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SAT reform could send more Chinese to ACT

Updated: 2015-01-20 09:37
By NIU YUE in New York (China Daily USA)

The revised SAT could create an opportunity for ACT, its largest competitor in college admissions testing, as test advisers in China worry that the lack of predictability about the new SAT may hinder student preparation.

"We now recommend students take ACT tests because of the reform," said Hu Zhonghua, general manager of OnePlusOne, a Beijing-based test-preparation firm thatprovides one-on-one tutoring.

The College Boardannounced in March 2014 that it would reform the current SAT. The new test, starting in the spring of 2016,will no longer ask students to complete sentences with difficult words, but test-takers will also face longer reading materials in the math section and deal with tougher but more practical tasks.

The design is to "focus on the few, durable things that evidence shows matter most for college and career success," said Kate Levin, associate director of communications for the College Board.

"Neither teachers nor students are familiar with the new SAT, so it is very hard for students to make preparations," Hu said.

Chinese test-preparation institutions usually prepare students with intensive training and jijing, information based on past tests that were collected through test-takers' memories. As material on one test, either the SAT or ACT, often reappears in future tests, jijing has been crucial for test preparation. Chinese students have limited materials available on the new SAT, except for sample questions on the SAT's website.

"Only around 11 percent of our students take ACT now, but we could substantially feel it is getting more and more popular," said Chen Xuewei, director of North America programs of Beijing Group, China's largest test-preparation institution, which trains more than 2.5 million students for various tests every year. Fifty-seven percent of high school graduates in the US took the ACT in 2014.

ACT does not release data on the volume of test-takers outside the US, but LaMar Bunts, ACT'svice-president of international programs, told China Daily that the firm expectsa 25 percent increase in Chinese participants in 2015 and even more in 2016.

"Considering the redesigned SAT's uncertainties and dishonest behaviors among Asian SAT takers, it is a wise choice to choose ACT," Chen said.

In October 2014, the College Board delayed the release of the results of thousands of Chinese and Korean SAT-takers, due to allegations that test materials were leaked beforehand. The majority of students got their results eventually, but the delay disrupted their early decision and early admission processes with colleges. In 2013, some 1,500 Korean students' scores also were canceled due to cheating allegations.

"ACT also pays more attention to natural sciences and logic, which is an advantage for Chinese students," Chensaid. With the science section of ACT, which the SAT doesn't have, "students interested in pursuing university studies in a science field can use the ACT science score to demonstrate their knowledge," Bunts said.

Hu told China Dailythat the ACT's range of knowledge-testing is wider than the SAT's, and it is just as hard to achieve a high score.

"While the ACT measures across a large domain, the redesigned SAT is focused on the few durable things that evidence shows matter most for college and career success," Levin said.

"In addition, the College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to offer free, personalized practice materials so every student will know what to expect on the day of the test," she said.

Lu Huiquan in New York contributed to this story.

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