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ACT to allow retakes of individual sections

New policy means students can retake individual sections to improve score

Starting September 2020, college applicants will be able to retake individual sections of the ACT exam.

The organization will also calculate an official “superscore” — the average of the highest section scores across multiple test dates — that students can send to colleges, said ACT’s Senior Director of Media and Public Relations Ed Colby.

Previously, students interested in retaking the ACT had to sit for all four sections — English, math, reading and science. ACT changed this policy in response to feedback from students, parents, teachers, colleges and college counselors, Colby said. Along with the superscore, colleges will continue to receive an ACT score report from at least one full sitting of the test.

Dean of Admission Logan Powell expressed uncertainty about whether the change will benefit applicants to the University. “On the one hand, I see this as a benefit to students who may not have had their best day in a particular section and may want to go back and just retake that one section,” he said. “On the other hand, I worry that this may increase test anxiety” by encouraging students to retake single sections more times than they otherwise would in order to achieve a perfect ACT superscore, Powell added.

Because the University already sees a high volume of nearly perfect ACT scores, Powell does not expect the new superscore policy to dramatically change the score distribution in future applicant pools. He also emphasized that increasing a score in one particular section may only increase the superscore “marginally,” a difference that will not solely determine a student’s acceptance or denial.

Allowing students to retake individual sections is a “very student-friendly move,” said Sara Harberson, an independent college counselor. In the past, students have expressed concern that retaking the full ACT exam may cause some section scores to increase while others may go down, resulting in either no change or a decrease in their score. The changes to the ACT should alleviate such concerns and allow students to focus their study efforts on one subject at a time, Harberson said.

Retaking a single section of the ACT will also cost less than retaking the entire exam, but ACT has not specified what the cost of a section retake will be, Colby said.

While some institutions already construct their own ACT superscores, the University does not currently superscore the ACT because the company has not provided guidelines on superscoring its exam in the past, Powell said. The Admission Office is working with ACT to “better understand the details of how this will work.” Without a full understanding of their superscoring methodology, the Admission Office cannot yet determine how they will consider such score reports when reading applications, he said.

Through research on the potential advantages of allowing single-section retakes, ACT found that students performed similarly on single section sittings and full exams, indicating that the section retake scores would not disproportionately inflate students’ achievement.

Harberson agreed with Powell that ACT “has not been forthcoming” about how colleges can superscore the ACT. The College Board has historically offered clearer guidelines on superscoring the SAT, Harberson said.

Many colleges nationwide that previously did not superscore the ACT have been changing their testing policy in favor of superscoring the test, so the change to the ACT follows this trend, Harberson said.


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