April’s Testing Winds of Change

Quick takeaways, then you can read on for more detail and insights: 

  • The ACT has been acquired by a private equity firm, is becoming a for-profit, and is experimenting with a new shorter-length digital test. 
  • Harvard and Caltech are returning to requiring standardized testing for all applicants starting this fall. 

ACT Goes For-Profit, and Perhaps Adaptive? 

This Wednesday, ACT announced a new partnership with Nexus Capital Management, a private equity firm based out of Los Angeles. That announcement dressed up the core of the news with a lot of words, but here’s the basic facts:  

  • Nexus Capital Management will be the new majority owner of ACT Inc.  
  • ACT and its enrollment services subsidiary Encoura are combining, and shifting from a non-profit structure to be a for-profit entity. 
  • There will still be a legacy nonprofit organization, name TBD, that focuses on education and workplace success. This part is still pretty fuzzy.  


ACT also released a more detailed FAQ page, but to this reader it feels like what they’re not saying matters more. The organization has sustained almost $80mm in net losses during the last three fiscal years disclosed, and with the successful launch of the shorter adaptive digital SAT drawing more interest from students, they’re likely at an inflection point regarding their continued survival and relevance. This infusion of capital is likely aimed not only at keeping their doors open, but funding innovations and improvements to their product suite.  

To that last point, we’ve also recently learned (scroll to the very bottom) that the ACT is running a new pilot of a shortened digital testing experience this June. Students are being offered a chance to potentially try out a new digital “shorter ACT test” with “fewer questions and reduced time per section.” 

This is distinct from their wider digital ACT pilot, which simply takes the existing paper-and-pencil ACT test format and brings it into a computer-based testing platform. It raises a lot more questions than we have answers – will they be shortening the test through adaptivity? If this study goes well, and they roll out a new digital adaptive test format to all students, will they have to abandon their promise to continue offering a paper-based test? With new investors and owners focused on profitable growth, will we see the ACT move towards an even shorter test form than the SAT, with question changes that appeals to teenagers’ shortened attention spans?  

We’ll be watching closely as ACT reveals more information about the future of the test, and we’ll make sure to bring you any news that could impact your testing plans as soon as we know it. 


Two More For Testing    

On the heels of fellow highly selective colleges Dartmouth, Yale, Brown, and the University of Texas at Austin, Harvard and Caltech announced this week that standardized test scores will again be a requirement for applicants starting this fall.  

In Harvard’s case, the return to requiring testing was expected in the long term, but unexpected this spring – as they had previously committed to staying test-optional through the college class of 2030, which would have meant current high school Juniors and Sophomores would have been able to apply without test scores. They join the University of Tennessee-Knoxville as the only other college to rescind a previously stated timeline for test-optional. 

For Caltech, their original 2020 switch to test-free was set up as a two-year experiment, and later extended to five years, so they were due to give an update. Caltech’s return to testing is something of a surprise, as their admissions office spoke frequently about their ability to identify and admit each class under their prior test-free policy. In terms of the return, the rationale seems to be that basically all the kids we’re enrolling do have a valid test score, and more data points are better for admissions


Recognizing that more than 95% of our enrolling students have that testing variable […] the admissions reviewers should be able to see it and use that data in the context of the unique circumstances and experiences of students.”

– Ashley Pallie, Executive Director of Undergraduate Admissions 


So, what do these testing changes mean for you? 

  1. For current Juniors and Sophomores: Keep a close eye on the testing policies of the schools on your college list, as we expect to see a handful more highly selective institutions return to requiring the SAT/ACT.   
  1. For all families aiming for admissions at highly selective institutions: Outside of the limited number of schools that remain test-free, you’ll want to try and get to a competitive score on the SAT or ACT, even for those schools that remain test-optional. In those cases you’ll still have the option to apply without a score, but you shouldn’t ‘off-ramp’ from testing any earlier than the point of applying.  
  1. If you’ve turned away from the ACT in favor of the Digital SAT’s shorter length, watch this space closely: Assuming the ACT’s June pilot goes well, there’s a strong chance that they’ll seek to follow the College Board’s lead and make their test shorter and less painful for students, while probably preserving some of the aspects that set the ACT apart – such as the Science section and the lower text complexity in their reading passages.  


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By Ben Neely
Ben serves as Revolution Prep’s Chief Research and Impact Officer, learning and speaking about admissions testing and the challenges students face in striving for academic excellence. After beginning his career as a high school math teacher, Ben has held roles in curriculum development and engineering management, and has spent more than 20 years helping families make their best decisions around the learning process. Ben earned his B.A. in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley and has been with Revolution Prep for 15 years.