The ACT rolls out an important exam change this fall.  After sitting for a full-length ACT exam, students can re-test individual sections (rather than repeat a full exam) in hopes of a better section and overall ACT super score — the total of the best individual section scores across all ACT tests a student takes. 

This sounds appealing.  Who wouldn’t want to study selectively rather than sitting and testing four distinct subjects for a second (or third) three hours?  Before taking this option, students should consider how to section retesting aligns with their goals and testing preferences, and research how colleges might receive a super score in place of the composite score you earn when completing the full ACT exam in one sitting.

Section Retesting in a Nutshell: 

  • The September 13 ACT exam is the first section re-test opportunity.  It will be online-only at designated computer-equipped testing centers.
  • You must have previously taken the full ACT exam and received a valid composite score before being eligible to re-test individual sections.
  • Students may take one, two or three sections of the exam.  They may complete the essay section, even if they did not do it earlier. 
  • Results are available in as little as two days. 
  • Students may retest as often as they like with section retesting offered seven times per year. 
  • Students who qualify for accommodations may opt for a paper version of the exam when completing section retesting. 

Can I Benefit from this Change?

Students who think they didn’t perform well on a particular section of the exam can re-test that segment alone without needing to redo another entire three-hour ACT test.  However, re-testers should objectively consider possible future performance and capacity for improvement.  A student who scored a 22 on the Math section and a 26 on the English, Reading and Science sections might opt to retake only the Math section.  But that could be a missed opportunity if additional study could result in an across the board score bump.  Equally, some students will resist further study in a non-preferred subject area (e.g. “I hate math!”), even if that’s where there is the greatest potential for improvement.  Students eligible for extended time who find a 4 ½ to 6 hour exam exhausting could benefit when re-testing individual sections in shorter sprints.  

An ACT study found that taking one section per day for four days does not result in higher scores.  However, it did not account for the typically lengthier break between test dates that gives students more time to focus prep on a fewer number of test sections.  

Will Colleges Accept My Superscore? 

Whether section retesting will affect the way colleges interpret and weigh an ACT score remains an unknown.  ACT officials acknowledged during a May 19 webinar that most colleges are still evaluating their policies with regards to section retesting and each school will individually decide how to evaluate admissions applications in light of this change.  

According to an ACT study, a super score is the best measure of a student’s first-year grade point average.  Many colleges seemed to share that view and already evaluated students’ applications based on a super score long before the ACT announced the rollout of section retesting.  

The other major unknown is the long-term impact of COVID-19 on college admissions practices.  Many universities will not require Class of 2021 seniors to submit an SAT or ACT score when applying.  Going forward, the pressure to minimize the weight of standardized tests in college admissions, not to mention competition among cash-starved colleges seeking to attract applicants, may yield an admissions approach that is free of the traditional standardized test requirement. 

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