ACT has recently stirred up the test-taking world with announcements of major changes to the test starting in September 2020. Not surprisingly, students, teachers, and parents have lots of questions, so we’ve condensed the biggest takeaways and impact below.
Change 1: Allowing Section Retesting
The biggest change announced by ACT is its new policy allowing students to retake individual sections rather than requiring that they sit for the entire exam. Both the ACT and SAT have not changed much in the past 60+ years – an all-or-nothing 3 to 4 hour test on a weekend morning. However, starting in September 2020, students will no longer be required to sit for all sections of the ACT (English, Math, Reading, and Science). Now, if they want to retake just Science, they can take just Science. If they want another chance to raise their English and Math scores, they only need to retake those two sections.
Please note that section retesting is only allowed after a student has first sat for the full exam. A student must take a full ACT test at his or her first sitting. Starting in September 2020, students can just retake only the sections they want, or they can take the full test again.
Students can use any full test sitting in the five years prior to September 2020 to qualify for retakes. That means that a student who takes the ACT in December 2019 can conceivably wait to retake just Math or just Reading in September 2020.
What else do you need to know about retakes?
- Retakes are only allowed on national ACT exam dates, not on weekdays when the ACT is offered in schools.
- Retakes are only allowed at “online equipped” ACT test centers.
- Retakes are only offered with computer-based testing. Retakes are NOT offered in a pencil-and-paper format, which is a very important consideration. The only exception for a pencil-and-paper retake will be if a student has an accommodation for paper-testing only.
- International testing centers will NOT offer section retesting. If an international student wants to retake a section, the retake must be done in the United States after that student has taken the full exam (either domestically or internationally).
- Retakes will be identical in timing, question number, and difficulty level to existing exams.
- ACT has not yet decided if students can choose the order for their retakes or if they’ll need to follow the standard section order (English, Math, Reading, Science).
- ACT will most likely also offer the Writing section as a standalone retake, even if a student didn’t take the essay in his or her initial full test.
- ACT will not limit the number of retakes a student can take.
- ACT is increasing the number of fee waivers from 2 to 4 for each student who qualifies. Fee waivers will cover any and all test sections on a given date.
Change 2: Offering Computer-Based Testing (CBT)
Right now, the ACT is only offered in a pencil-and-paper format for domestic students (it’s currently given in a computer-based format internationally). Starting in September 2020, a student taking his or her first ACT can take the exam in the existing pencil-and-paper format or can choose to take it as a computer-based exam.
The biggest benefit to CBT is the turnaround time: right now it takes ~2 weeks to get an ACT score. With CBT, it will take 2 business days.
What else do you need to know about computer-based testing?
- If you want to take the exam on a computer, you’ll register on ACT’s website searching for an “online-equipped” testing site. Your ability to take the exam in a CBT format will depend on the site’s availability.
- The computer-based test will be identical to the pencil-and-paper exam in terms of length, timing, and difficulty.
- ACT is adapting the CBT to allow students to highlight and underline through the platform.
Change 3: Superscoring
ACT’s research indicates that superscoring (the idea that a student can create a new composite score using the highest section scores across multiple test sittings) is a stronger indicator of potential success in college than single test date reporting. For that reason, ACT hopes to complement its new retesting policy by providing a new superscore report. Currently, about a third of U.S. colleges superscore the ACT, and ACT is hopeful this change will encourage more colleges to do the same.
What else do you need to know about superscoring?
- If you want to have a superscored report sent to colleges, that report will include all testing information for all the test dates that were averaged to create your new superscore. For example, if your highest English and Math are in February 2020, highest Reading is in April 2020, and highest Science and Writing are in June 2020, then your superscored report will provide the testing details for all three test dates. Colleges will know if the superscore was calculated from one sitting, multiple full-test sittings, or section retests.
- International students will also be able to report superscores, though they won’t have access to section retests.
These changes have the potential to reshape college admission testing forever. It’s important to note that CollegeBoard has not yet announced any similar changes to the SAT, but it’s likely that similar changes are coming.
We’ll continue to keep a close eye on any and all updates to ensure families are informed along the way. Feel free to read on if you’d like more information about ACT test dates or how to secure accommodations on the ACT.