Perfect 36: Is the ACT Like Blackjack?

Cincinnati Enquirer: “Turns out, the number of perfect ACT scores nationwide has more than doubled since 2015 and is six times higher today than it was eight years ago. In 2010, 1 of every 2,600 students nailed a perfect score. In 2018, it was 1 of every 500 … ACT officials say the test, which more than 1.9 million students took last year, hasn’t changed in any meaningful way since 1989 … The average test scores haven’t changed much, either. Those have hovered around 21 for at least the past five years … If the test is essentially the same, why are so many more students acing it? The most likely answer is a booming test-preparation industry that’s built on the hopes and fears of students and parents who are willing to work – and pay – to get an edge.”

“Schools are on board with more aggressive preparation because they increasingly are measured by student performance on standardized tests. And parents are all-in because they see the financial benefits a higher score can bring … Those factors came together in the past decade to create a test preparation industry that did about $25 billion of business in 2016, according to the Journal, a magazine for school administrators.”

“Mark Treas, whose company focuses on the ACT, said he takes a practical approach to the tests. A former blackjack player and card counter, Treas said his goal is to give students better odds of scoring well by teaching them to practice and to understand the test’s structure. A card counter has a system to beat the house. A test taker needs a system to beat the test. ‘Generally, gamblers sit down at a table and hope to win,’ Treas said. ‘You need to think of it more like a card counter than a gambler’…. Research on test prep still is in its infancy, but studies suggest the kind of practice and repetition students get from test preparation are among the best ways to improve scores. Confidence also is a factor: If students feel prepared, they tend to do better.”