In April, ACT Inc. announced that starting this September, the ACT will be administered to international test takers exclusively in computer-based form. This decision has a number of important implications, most of which hint at the future of the ACT (and, we would argue, of standardized college admissions testing in general) for American students.
The move to fully computer-based testing is unsurprising. The ACT has been piloting computer-based tests (CBTs) for several years (even in the U.S.), and claims that during this time, it has worked out kinks in test reliability and security to a point at which it is confident in its ability to administer the test smoothly. Moreover, ACT has been working with international organizations to help ensure access to CBTs for students "in every region of the globe."
According to the ACT, the impetus for complete adoption of computer-based exams is manifold. First, it will allow for more test administration dates throughout the year––up to 24, based on location. Second, it will drastically reduce the score turnaround time: when paper forms don't need to be mailed back, collated, and scanned, the time needed to grade the exam will decrease significantly. Third, testing on computers will enhance the security of the exam at a time when both the College Board––which administers the SAT––and the ACT are combatting widespread international cheating. Because the test forms will no longer be physically available, it will be easier to thwart those who would compromise the confidentiality of the test content prior to the exam.
We can look at the ACT's decision as a sign of things to come for U.S.-based testing. Currently, the ACT is offered 7 times per year (only 5 if you're in New York, where the February and July tests aren't administered, and 6 if you're in California, where the July test isn't administered); many of these national test dates conflict with other student obligations, and add stress to the already anxiety-packed school year. When the ACT eventually rolls out wider computer-based test availability in the U.S., the format will allow students greater latitude in scheduling their tests, and thus may help to reduce the associated stress. Furthermore, students taking the test in senior year may receive their results more quickly––an important factor in submitting college applications on time.
But even beyond the benefits of scheduling and stress relief, the move to CBTs reveals a wider recognition that online testing––and online education in general––is where we're headed. It's no mystery why. Due to the ease with which it can distribute materials, the internet vastly increases access. It also saves time (and likely money) on the administrative end, and can make it much easier to record meaningful data and use it to improve outcomes. It also presents students with educational material through the media they know and love (i.e., the internet and the devices they use to access it), and that they'll be using for the rest of their lives.
Thus, the broader application of CBT is an acknowledgement that the internet and its tools can help move education forward. Even if the ACT itself is not a bastion of educational beneficence (spoiler alert: it's not), its shift toward more CBTs is part of a long-term trend of technological and web-based instruction and testing that is slowly, but surely, changing education at large.
At Method Test Prep, we've known for a long time that web-based instruction is remarkably effective when implemented correctly. Through our self-paced SAT/ACT prep program, in-person and online tutoring, and live online classes, we've reached hundreds of thousands of students, improving their testing outcomes in the process. We are excited for online testing to grow: though the introduction of any new system will be met with some consternation, we believe that overall, technology and the internet will help mitigate persistent educational disparities, and will allow for more efficient, effective instruction in the years to come.
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