Coaching from “ACT Prep” and the ACT

While I do not necessarily view the ACT itself as an accurate representation of the knowledge or abilities of all students, I would consider my personal overall experience with the ACT to be a positive one. I was pleased with my ACT score, and (for the most part) finished the test within the time limits provided. I took the ACT three separate times, and my score was nearly the same all three times, so I do feel that the test does have high reliability, which is similar to a point mentioned in our discussions of the SAT.

However, I believe that an individual’s score can change drastically using the right measures, which brings up a potential criticism of the ACT, much like a major criticism present in our discussions about the SAT—the coachability of the test. When I was in high school, students were offered a course called “ACT Prep.” This was not a course that covered content within the subjects in the ACT (English, reading, math, and science) but rather a course meant to teach the best strategies for taking the ACT. This raises the question, “If the test is coachable, then is it actually testing student ability or knowledge?” In my opinion, the answer is no; achieving ‘success’ on the test largely relies on students’ awareness of the appropriate ACT test-taking strategies, compromising the test’s original purpose.

Therefore, in spite of my own positive experiences with the ACT and in spite of the fact that my ACT scores did benefit me as I entered college, I cannot confidently say that my ACT score was used by my high school and the colleges I applied to in an intelligent way. There is so much pressure for modern students to do well on the ACT, and it continues to carry much weight in the college application process, regardless of the criticisms that its coachability brings into question. Because “ACT Prep” was not a required high school course, not all students learned the strategies covered within it and, as a result, many were likely at a disadvantage when it came down to awareness of ‘the best ways’ in which to take the test.

Ultimately, when added to the fact that some very intelligent students are not strong test takers, especially on such a pressured test as the ACT, disadvantages due to coachability of the test lead me to believe that ACT scores are not an accurate representation of student ability.


Standardized Testing in Northeast Tennessee

My name is Danielle Mathes, and I am currently in my third year at Tusculum University studying English Education for grades 6-12. I am from Chuckey, TN, and my educational background comes from small, public school settings. I attended a K-8 elementary school, and I graduated from Chuckey-Doak High School. While in high school, I completed dual enrollment courses at Walters State Community College and then at Tusculum University, where I later began my current course of study following graduation.

My first experience with a standardized test occurred when I was in elementary school. I can remember at an early age (probably starting in first or second grade) taking the yearly Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) tests. I remember, even at that age, wanting to get a high score, and as I grew older and continued taking the tests each year the desire to earn high TCAP test scores is something that did not change. I wanted to make the adults in my life, my parents and teachers, proud, and I felt that being able to show them what I learned over the course of the school year through my TCAP scores was a sure way to do that.

I would say that those first experiences with standardized tests impacted how I saw education by making it seem as though test scores were the ultimate end result. I could tell by the way my teachers presented the TCAP and emphasized the importance of making our best effort that we were under pressure to demonstrate our knowledge through those tests, and that is something that stuck with me.

As a result, for much of my elementary education, I viewed education as a preparation for testing rather than as something that served a purpose of its own. I came to realize, as I got older, that testing is not the primary reason for being given an education, but because of my past experiences as well as the continued pressure to do well, my results on standardized tests were still important to me, whether it was the TCAP in elementary school or the ACT in high school. Standardized testing was placed in a prominent position in the way I viewed education.