ACT Provides Students New Testing Options (Coming September 2020!)

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Big news in the testing world! The ACT announced in a press release that they will be providing three new options for test-takers beginning next fall: (1) the option to retest a single section at a time, (2) the option to use ACT superscoring (meaning the ACT will report superscores directly to colleges), and (3) the option to take the test on a computer.

There’s a lot of information here, so first, let me make clear whether this is relevant to you:

  • If you’re currently a senior (graduating in June 2020), you’ve either finished with the ACT/SAT or are nearing the end. None of the new options below will apply to you.

  • If you’re currently a junior (graduating in June 2021), the changes below will probably not impact you. If you’re planning on getting your standardized testing done in the spring, you’ll be finished before any of the new options become available. If, on the other hand, you might be finishing up with the ACT in the fall of your senior year, keep reading.

  • If you’re currently a sophomore (graduating in June 2022), all of these options will definitely apply to you -- so keep reading!

First new option: ACT Section Retesting

Imagine the scenario -- a student takes an official ACT, gets amazing scores on three of the four required sections, but is super disappointed with one section score. As the ACT is right now, that student is stuck sitting for another entire test in order to improve that single section score (a > 3-hour ordeal). Beginning in September 2020, however, a student in this situation will be able to retest in just the section(s) that they want to, without having to repeat the exam in its entirety.

Not only is that a big deal because it saves a few hours of a Saturday morning but for some students, it can also make a big difference in their actual section scores. The ACT is a long test, and the third and fourth sections (Reading and Science), are difficult in large part because they require test-takers to maintain stamina and focus through a multi-hour testing period. Many students experience what we sometimes call “test fatigue,” especially on the Science section, meaning they score more poorly simply because they’re exhausted from the other sections that they’ve already completed. This makes the quick thinking and pattern recognition that the Science section requires much more difficult than it is when taken in isolation, which is something that students will soon be able to do in a retest.

The section retesting option will apply to all four of the required sections of the ACT (English, Math, Reading, and Science) as well as the optional Writing section.

Second new option: ACT Superscore

Hand-in-hand with the option to retest in a single section is the new availability of superscores through the ACT.

Now, some of you may be thinking, didn’t superscoring already exist? Yes… and no.

Currently, a student’s “superscore” -- or the composite calculated by averaging their four highest section scores, regardless of test administration date -- is something that some, but not all, colleges and universities consider. Even when applying to schools that evaluate superscores, however, students currently need to send the full score reports for all the official tests that they want the school to consider -- even the sections that won’t be calculated in the overall superscore.

So the new difference is really a question of how much information these schools will see besides the superscore itself.

Take a student, for instance, with the following real test scores:

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With the ACT’s current score reporting, schools that consider superscores would receive just the real test scores and would calculate the superscore (in orange) themselves.

With the new reporting options available in September 2020, the ACT itself will calculate the superscore and send it to schools.

Now, there’s still a lot that’s still unclear here. Will it be obvious to admissions committees whether the score reported is a superscore or a test score from a single test administration? Will it be apparent whether each section in the score was achieved in the context of a full-test administration or a single-section administration? Will admissions committees take into account these factors, if they’re indeed able to distinguish them?

None of these questions have answers just yet, so stay tuned for more information -- we’ll keep you posted as it gets released.

On another interesting note… it is possible that this change in score reporting could affect the supercore policies of different colleges and universities.

As our Director of College Consulting, Eli, noted after attending the NACAC conference last weekend, “The reason that we've seen a split in schools that superscore the ACT and schools that don't is that, initially, the ACT recommended that colleges shouldn't superscore, but some decided to anyways. With this shift in recommendation and reporting from the ACT, I anticipate that more schools will change their policy on ACT superscoring, but it will most likely take a little time.”

Third new option: Online testing

This is the new option that, in my opinion, has been underreported in the news thus far. As some of you might remember from last year, the ACT recently went exclusively-online for international test-takers (more information about that here and here). Now, with a little more experience under their belts, the ACT is making online testing an option for US-based test-takers as well.

The big benefit of taking an online ACT, and one that they are promoting heavily, is that you get your scores back much faster -- in as little as two days. As a result, test dates that cut it close for application deadlines become real options for students who will then be able to receive their scores in the appropriate timeframe.

Of course, taking the ACT on a computer is a different experience than taking it on paper -- you can’t write on the test, for instance, yet you are able to type the Writing response. LogicPrep’s international students, who have been taking the computer-based ACT since September 2019, have had varying experiences with the online test format -- some students don’t find the format to be significantly more/less difficult, while others have had such difficulty that they’ve switched to the SAT in order to be able to take a paper-based test.

For test-takers in the US, the ACT will still be available on paper -- so there’s no forced switch to the digital format in September 2020; it will simply be an option. If you were to ask me, though, I’d venture that it’s only a matter of time until the ACT is completely computer-based worldwide, except in the cases of approved accommodations.

tl;dr (parents, this stands for “too long; didn’t read”)

  • BEGINNING SEPTEMBER 2020, US-based test-takers will have the option to:

    • Retake individual sections (rather than the whole test) to improve their score

    • Report superscores directly from the ACT

    • Take a computer-based ACT (and get scores released sooner)

  • Retaking individual sections will be a big deal for many test-takers, especially those that suffer from test fatigue

  • It’s not yet clear:

    • Whether colleges will be able to tell whether a score came from a single-section test day when the superscore is reported

    • Whether colleges will be able to distinguish between a superscore and a test taken in a single sitting (or if they’ll regard these results differently)

    • Whether all colleges will accept these superscores

  • Online testing will be available for those who want to get their scores back faster, but students will still have the option to take paper-based tests… at least for the foreseeable future!

As always, it’s our goal to help our families navigate the college application process, and we’re here to answer any questions you have about these changes. Feel free to give us a call or shoot us an email if you’d like further clarification!