- The ACT college admissions exam will start to be administered online more broadly beginning in December, according to a Tuesday announcement.
- The company that administers the assessment — also called the ACT — has offered online options since 2016 for students who test during the weekday because their school districts or states have an agreement with the exam provider. However, the ACT is now expanding the digital version of the assessment to other test takers.
- ACT’s chief executive, Janet Godwin, said in a statement the online pilot will start with 5,000 students “at a select number of test centers” and then will grow to others throughout next year.
Godwin said in her message that the ACT isn’t changing, but rather students have new options to take it that benefit their learning style.
“The online option is an important step toward expanding equitable and inclusive testing experiences for all students,” Godwin said.
She noted the digital format enables the ACT to provide new accessibility accommodations, including support for screen reader users, text-to-speech functionality and the ability to zoom in and hide answer options.
Testing fees and the way scores will be distributed will remain the same for both versions of the test, Godwin said.
The ACT and the other test that has been a hallmark of college admissions, the SAT, reached a crisis point in the pandemic’s early days, when the spread of COVID-19 shut down common testing sites like K-12 schools.
Acknowledging the barriers to sit for the tests, most colleges dropped their admissions test mandates in 2020 and beyond. And many institutions have not reinstated them despite pandemic-era restrictions subsiding.
This compounded criticism that the tests poorly measure a student’s early academic performance in college. Testing critics argue wealthy students gain an advantage on the exams by having access to tutoring that their historically marginalized peers do not.
The ACT and the College Board, which runs the SAT, have said that educational inequities exist in education, but their exams aren’t the problem. However, the providers have still said they need to ensure their products are accessible.
To that end, the College Board said in January 2022 it would start to deliver the SAT digitally for international students this year and domestically in 2024. Enrollment managers treated the announcement with skepticism, arguing an online format would do little to mitigate systemic problems with the exam.
The shrinking role of admissions exams extends beyond the undergraduate level, forcing other test makers to adapt.
For instance, on Wednesday, the maker of the Graduate Record Examinations, or GRE, announced it will shorten the test significantly — from about four hours to less than two. The new iteration removes a part of the analytical writing section and reduces the number of questions in the test’s quantitative and verbal reasoning segments.
Educational Testing Service, or ETS, the company behind the GRE, also nixed an unscored part of the exam that intends to try out the difficulty of new questions.
Craig Harman, senior manager of content and curriculum for Kaplan’s GRE test prep programs, said in an emailed statement that preparing for the GRE should not change.
However, he said the timing of the new GRE was interesting. It’s due to be released in September, near when a truncated version of the Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, will debut.
“Over the last 15 years or so, the two exams have been fierce rivals among business school applicants, as both the GRE and GMAT are accepted by MBA programs,” Harman said. “Twenty years ago, almost no business school accepted the GRE, but now almost all of them do.”
ETS also announced recently it would shrink another one of its exams — the Test of English as a Foreign Language, known commonly as TOEFL — from three hours to less than two, starting in July.