In the News: Changes to the ACT Exam

The original piece below was written in January 2020. Since that time, ACT has revised their timeline for starting section retesting. They hope to roll out section retakes in 2021.

In October 2019, ACT dropped a bombshell in the world of college entrance testing. Starting in September 2020, students will be able to retake individual sections of the exam. NEVER, EVER has this been allowed before. Students who have already taken the whole ACT exam at least once will be able to retake a single section. All such section retakes will be done online (not paper and pencil). ACT’s official statement here includes some other less eye-catching changes as well.

The folks at ACT point to several benefits, not the least of which is better scores. (We’d point out that a rising tide raises all boats, so we may see scores increase across the board for most applicants who can afford to retake certain test sections.) Turnaround time for results will be quicker. Students can narrow their test prep focus. Students can sit for the essay section—even if they didn’t do that section in the original full test sitting.

Here’s the thing to watch: In order for this “retake by section” thing to work, colleges will need to agree to accept these ACT-created “superscores.”

You might have heard about superscores – some colleges have a policy where students can send in several test scores, and they will create a new composite score using the highest of each section score. Some colleges superscore just the ACT or the SAT, and some do both. The list of schools that offer this option can change from year to year, and it’s really not the norm to offer the option.

The ACT has been conducting their own studies into superscoring. They say that “(the studies) revealed that superscores were more predictive of how students would perform in their college courses than other scoring methods.

What we want you to consider (at this moment in time)

The concept of single section retakes sounds really good, right? But, we have yet to see ANY statement at all from a single college on this. We understand that the ACT has created this “great new feature” for students, but it’s completely useless if the colleges turn their noses up and say, “The only ACT scores we will accept are single sitting composite scores.”

We think it’s likely that the ACT polled/spoke to a variety of colleges to share their plans before they announced them. We hope they got a good feel of general “yes, we will do this” from colleges before moving forward. We are hesitant because not one college has jumped out to say, “YES! We think this is excellent, and we will accept the student-created superscore.” Things that make you go “hmmm.” So, because of this, we hesitate to get anyone’s hopes up about the value of the option.

We are also keeping our fingers crossed that there are no issues this fall. (In the past, there have been hiccups with the rollout of major changes like this.) We caution folks to not put all their eggs in the superscore basket—just yet. For today’s juniors, the safer bet is to do what you can now (Jan-July) to earn your “done” score so that you don’t HAVE to get caught up in that game this fall.

Why did they do this?

Yes, their study on the predictive nature of superscores is interesting and promising. Rolling out a “new feature” like this, however, might be tied to the fact that the ACT and SAT are losing ground. Per the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, 1,060 schools are test optional now, and this number has grown significantly in recent years. Less schools require the tests…less kids take the tests…and before long, the tests become less relevant. No large institution wants to become irrelevant, so they shift and change to become attractive again.

What do we recommend at this time?

For the Class of 2021, the best situation is to not be in a position of NEEDING this new option in the fall. Work now to earn your “done” score before the changes go into effect in late July. Don’t forget that you may find the SAT a better fit, and you can still try that brand of test. All colleges will accept either test.

For the Class of 2022 and younger, no matter what, your first course of action is to take the full ACT (and/or SAT) test under the standard procedures (all sections, earning a composite score). AFTER that first time, you can watch how the rollout goes with the single-section retests. You can keep in touch with us to hear how colleges are responding to the new option (they may or may not choose to accept the scores when a student has retaken a section).

Remember, you can find tons of testing info including test dates on our ACT/SAT testing page.

We are hopeful that the ACT exam hits the ground running with their changes, and colleges are fully on board. As usual, we will keep you informed. (Be sure to signup for our newsletter to always get the latest news.)