Top scorers on a national college entrance exam were more likely to have used artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT for school assignments, hobbies, entertainment, or just experimentation than students with low or average scores, concludes a survey released this month by ACT, the nonprofit organization that administers the exam.
Nearly half of high school students who responded to the survey—46 percent—said they had used AI tools. But more than half who scored in the top quartile of the test nationally—53 percent—said they had used AI tools at some point, ACT reported.
That’s compared to 45 percent among students who scored in the middle 50 percent on the exam, and 36 percent among those who scored in the bottom quartile.
The finding that top scorers were more likely to have used AI tools at some point may seem counterintuitive to those who expect students would only use AI to cheat on class assignments.
But it came as no surprise to Leigh Ann DeLyser, the executive director and co-founder of CSforALL, a nonprofit that seeks to improve computer science education.
“These tools can be powerful to assist learning, and it takes instruction and collaboration between teachers and students to reach that point,” she said.
She suggested that teachers emphasize a “mastery-based approach” when learning with AI (meaning working to understand something deeply) as opposed to a more transactional approach of working just to get a particular grade or pass a course.
The most commonly used AI tool among all students in the survey was ChatGPT, which 83 percent of those who had used AI had tried, followed by Dall-E 3 (17 percent), Bing Chat (11 percent), and Google’s Bard (8 percent).
Among the 54 percent of students who said they didn’t use AI tools, 83 percent said they simply weren’t interested. Nearly two-thirds said they didn’t trust the information the tools provide, and more than half—55 percent—said they didn’t know enough about the tools to use them.
Top scorers were also less likely to report that they don’t know much about AI tools than those who scored in the bottom quartile. Sixty-nine percent of low-scoring students said they didn’t know much about AI, compared with 47 percent of top scorers. The ACT report was based on information from a survey of more than 4,000 high school students conducted earlier this year.
High-scoring students were also more likely to say that they had access to AI tools. Just eight percent of top scorers said they hadn’t used AI because they lacked access, compared with 31 percent of students scoring in the bottom quartile.
That makes sense to Andrew Smith, who teaches computer science and math at Woodstock Union High School in Vermont.
Students who are good at “accessing resources have probably figured out how to use ChatGPT just to be better learners,” he said. For instance, one student recently asked for Smith’s help in writing code after also consulting ChatGPT for guidance and coming up short.
This student clearly didn’t want AI to “write the code for him because he was in here talking to me” for help, Smith said. “He sees it as a tool.”