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ACT Will Allow Students to Retake Specific Sections

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The ACT is one of the two primary national tests colleges use to judge a student’s preparedness for higher education (the other being the SAT). Recently, the ACT announced a major change: it will soon allow students to retake individual sections of the exam. 


2020 Update: Due to the pandemic, this change was not implemented. As of November 2020, it’s unclear what the official timeline is.


When Will This Change Take Effect?


Students will need to wait until September 2020 to retake individual sections of the ACT exam. This school year, high schoolers will still need to take the entire exam, if they opt to retake it.


How Much Will Retaking a Section of the ACT Cost? 


The current cost of taking the four-section ACT exam—English, math, reading, and science—is $52. The cost to take the ACT with the optional writing section is $68. The ACT has not yet announced the cost of retaking an individual section of the exam; however, ACT Chief Commercial Officer Suzana Delanghe told CNN that “the single-section retake will be less expensive than taking the complete ACT again, so that should help make retesting more affordable for many students.”


What Does This Change Mean for Students?


This change allows students to retake a single section of the exam, rather than the entire test. For example, if a student performs poorly on the science section, but aces the other three sections, they can simply retake the science section and keep their original scores in the other three sections. It’s important to note that a student must take the full test at least once before they’re allowed to take individual sections. 


Along with providing students the chance to retake individual sections of the exam, the ACT also announced a new superscore. The ACT superscore allows students who’ve taken the test (or sections of it) more than once to use the best scores they received for each section.  Previously only individual schools had superscore policies. The ACT states, “superscores were more predictive of how students would perform in their college courses than other scoring methods.” Additionally, according to the ACT, “a great benefit of superscoring is that it allows students to put their best foot forward for college applications and scholarship eligibility.”


Colleges are still determining how the recent changes to the exam will affect their admissions process, but the ACT is encouraging them to consider using the superscore for the reasons listed above: it’s more predictive of future performance. They also released data from a recent study and they include their perspective on multiple scores to provide a guideline to colleges. 


Why ACT Made the Change


One reason ACT states for allowing students to retake individual sections of the exam, instead of the whole test, is that it better serves the student. By only retaking troublesome sections, students minimize the amount of time they spend on taking tests. 


Furthermore, students won’t need to worry about getting worse marks on a section that they already scored well in. This both allows them to focus on a single subject and reduce test-induced anxiety. 


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Pros and Cons of Retaking Individual Sections


One of the major complaints about the ACT change is it exacerbates exactly what it’s seeking to remedy: test anxiety. Because students can retake just one section, they’re more encouraged to retest. With the pressure of college admissions looming, some high-achieving students will retest and retest in an effort to achieve a better score. 


Another complaint is that allowing students to retake individual sections disadvantages students in low-income and underserved communities. Students coming from these schools may not have access to the same college counseling resources as students from more well-off systems; they might not even have an advisor to tell them they can retest, much less counsel them to retake an individual section.


A common criticism of the ACT is that the changes were not made to benefit students; rather, the real beneficiary is the ACT’s revenue and market share. In 2019, more students than ever before took the SAT (2.2 million, a 4% increase over 2018). It’s argued that by allowing students to retake single sections, the ACT is offering students a compelling reason to choose the ACT over the SAT. 


The effects of the ACT allowing students to retake specific sections will play out in the coming years, as colleges adjust and recalibrate their requirements. In the meantime, students are advised to prepare as they would in the past. For more guidance on the college admissions process, sign up for your free CollegeVine account today. On our free admissions platform, you can discover schools, estimate your chances of acceptance, get peer essay feedback, and more.


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Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.