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Articles / Preparing for College / Standardized Testing News

Standardized Testing News

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | June 3, 2013

Where would we be without standardized testing? (Don't answer that.) I was wondering about that the other day when I saw all the angst being emitted from high schoolers on the College Confidential discussion forum. It boggled my mind when I notice that CC's SAT and ACT Tests & Test Preparation forum section had 1,267,328 posts comprising 122,474 topics (as of this moment). The unfortunate reality from reading through even a small portion of this vast archive is that many students (and even parents) believe that standardized test scores are some kind of badge of courage that establishes one's place in the intellectual-worthiness hierarchy in college admissions pools. While many colleges deny their emphasis standardized test scores, don't be fooled. They're an important component in the admissions game.

What about pros and cons? Well, the CC forum has some from-the-trenches opinions about that. One poster, way back in 2006, had this to say:

Liking the ACT better myself, I'll leave it to someone else to give you the advantages of the SAT. All I can think of is that it is better if you score better on it and the score will allow you to apply to Harvey Mudd, the only school I know of that doesn't accept the ACT.

Pro's of the ACT:

1. Score choice

2. No penalty for guessing

3. Substitutes for SAT Subject Tests at many colleges

4. Tests don't go back and forth. You take one math test, one reading test, etc.

SAT tends to have trickier questions. ACT tends to put people in time binds. How this plays out depends on the individual. I scored the same on the two tests, as did my son. My daughter scored significantly better on the ACT and detested the format of the SAT to boot. …

The SAT and ACT are the the King Kong vs. Godzilla tests in the college admissions world. They evolve to stay current with technological and sociological trends and there is a galaxy of mythology surrounding them. This leads to various and sometimes unique approaches to undertaking their challenges.

I've recently received some updates about both the technical evolution of the ACT and (an indirect) mythology about taking the SAT and how that applies to other standardized tests, so I'll share them with you here.

First, the ACT is going digital. These new tests will offer more than a multiple-choice experience and, according to ACT officials, offer immediate results and an enhanced user experience. Starting as early as Spring 2015, this next-generation ACT will begin reflecting students' tech savvy and their demand for quicker results. Here's a summary of what the New ACT is proposed to offer:

What WILL change:

· Online, computer-based/iPad administration of the ACT (for in-school testing).

· Optional constructed-response questions (for in-school testing).

· Aiming for spring 2015, but already underway.

· The tests will still have the familiar multiple-choice options, as well as interactive portions, such as a simulated science lab for students to conduct experiments or space for students to explain concepts in their own words.

What WON'T change:

· Content of the ACT—multiple choice battery will not be impacted; constructed-response questions and CBT administration are optional.

· Validated College Readiness Standards and Benchmarks that the ACT found through research.

· ACT's commitment to quality.

· The 1 to 36 scoring scale.

· ACT's robust research agenda.

· 215-question, fill-in-the-bubble tests still would be available for those who prefer the paper-and-No. 2 pencil option.

New benefits:

· Online reporting.

· Better user experience.

· Reporting categories aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

· Computer-based and paper-and-pencil testing.

· Faster results.

Now, as for the SAT (by way of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)), some test-taking mythology has been undone, according to new Educational Testing Service (ETS) research, which disproves the popular test-taking myth that going with your first answer is the best strategy. According to a recent press release:

Students, college instructors and test prep experts from around the world have long believed the myth that your first instinct is correct when it comes to multiple-choice [answers]. Recent GRE research proves otherwise, showing that, in fact, more test takers gained scores from switching answers on the quantitative reasoning and verbal reasoning multiple-choice questions.

In a study, conducted late last year, ETS researchers looked at the response change patterns on the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections of the GRE revised General Test of more than 8,000 participants from 37 countries. The key finding: most test takers gained scores from switching answers on the multiple-choice items (71.7% on the Quantitative Reasoning items and 77.1% on the Verbal Reasoning items).

The study also included a survey of nearly 2,000 test takers about the perceived benefits or harms of answer changing. When asked whether the original or the switched answer was more likely to be correct, 59% of the survey respondents believed that the original answer is more likely to be correct and only 14% said the switched answer. Despite test taker perception, the empirical results suggest that the respondents substantially underestimate the benefits of response change.

The GRE revised General Test is the only admissions test that allows MBA and graduate school applicants to mark questions within a section and go back to change answers if they had second thoughts. And now we have evidence that this ability to change an answer may help test takers improve their score.

Even though this research was based on the GRE, the psychological implications carry over to the SAT. However, I find the research a bit lacking because it doesn't address my personal experience in taking the SAT and GRE, when my first instinctive answer responses included “Huh?" and “I have no idea." Perhaps those will be analyzed in upcoming investigations.

So, be on the lookout for the digital ACT and don't forget that research about going with your first instinct when answering multiple-choice questions. My first instinct is that all this is good news.


Don't forget to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.



Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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