More NJ Students Taking ACT, But Scores Are Lowest in Five Years

By Erin Delmore

“The ACT focuses more on the skills that the students are learning in the classrooms,” said New Jersey School Counselors Association President Dana Karas.

More New Jersey students than ever are opting to take the ACT — the college entrance exam that rivals the older, better-known SAT.

“Since 2012, that number of students has increased by a little over 51 percent and that brought a record number of students tested this year, a little over 33,000 as part of the graduating class, so that’s been a very steady trend of growth,” said ACT Client Relations Senior Vice President Paul Weeks.

Now, one in three New Jersey students is choosing to take the ACT, up from one in five just four years ago. But those rates are still half that of the rest of the nation.

“Typically on the coast you’re going to see more students taking the SAT over the ACT and then in the heartland you’re going to see more students taking the ACT over the SAT,” said Ryan DeGuzman, director of SAT and ACT Programs of New Jersey Kaplan Test Prep.

Yet with more students taking the exam, the average score among New Jerseyans is the lowest it’s been in five years. Garden Staters’ composite score dropped a tenth of a point since last year, on a 36-point scale.

“The average last year was 23.2 composite score out of a total of 36. Now, it’s 23.1. So it’s a very minor change and then you see that when the pool of test-takers increases, usually,” DeGuzman said.

A representative from the ACT told us that’s because the pool of test-takers is changing from years past.

“The cohort of students that were tested were probably best characterized as pretty high-end, academically able students who were maybe trying to see if their performance on the ACT would put them in better stead relative to the SAT. I think the testing cohort that we see today is considerably different,” Weeks said.

“When I took my SAT, I remember in my graduating class there was one girl that I was friends with who took the ACT to apply to, I think, UC Davis. But yeah, there were not a lot. Most of us, pretty much all of us except for her, took the SAT instead of the ACT,” said Rutgers New Brunswick Freshman Olivia Stefanovic.

“I took the SAT first and then I took the ACT because I thought I would do better, but it was really the same,” said Rutgers-Newark student Brittney Boehm.

“I took the SAT. I did not take the ACT. I felt that it was only necessary to do one. I didn’t think that it was necessary to do both both of them,” said Rutgers-Newark graduate Kara Destasio.

“You know, I feel like back when I was in high school, the SAT was way more common and everyone was taking that. So that’s why I took the SAT,” said Rutgers New Brunswick Senior Anish Patel. “But it tested more about your critical thinking. And the ACT was more direct questions that were more straightforward and there were a few more of them and the ACT also required you to know trigonometry, which the SAT did not. So the SAT was more about reasoning, where the ACT was just more about knowing the information.”

But the SAT is making changes to its content and point scale — again. Pre-test jitters over the new SAT might be driving more students to the ACT.

“So I think with not knowing how it was going to look, how our students were going to perform on that, when they took it this past spring, that that was a driving force behind saying to students, here is an assessment that, although there are minor changes being made annually to the ACT, they weren’t significant enough for us to have any concerns as to how our students were going to perform,” Karas said.

The representative from the ACT told us it can be easy to get caught up in average scores among thousands — even millions — of students. But the most important focus is on each student behind the numbers.