ACT Tests Computerized Exam

University Testing

Late last fall, juniors and seniors in 40 high schools around the country served as "guinea pigs" for a new, automated version of the ACT, the nation's second largest college admissions test. The experimental exam was a computer adaptive test (CAT) in which the questions delivered to examinees vary based on their responses to previous items. Scores on the trial administration did not count for students' permanent records.

Local newspapers reported that the try-out ACT featured full color 17-inch screens, graphics and movable maps. But as in other CAT products, such as the Graduate Record Exam and Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) made by the Educational Testing Service, students cannot skip any questions or return to prior problems to reconsider answers (see FairTest Examiner, Spring 1997). ACT has used CAT technology since the early 1990s for its placement tests used to help determine the most appropriate level of academic course work for students once they enter college.

Like their College Board counterparts who have been experimenting with a computerized SAT on small samples of students for several years, ACT officials say that their test will remain in a pencil-and-paper format for the foreseeable future. One reason for the companies' hesitancy in rolling out college admissions exams in CAT form nationally is the large number of computer testing sites that would need to be established. Nearly one million students graduate from high school with ACT scores on their records; about 1.2 million have taken the SAT.

There are also unanswered concerns about such exams' consistency and fairness (see Examiner, Summer 1997). Simply automating a poor test does not magically transform it into an improved assessment. Computerization may just compound long-standing problems.

--For more information on CAT exams, see FairTest's fact sheet "Computerized Testing More Questions Than Answers"