“We were totally caught off guard by the essay!” said several students in my fall SAT class in Madison. These students had taken the ACT but only prepared by buying the ACT book, which only had versions of the old essay prompt.
The ACT has been a highly stable test. The SAT has been overhauled twice in the last decade. The ACT has tweaked aspects of its test but now has made significant changes in one of its sections.
The ACT essay, prior to September 2015, was a create your argument prompt based on real world issues that high school students might consider. “Should students wear school uniforms?” is an example of the type of question from the old ACT. These essays were neither particularly rigorous nor intellectually challenging.
In an effort to align more with the Common Core, the ACT has created a much more challenging essay prompt. Now the prompt asks students to evaluate an issue from multiple perspectives. Overall, the essay is a better indicator of scholastic ability. But it is also more challenging and requires more specific preparation.