Starting in September 2020, the ACT will allow students who have taken a full ACT exam any time within the last five years to retest specific sections. Section retests follow the same timing and format as the full ACT exam test (English-45 minutes; Math-60 minutes; Reading-35 minutes; Science-35 minutes; Writing-40 minutes), but section retests will be available online ONLY. Students may take the exams during the seven, regularly scheduled annual ACT test dates. The change raises several questions that are worth considering.

How will colleges evaluate student scores in light of section retesting?

The answer is, we don’t yet know how colleges will respond to the change. Colleges that want to appear to be more selective many very well utilize individual section scores to bolster applicants’ test profiles. On the other hand, colleges may be concerned that SAT test takers will be unfairly disadvantaged by the ACT’s most recent move. Colleges also may feel that test scores have validity only when an exam is taken in a single seating.  There also may be some concern with section retesting unfairly benefitting students who a) are aware of and b) can afford to sit for section retests. The ACT will issue an official superscore as part of the testing change, but it’s too early to tell whether colleges will embrace these superscores or use their own methodologies to evaluate full test and section retest scores.

Will more students now take the ACT because of the change?

The testing industry is big business. The College Board and the ACT have long competed for student dollars. The ACT is undoubtedly hoping that the decision to allow section retesting will drive customers to its testing platform. Until we start seeing how colleges will respond to the change, students should continue taking full length practice ACT and SAT exams by tenth grade to become familiar with the differences between the tests and to start ascertaining which test they prefer. If a student shows a clear preference and aptitude for one test over the other, the student should pursue that exam during test prep. However, if a student feels comfortable with most ACT sections but struggles with one section (typically, that section is the Science section), section retesting may encourage students to stick with the ACT rather than abandon it.

What motivated the change?

In my view, the change is largely driven by business motivations. The ACT may appear to be a more attractive test option with section retesting, and that’s good for business. In addition, many students see the Science section of the ACT as a roadblock that they cannot navigate, but with section retesting, students may be more eager to tackle that roadblock.

There’s another reason why the ACT may have changed its testing format. In June of 2018, a new SAT-ACT concordance table was published, and the new table can make SAT scores appear slightly better than ACT scores.  The new table marginally upgrades the value of a higher SAT score relative to the ACT and degrades the value of a higher ACT score.  Strong test takers who score in the upper range (above about 29 on the ACT and 1400 on the SAT) will see their SAT scores look more competitive than they had on the prior concordance table. On the old table, a 36 was equal to a 1600 and a 35 equal to a 1590. However, on the new table, 1570, 1580, 1590 and 1600 all correspond to 36.  Therefore, students who achieved a perfect score on the ACT must “compete” with students who only achieved a near perfect score on the SAT.

The ACT specifically denies that the “enhancement” to the testing format was designed to increase revenues. It states that the changes were intended to optimize students’ admissions chances and scholarship opportunities rather than in a bid to regain market share it lost to the SAT.

How soon can students sign up for section retesting?

Registration for section retesting will open up approximately 1 week after the July 2020 test date.

Will the concordance tables change again?

According to the ACT, the concordance tables will not change as a result of section retesting.