For a list of Frequently Asked Questions directed at students, see: ACT FAQ. The ACT has always been more aligned with high school curricula than the SAT is, although both claim to be excellent predictors of college success.


Homework: Researcher Jay P. Greene is considered one of the nation's top experts on education statistics and how to analyze them correctly, which is especially important in understanding what SAT and ACT test scores mean. He is professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. There's excellent information about testing, including college admissions tests, in his book, Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools - And Why It Isn't So.


By Susan Darst Williams Testing 10 2008


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