Correction to This Article
An Aug. 16 article gave an incorrect date for when the SAT is expected to report results from its revised test. Results are expected to be reported Aug. 29.

More Students Eyeing College Opt to Take ACT

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Scores on the ACT, the college entrance test rival to the SAT, increased for the high school class of 2006, as a record 1.2 million graduating seniors took the nearly three-hour exam.

Maryland, Virginia and the District joined the nation in having an increase in the number of students taking the test as well as in the scores. Although the SAT is the dominant test in the Washington area, the ACT has had a double-digit increase among students locally over the past four years, the Iowa City-based nonprofit ACT organization reported yesterday.

The top overall score on the ACT, which has sections on math, science, English and reading, is 36. The national average, which includes both public and private school students, increased to 21.1 from last year's 20.9. The average for Virginia was 21.1; for Maryland, 21.4; and for the District, 18.4.

The SAT is expected to report results from its newly revised test, given to about 1.5 million members of the Class of 2006, on Tuesday. The 80-year-old SAT has had a rough year, with more than 5,000 tests scored incorrectly because of moisture in some answer sheets. SAT officials have predicted a slight decline in their national average scores, blaming a drop in repeat test-taking.

(The new test also was lengthened to three hours and 45 minutes, and the top score increased from 1600 to 2400, to make room for a writing section that includes a required 25-minute essay.)

Since 2002, the number of ACT tests given in Virginia has risen 45 percent. The increase for that period in Maryland has been 23 percent, and, in the District, 14 percent. The ACT said its test was taken by 40 percent of seniors nationally, 15 percent of those in Virginia, 12 percent of Maryland's seniors and 30 percent of the District's.

Karen Forman, head of guidance at George C. Marshall High in Fairfax County, said the growth in ACT test-takers at her 1,300-student school was significant but still small. Twenty-nine students took the test in the most recent school year, compared with 16 the year before, an 81 percent jump. She said the ACT's decision not to follow the SAT and add a required writing section -- there is an optional 30-minute essay -- might have led more students worried about their writing skills to the ACT. The ACT's science section also might have persuaded some strong science students to try the less-popular test, she said. The SAT does not have a science section.

Patricia Vallani, a counselor at Damascus High School in Montgomery County, said ACT use is also increasing at her school. "The kids find it user-friendly," she said, because the ACT reflects more skills taught in school. She said Damascus counselors will sometimes recommend the ACT to students whose PSAT or SAT scores are not as impressive as their high school grades.

Despite the scoring difference between the ACT and the SAT, students usually do equally well on each. The ACT, with the essay question, costs $43, and the SAT is $41.50, a 46 percent jump from the cost of the old SAT. Without the writing test, the ACT costs $29.

Some students said they preferred the ACT because, unlike with the SAT, they did not have to send all their scores, especially the bad ones, to the colleges to which they were applying. The SAT decided to end its policy of letting students decide which score to send to schools three years ago because it gave an advantage to affluent students who could afford to take more tests and pay for better coaching.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company