The New ACT Testing Policy: For Better or For Worse?

Starting in September of 2020, students will be allowed to retake individual sections of the ACT absent from the rest of the test in order to improve their scores. For those who don’t know, the ACT is composed of four sections: English, math, reading, and science, and each is scored on a scale from one to thirty-six. Students’ scores from each of the four sections are averaged into a single composite score, and up until now, if students wanted to improve their score on the exam, they would have to retake all four sections. Now, however, once a student has completed one full sitting of the ACT, they will have the option to retest in individual sections. This new policy draws on the concept of a superscore, which takes a student’s highest score from each of the four sections from every sitting of the test and averages those together, not necessarily the four section scores taken in the same sitting.

Initially, this change excites many students because most test takers tend to score well in certain areas but have one section that drags their composite score down. Previously, they would’ve had to retake every single section of the test to try to improve their score in that one area, but now students can select to only retest in the area they need to. This allows students to truly focus their studying on the area in which they need to improve without having to worry about maintaining their scores in the other sections. ACT claims they are making this change because research shows that superscores are better predictors for how students will perform in college compared to a student’s performance in a single testing session.

All of this sounds great in theory; however, there are many repercussions to consider. Giving students this ability to focus all of their time and energy on only one section of the exam at a time means that ACT scores are going to become inflated. It will now be easier to retake the test, so more people are going to, and within a couple of years we can expect colleges’ average ACT scores of admitted students to go up. Unfortunately, anyone who is unable to take advantage of the option to retest will have scores that do not look as impressive. This means that this new policy advantages people who have the time, money, and resources to take the test multiple times, and it also caters to those who have the resources for serious test prep. Being able to drill into a single section and solely focus on improving scores on one section of the exam at a time makes it way easier for students with the money for private tutors to maximize their scores. Ultimately this policy is great for some but further widens the socioeconomic disparities in standardized testing.

Since this new policy will be starting in September of 2020, this year’s class of seniors will be the only grade unaffected by it. Their insight is unique because they can compare this new policy to their ACT experiences. Senior Architha Hindupur says she was shocked to hear that ACT was allowing individual section retakes because of how it will completely undermine the emphasis on endurance, which was something she focused a lot of her time on when she was prepping for the ACT. “I think it’s interesting because it can be a good thing and a bad thing. It can be a good thing for people who want to get their score up in one certain section, so you don’t have to sit for six hours and waste your day just to take the math section over. But I think it can be a bad thing because it’s obviously going to skew the numbers, and overall scores are going to be in the higher range, which might make it harder for colleges and universities to use scores as a differentiating factor between students,” Hindupur explained. It seems that another positive side to this policy is how it will reduce some of the stress that comes along with standardized testing, as Hindupur also mentioned, “It will definitely benefit people with mental fatigue from long tests because I know a lot of my friends have talked about how hard it is for them to sit and think constantly for about six hours.”

It will certainly be interesting to see the impact this policy has on the realm of standardized testing and how universities will respond. What are your thoughts on this new ACT policy? Are you a senior and feeling glad this won’t affect you or sad because it would have benefitted you? Or are you an underclassman and feeling excited for this chance to improve your score or fearful of the repercussions? Let us know your thoughts below or on our social media!

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