The Eyes of MSMS

The Vision

Liao: Response to Thankachan’s ACT Criticism

Kevin+takes+a+practice+test+
Kevin takes a practice test

Kevin takes a practice test

Hayden Stokley

Hayden Stokley

Kevin takes a practice test

Kevin Liao, Opinion Editor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






In last weeks edition, Mariat Thankachan wrote a critique of the ACT, calling for its elimination from the arena of college admissions. She offers many arguments against the ACT, claiming that it is “not as fair as it claims to be all over its website or the news.” While many of her points have root in truth, I believe that they are exaggerated.

One of her first points is how the underprivileged are at a severe disadvantage when compared to people who are able to afford “prep books, personal tutors, or other forms of study material.” I will concede this may be the case in some instances, but I think that this is not the fault of the ACT. This is a symptom of the bigger problem of income inequality. The differential in ACT scores is just one of the problems that the underprivileged face.

Thankachan mentions that the ACT costs roughly sixty dollars to take the test and costs more money to send the scores to colleges. However, the ACT has acknowledged this and has offered very generous fee waivers. According to the ACT Fee Waiver Eligibility Requirements for 2017-2018, the ACT will allow students to take the test two free times. They get four free score reports with each test. Mississippi pays for all students in public schools to take it once their junior year. This gives most students roughly three opportunities to take the test. While I agree that it would be advantageous to be able to take the test at all available opportunities, this is a problem that can be overcome with careful planning of when to take it.

If one qualifies for a fee waiver, the ACT even offers free access to its official online prep system: “ACT Kaplan Online Prep Live.” Many families who do not qualify for a fee waiver consider it too expensive. It is $100 for a six-week subscription, $180 for a three-month subscription, and $250 for a six-month subscription.

I believe that a good fix for this would be for the ACT and other standardized testing to be government run or funded. This would remove the financial barrier to take the ACT. However, this would mean that the number of times that one could take the ACT would have to be capped, maybe 3 or 4 starting from high school, so people don’t take the test 20 times starting from freshman year. I believe that this should be done anyway. Many students take the ACT many times without preparing for it, and hope for a lucky test. This is my theory on why some schools such as Stanford now require the entire testing history to be sent.

On the subject of preparation, prep books are only expensive if a student chooses to buy many. I agree that there are too many prep books on the market and they prey on a student’s fear that they will do poorly. My personal recommendation is the Official ACT Prep Guide by the creators of the ACT which costed $19.82 for a used copy on Nov. 27 on Amazon. The rest of the prep books on the market, including by reputable companies such the Princeton Review are inefficient because they do not include as many official questions as the Official ACT Prep Guide contains.

My other recommendation is the ACT Prep Black Book by Mike Barrett which cost $7.13 on Nov. 27 for a used copy on Amazon. This is not as essential as the aforementioned book, but I believe that it contains very helpful tips. These two books total roughly $27. If families start saving money for these books over a long period of time by making wise financial decisions, I believe that a great proportion of families will be able to afford these books.

A government funded solution would solve the preparation problem by attempting to integrate preparation for the test into the curriculum. Thankachan mentions that “different schools have unique curriculum, some are detailed and challenging while others are lazy and ineffectual.” A nationalized education system would solve this. I remember hearing about this a lot lately, something called Common Core?

I want to drive home that the ACT is hardly a test of knowledge. It tests your ability to correct grammar and do math up to precalculus. Common Core teaches these skills. The other two sections are just reading tests. Many students may see the science section and think that since they do not understand what’s going on, they are not prepared. Nothing could be further from the truth. All the answers for the ACT Science are spelled out on the page, the ACT just throws in these complicated experiments to confuse students. Most questions are just interpreting data from graphs and tables. I don’t know how we go about improving reading skills other than more exposure to reading. I suppose people could take “ACT-style” questions on what they read for English class. But I’m still not sure how I learned to read, so I will defer how to integrate the ACT into classrooms to the education experts.

Thankachan also mentions testing anxiety. I believe that testing anxiety is a real thing for some people, but I believe that it is a commonly used justification for a score that a person is not satisfied with. Anxiety, just like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, is something that many people say they have when they have no idea what it actually means. Just like being clean does not mean you have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, being nervous for a test does not mean you have anxiety. Anxiety is a serious disease with diagnostic criteria that can cripple people’s lives, it is not “fear.” But I’m getting off track.

I recommend that if one truly believes that they have testing anxiety, they see a professional. There is help out there and no reason to continue suffering. However, if one truly has testing anxiety, it would likely not just be on the ACT. It would have affected them during their whole high school career.

Thankachan also mentions that she believes there is not enough time. How much time should we give people to take the ACT? Should they be allowed to sit there all day? The ACT with writing currently already has people getting out around 1 p.m., a big chunk of their day gone. Why not for a week if they so desire?  How do you quantify how much time is too much? The problem with giving more time is that it is a slippery slope. Five extra minutes may be enough for some, while 20 minutes is necessary for some. One way to measure how much time is needed other than to give the tests to a sample and performing statistical voodoo. The ACT already does this, not just for time but to make sure their test is valid. Also, if this is to measure “college-readiness” (a very-nebulous term), you aren’t given as much time as you want to take exams in college. Not even in high school. This argument is based on anecdote that one person doesn’t have enough time. What about the people that can?

Ultimately, Thankachan states that all these “problems” of the test is why the test should not be given much weight, stating that “The world would just benefit by realizing that a student’s worth and potential lies in more than a two-digit piece of ink.” This is a strawman. In no place is the ACT the only measure of “worth.” Grades and extracurriculars are considered in the college admissions process. In fact, if we remove the ACT, wouldn’t just GPA and extracurriculars be much less holistic? Should we follow kids around with cameras, Orwell-style? Wouldn’t this give us the most information to determine worth?

While the ACT has its problems, I believe that calling for its elimination is an overreaction. I believe that the government should fund all students to take the ACT a certain amount of times and that the ACT should reflect the skills learned in a nationally standardized curriculum. And of course, it should not be the only metric to measure students.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




Navigate Right
Navigate Left
  • Liao: Response to Thankachan’s ACT Criticism

    Opinion

    Peng: Equality from a Model Minority

  • Liao: Response to Thankachan’s ACT Criticism

    Opinion

    Hairston: A Night in Wonderland

  • Liao: Response to Thankachan’s ACT Criticism

    Opinion

    Net Neutrality Could Be Washing Away

  • Liao: Response to Thankachan’s ACT Criticism

    Opinion

    Suttles: The Best Starbucks Drinks Revealed

  • Liao: Response to Thankachan’s ACT Criticism

    Opinion

    Thankachan: Gone with the ACT

  • Liao: Response to Thankachan’s ACT Criticism

    Opinion

    Gordon: Students Need More Discussion of Current Events

  • Liao: Response to Thankachan’s ACT Criticism

    Opinion

    Liao: Catalonia, A Cause Worth Supporting

  • Liao: Response to Thankachan’s ACT Criticism

    Opinion

    Reviewing My First Science Carnival

  • Liao: Response to Thankachan’s ACT Criticism

    Opinion

    Schaumburg: Mass Shootings and Gun Laws, “Freedom is Not Free”

  • Liao: Response to Thankachan’s ACT Criticism

    Opinion

    Luo: Reflecting on the First Nine Weeks

The Eyes of MSMS
Liao: Response to Thankachan’s ACT Criticism