It’s Jill today, with a sideline report from the ongoing battle for market share between previous-upstart turned powerhouse and the current front-runner ACT and its soon-to-be-re-tooled rival and former market leader, The SAT.

And.. me thinks the ACT has taken round 1… because..

They’re able to implement.  You see, the SAT continues to struggle with a rather messy roll out of its new and completely overhauled version (scoring scales were just released; more on that in another post).  But, as we hinted at in April, the ACT is not the kind of company to be outdone and has been quietly making a few tweaks of its own.  One of which is about to hit students who are sitting for the ACT test on Sept 12, which is just 10 days from now.

um.. surprise!  The September 12 ACT  will be sportin’ a brand new writing section.

Now before everyone panics, let me assure you that the ACT essay changes are mainly cosmetic ones.  That said, you and I both know that anything unexpected on test day can rattle even the best test-takers.

So, we thought we’d help ward off jitters and give you a brief rundown of what’s gonna be changing with the ACT essay section (and what you can do about it).

#1: TIME:  The time limit has gone up to allow for more planning:  The ACT will now allow 40 minutes (instead of 30) to plan and write the essay — and they’ve provided a structure for the planning component.  In reality, you’re gonna need both: the extra 10 minutes and the guided planning because…

#2: SCORING:  The scoring  system and rubric for the essay is changing as well:  from a composite score of 1-6 to a score based on four subcategories (Ideas/Analysis, Development/Support, Organization, Language Use/Conventions), each awarded 1-6 points. NOTE: as was the case with the prior writing section, the essay will NOTaffect the overall ACT composite score!

#3: THE PROMPT: The prompt change is probably the most significant because it affects both content and format (see the lone sample released here).  In the previous version, the essay prompt required you to take a simple position:  ‘For or Against’ – and the topic was fairly mundane, student friendly and/or school related –  like, “School Uniforms – Like ’em or Hate ’em Explain”

The new prompt is going to require a much greater understanding of broader, national and international themes and issues. And the format is different as well.  The new prompt introduces a topic and then provides three different perspectives on that topic.  Students are then asked to analyze all three perspectives, introduce their own perspective and finally, to compare their own perspective with those given in the prompt.

That’s a pretty tall order for 40 minutes.

So what we suggest is this:

– First, deep breath – colleges are far from unified on whether to, how and how much they should weigh the writing section in the selection process… and that was before a brand new and untested rubric was introduced.  Remember, a record number of colleges (way north of 800) are de-emphasizing all admissions tests. In fact, there are now more than 180 ‘Top Tier’ Colleges that have ‘Test Optional’ or ‘Test Flexible’ Admissions policies (Wake Forest, NYU, Wesleyan, Smith..).  There are a number of reasons for this movement, a few are education-related, but most are driven by BUSINESS metrics.  We’ve chronicled this trend for the past few years; most recently when George Washington University announced that it would go ‘Test Optional’ this Fall.  You can get the full story on why test optional is trending here.

– Second, if you want maximum points, make sure that you include all three perspectives in your essay (easiest way to lose points is to omit one)

– Third, write an organized essay (easiest way to score points) – try looking for a common thread among the three perspectives given, and make that a unifying theme.  Make sure to use transitions between points and paragraphs

– Finally, be specific – use examples to make your point.  Write with a mixture of complex and SHORT sentences for emphasis.  Choose words that make your point, as opposed to using ones that make you sound like you’re a thesaurus.

Last piece of advice: whether it’s this ACT or any admissions test, there’s probably no better investment than in a quality test prep program.  You’d be surprised how much a Test Optional or Test Flexible college will incent (read: ‘pay’) a student with higher than average scores to attend their school (five figures).  Not a bad ROI.  And it’s another reason that the fundamental cornerstone of Making College Affordable is making sure that your child is getting the right college guidance in HS.

If you are unsure as where to even start or have questions about what the right Admissions strategy is for your family, we’re here to help.

We’re holding a live, interactive WEB-CLASS on September 16th at 7pm ET/4pm PT.  It’s free and full of information including a behind the scenes look at our advanced college planning strategies and trade secrets.  We’ll be on the line the whole time to answer all of your questions.

You can register here.  

If you have a student in high school, I really hope you’ll join us for what will be a jam-packed and potentially game changing call.  

Please let me know if you have any questions.

– Jill

p.s. If you missed Peter’s article on ‘What You Can Do To Keep The Market From Making A Mess of Your College Funding Plan’, you can access it here.

P.P.S. Please share this with a friend with high school age children. They’ll thank you for it!

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