ACT Section Retesting and Superscoring

In October of 2019, ACT announced that starting in September 2020, students will be able to retake individual sections of the ACT without repeating the entire test. This is a major change, and we don’t yet know the impact that ACT section retesting and superscoring will have on the college admissions process. Let’s go through the facts and what they might mean for you.

What Are The Facts?

The ACT is one of the two standardized college admissions tests (along with the SAT) accepted by the vast majority of colleges and universities in the United States. The number of students who take each test is roughly equal each year. The ACT has been around for 60 years, and there have only been a few major changes in that time.

The ACT is comprised of four multiple-choice sections along with an optional essay. Students have never been able to retake single sections of the test — English, Math, Reading, or Science — prior to this announcement. Students have never been able to retake single sections of the SAT, either, and as of now, the College Board has not announced plans to implement this (more on that later).

When section retesting is made available starting in September 2020, students will be able to retake one or more single sections of the test without retaking the entire test. Students will be required to take a full-length official ACT prior to single-section retakes. In other words, you will not be allowed to take a single section on your first time through the test.

Section retesting will only be available in ACT testing centers on official nationwide ACT test dates. Section retesting will not be available for in-school / school district exams.

What we don’t know yet about ACT section retesting and superscoring

The cost has not yet been announced for section retesting, but it will be less than the cost of taking the full exam.

Section retesting may be available both digitally and as a paper-and-pencil test.

We don’t know how colleges will respond to section retesting. We do know that in addition to section retesting, ACT will also begin offering superscores to colleges along with standard score reports. A superscore is a composite score made up of your highest section scores, even if they come from multiple test dates. However, it is possible that not all colleges will accept superscores without also requiring scores from all sections to be submitted.

Finally, we don’t know how section retesting might affect the competitive nature of the ACT. The ACT says their research shows that students achieve similar scores on single-section retakes as they do on full test retakes. However, what we don’t know is if that analysis takes section-focused prep into account. If a significant number of students make use of section retesting and prep diligently for individual sections, it is possible that composite scores as a whole could start to trend upwards ever-so-slowly.

Okay, we know we said “finally,” but there’s one more thing: we don’t know how the College Board will respond to this change. It’s possible that they will introduce a similar change to the SAT. However, it’s equally possible (maybe even more likely) that they will not implement a similar change, because they can distinguish themselves by sticking to full-exam sittings only.

What Do These Changes Mean For You?

Whether you’re in the midst of testing or you haven’t yet taken the SAT or ACT, these changes don’t mean much for you right now, because they go into effect in September. Even then, section retesting should not change your fundamental approach to success on the college admissions tests. Our recommended approach:

  • Start test prep early enough
  • Do quality practice with expert guidance in your weakest areas
  • Leave yourself time to take the test more than once (preferably up to three times)

Here at Testive, we think it’s unlikely that we’re going to end up advising students to do a single section retest after they’ve taken the ACT just once. The only situation where that might come up is if a student has a nearly perfect score in one section. At that point, it just wouldn’t make sense for them to take that section again. However, even if one section is a bit higher than the others (but not nearly “perfect”), we’ll probably still advise retaking the full test. Why not give yourself the option for improvement across the board?

If you’re planning to graduate in the Class of 2021, the availability of section retesting in fall of 2020 (fall of your senior year) could mean that you should make sure you’re done with your full-exam ACTs by the time fall rolls around. This will ensure that you leave yourself time to prep individual sections.

But that’s what we’d be advising you to do, anyway.