SAT Losing Market-Share To ACT, Test-Optional Colleges

University Testing

FairTest Examiner, December 2008

Data released this fall by the SAT’s sponsor, the College Board, indicate that a declining percentage of U.S. students is signing up for the company’s admissions exam. Reasons for the trend include the “new” SAT’s failure to address long-standing concerns about the exam’s biases and predictive value, the rapid growth of test-optional admissions, and the more consumer-friendly reputation of the rival ACT.

In the high school class of 2008, barely 46% of graduating seniors had taken the SAT even once. Three years ago, the last class before a longer and more expensive test was introduced, 47.5% of graduates had taken the SAT.

At the same time, many more students are signing up for the rival ACT exam. Since 2005, the number of ACT registrants has grown by 235,690, an increase five times greater than for the SAT. Some of that gain comes from ACT signing up several states, including Colorado, Illinois and Michigan, to administer the test to all students. The College Board has only been able to convince one small state to mandate the SAT.

In the high school class of 2008, a total of 1,421,941 graduates had taken the ACT. The comparable number for the SAT was 1,518,859. That means 94% as many students took the ACT as SAT, the highest ratio ever reported. An unknown number take both tests.

The trend away from the “new” SAT is not surprising. Even the test’s manufacturer admits that the latest version of the test is neither fairer nor more accurate than the exam it replaced. It underpredicts college grades for females, discouraging them from careers in math and science, and for many minority groups. Because average SAT scores dramatically rise as family income increases, its reliance on the exam in the admissions process gives another leg up to children from wealthy households (score chart at: The test-makers’ also concede that high school grades are better than the SAT at forecasting college performance (

The surge in the number of high school seniors taking the ACT does not mean it is a superior admissions tool. It is a different test, not a better one. ACT has had more consumer-friendly policies, such as not requiring all test-takers to sign-up for an unnecessary, expensive "writing" section; the absence of any penalty for inaccurate guessing; and allowing students to choose which scores a college receives. (A similar SAT “Score Choice” policy does not go into effect until the high school class of 2010.) But, like the SAT, the ACT remains a less accurate and less fair predictor of undergraduate performance than high school grades. Gender, race and income gaps are similar on the two tests (

Because of both exams’ flaws, the best policy remains test-optional admissions, in which neither is required