“Summertime…when you’ll take ACTs next year…”
-George Gershwin, sort of

The Arms Race Continues

Near the end of February, the ACT announced that in 2018, it will begin administering the ACT in July. This exam will not be replacing one of the six already administered (February, April, June, September, October, and December), but will join the others to make seven total exams offered each year.

This is not very surprising. Anyone who has been keeping up with our blogs knows that the ACT vs. SAT arms race has accelerated, especially since the revision of the SAT last year. As part of the revision, the College Board, which administers the SAT, announced that it would be shifting its January exam to August. We knew it was only a matter of time before the ACT struck back with its own summer exam. Here are our thoughts on the extra exam.

Pros

There are a few upsides of having the option to sit for the ACT in July.

  1. It will allow students who wish to retest to maintain “momentum”. Though students might argue to the contrary, the traditional May through July or June through August summer break is long. Previously, students who took the ACT in the spring (April or June) would have to wait months (until at least September) to test again. A test in July narrows the gap, and provides incentive for students not to let off the gas with their prep. It’s likely that students who choose to take the ACT in July will have forgotten less in the interim, and will have continued to practice with ACT material rather than forget about the ACT for months on end. This can only help students’ scores.

  2. It may alleviate stress for rising seniors. Historically, many students have waited until the spring of their junior year to take their first ACT. This usually meant that if they wanted to retest, they would have to do so in the fall of their senior year, in the midst of the season when college applications only add to the other stressors school normally brings. For rising seniors––especially those who plan on sending in early applications––the July test could be a welcome opportunity to take a final ACT well before senior year begins. This could significantly reduce stress for thousands of students looking to give the ACT one final go.

  3. It will provide an opportunity for very proactive rising juniors to test early. Some students who are taking an accelerated curriculum wish to get the ACT out of the way as soon as they can. We at Method Test Prep recommend that rising juniors use the summer to prep and then take their first exam in the middle or late fall, but for those students who want to really put the pedal to the metal, the July test could be a good opportunity to get things done very early.

Cons

We should not, however, ignore the potential downsides of a July ACT.

  1. It could convince students that they need to start early. We are fully aware of how over-the-top the stress around standardized testing has become. Once students know there is a July exam available, they may feel compelled to take the exam before they are truly ready for it.

  2. It could disproportionately favor students in certain districts. For schools, community centers, and other ACT testing sites across the country, administering the ACT is an expensive, time-consuming, and coordination-demanding process. Proctors must be recruited and paid, buildings must be staffed with security and custodial personnel, and a host of other measures must be taken to ensure that the tests run smoothly. For many school districts, this is barely feasible during the school year, no less during the summer. And then, there’s the heat: it’s likely that the tests will have to be offered in locations where there is at least some air conditioning, lest the test-takers, proctors, and security staff melt in the sauna of an uncooled school building in mid-July. How many sufficiently air-conditioned schools can you name? All of these hurdles might end up favoring wealthier, better-equipped districts, leaving by the wayside out-of-district students who cannot easily travel to a test center offering the exam.

  3. It could further encourage the serial tester. Some students take the ACT again, and again, and again, and again. While this is rarely beneficial after the third exam, some students take the ACT five or six times. Having an extra date for these students is not necessarily the healthiest option. Of course, it’s their choice to sit for yet another exam, but having one available can end up adding fuel to the fire.

What do you think about the new ACT date? Let us know in the comments below!