The ACT Reigns Supreme in 2016

The ACT has further solidified its position as the dominant admissions test in the nation, boasting a market share of nearly 2/3 of college bound students. In its recently released annual group profile report the ACT posted astounding numbers. Roughly 2.1 million students of the 3.5 million high school graduates of the class of 2016 took the ACT.

We anticipated that the ACT would gain market share this year due to student uncertainty about the new SAT, and those gains have manifested. The ACT picked up 166,000 new test-takers in 2016, a whopping 8.6% of the population of HS graduates. What a difference a year makes! And how about a decade! Take a look at the 10-year record of ACT’s rise to dominance:

U.S. Test Takers by Graduation Year

2006 1,206,455 1,465,744 -259,289
2007 1,300,599 1,494,531 -193,932
2008 1,421,941 1,518,859 -96,918
2009 1,480,469 1,530,128 -49,659
2010 1,568,835 1,597,329 -28,494
2011 1,623,112 1,647,123 -24,011
2012 1,666,209 1,664,479 1,730
2013 1,799,243 1,660,047 139,196
2014 1,845,787 1,670,000 175,787
2015 1,924,436 1,698,521 225,915
2016 2,090,342 1,698,5211* 391,821
*Official SAT numbers for the class of 2016 have not yet been released; we anticipate that number of students taking the SAT in 2016 will be roughly the same as the number taking it the prior year.




The College Board has yet to post its own numbers, so our 2016 figures for the SAT are estimates. We do not anticipate significant SAT test taker gains for the classes of 2016 and 2017 and, for purposes of the above charts, have held SAT test taker numbers for 2016 constant with the prior year. In this time of transition and score-return delays, many students have decided to steer clear of the SAT. The College Board picked up several state-wide testing contracts in 2015, which will help it offset some of its losses in individual testers. Still, the College Board will have to focus on the long haul if it hopes to regain some of its former glory.

New state contract opportunities will likely open up in 2017 as states continue to cancel contracts with PARCC and Smarter Balanced and shift their testing dollars to the more established testing giants. The College Board has had a lot of early success in winning state contracts and time will tell if the it can flip more states from the ACT to the SAT, with its aggressive pricing and Common Core-aligned test.

Over time, once the hype and fear associated with the new test has settled, the SAT may also pick up individual students due to its more generous timing, and greater allotment of time per question. In addition, the SAT may win over admissions officers if it turns out to be a better predictor of college grades, which it may well do, according to an early pilot study conducted by the College Board. The SAT is a more rigorous test, one that is better aligned with high school curricula and likely with college performance. It remains to be seen whether the bold redesign can eventually turn the ship for the flagging SAT.

Meanwhile, corks are popping in Iowa City as ACT Inc. employees relish their phenomenally successful year and look forward to a new year with momentum on their side, and the Pre-ACT ready to spread out across the country.

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  • Dan Lipford

    “…the SAT may win over admissions officers if it turns out to be a better predictor of college grades, which it may well do, according to an early pilot study conducted by the College Board.”

    Given recent revelations by Manuel Alfaro, a former Executive Director of Test Design and Development at the College Board, it would require stunning naivete to believe almost anything the CB says about the rSAT.

  • Jed Applerouth

    I agree that the revelations by Mr. Alfaro are troubling, but I don’t believe the researchers at CB are wholesale fabricating research studies! My only concern is regarding whether we can generalize the findings from the sample of 2050 students in the pilot study to the broader population. I do believe that the Redesigned SAT will correlate more highly with freshman grades. The changes the CB made to the test– dropping the sentence completions and off-curriculum math, pushing for higher level reading and analysis–should help the SAT align more closely with college-level work. The .53 correlation between the SAT score and Freshman Year GPA strikes me as somewhat high, but I don’t wholesale reject the finding. A broader sample will give us more accurate information, and we’ll have that data in the summer of 2018. I’d be surprised if the Redesigned SAT did not augment its predictive strength. We’ll know soon enough!