ACT Test Changes: Retakes and Superscores

ACT Test Updates

Starting in September 2020, students will be able to retake portions of the ACT — without having to redo the entire exam. In order to do so, students must first complete the exam in its entirety. Afterwards, students will be able to register to retry one or more of the four sections at a future date. 

Rather than completing the test with paper and pencil, beginning in 2020, students will have the option to take the test online at test centers on national ACT dates. It is estimated that online testing will be available in some areas, but not all regions in the initial stages. For those testing online, their results will be available within two business days, rather than the previous two week wait. Students will be able to make decisions more quickly with their test results to make a decision on what to do next.

Still, like other standardized tests, the ACT’s four sections and optional essay writing portion take hours to complete and fatigue students by the end. On average, the test takes about 3.5 hours to complete. This proposed change will allow students to improve their overall ACT score,  without having to go through the subject portions they have already mastered. In other words, they will be able to stress less, have more energy, and focus exclusively on sections to seek improvement in their section score.

What about the SAT?

Currently, the SAT does not offer partial retakes of their test. Could this be a business move by ACT to take a large share of the student market by incentivizing the ability to retry specific parts? Perhaps — especially for students that are hyper-focused on increasing their ACT score. Either way, these changes offer more flexibility to students (and their parents) compared to the SAT exam.

Composite Scores, Score Choice and Superscores

To give more context on the topic of scoring, it is key to understand how ACT scores are calculated. ACT scores are calculated from 1 to 36. There are four subject scores, an optional essay component, and an overall composite score. As it stands, the ACT composite score is calculated using the average score of the four subject sections (math, reading, English, and science). Students also have the option to utilize score choice for sharing their score. This simply means that you can pick which testing date scores you would like to send to schools.

The ACT is making another significant change known as “superscoring.” Super scoring is pretty straightforward and helpful for students to get their best scores grouped together from multiple tests and dates. Unlike the composite score, your ACT super score is the average of your best scores from multiple tests. Some schools already are using superscoring in their admissions process, but not all — so make sure you do your research to determine if superscoring will be in your favor.

Benefits for Test Taking Students

A higher ACT score can open the door for a lot of lucrative and beneficial opportunities. Even though it may just be a number to some, it is a contributing admission factor for many colleges and universities. A higher ACT score can also produce more opportunities to win scholarships. In addition, universities and colleges will sometimes use an ACT score in considering acceptance into their honors college programs and colleges. We’ve said this time and time again, a higher ACT score will always be in your favor… as you will read below though, some schools are becoming more test-optional or test-neutral.

Schools Dropping SAT/ACT Requirements

Alternatively, we’re seeing a trend of colleges and universities reconsidering their requirements for SAT and ACT scores in their admissions process. Here is an updated list from 2019 of schools that have dropped various SAT and ACT test score requirements. Read the list carefully and remember to double-check with any admissions office before you invest time in preparing or making assumptions about a school’s application criteria and process.

In one way, this gives students even more flexibility to focus on their strengths. If you have a strong ACT score, but need to retake a few sections, you will be able to more easily increase your score thanks to the above changes. But, if you don’t have a strong ACT profile or stress about taking tests, this change will allow for you to improve specific areas after taking the overall test.

Lastly, if you don’t plan to take the ACT (or SAT) at all, then consider focusing your application and credentials on universities (or programs) that don’t have a standardized test requirement.

Others believe that this amended change will benefit wealthier students that have access to more money to pay for the ACT cost. The ACT (with writing component) costs roughly $68. If you’re a low-income student, it may not be as feasible to continually pay and hedge your bet for a better score. This is a valid point and a fair critique of the change.

Conclusions on ACT Test Changes

In summary, here are the biggest takeaways from this article. In September 2020, the ACT is making the following changes:

  • Students will be able to retake subject area sections
  • Students will have the option to take the test online in some locations on national test dates; this trend is expected to increase in more locations over time
  • For online test takers, results will be available within two business days
  • Students will be able to share their best collective scores from different dates and sections of the exam, known as a “superscore”

Looking forward, NextStudent anticipates that more ACT testing will be available online due to COVID-19 distancing measures. Also, online testing will provide more immediate feedback and scores.