The ACT announced three significant changes last week that represent good news for students who take the ACT test used in college admissions. Most schools accept either the ACT or SAT as part of the application process.
“Beginning with the September 2020 national ACT test date, students who have taken the ACT will have the option to retake individual sections of the ACT test instead of the entire exam,” the ACT says in a website post, noting that the sections are English, math, reading, science and writing.
The second significant change affects students who take the ACT more than once. They will now be provided with an ACT “superscore” that represents their highest possible ACT composite score.
Additionally, students will be able to take the ACT online, with ACT providing computers and laptops in the test setting, where students will still be able to use scratch paper and pencils as part of working our problems and questions.
Those who take the tests online on national test dates will get test results more quickly.
Madison Masters is the Lead Academic Coordinator for Bulldog Tutors and directs their top-quality private tutoring, test prep, and college admissions counseling in Connecticut. She calls the changes very positive, but also has some cautionary advice.
Don’t Let the New ACT Retake Policy Change Your Test Prep
“I’m sure it does take a lot of stress off of people if you know you can retake individual sections of the ACT,” says Madison, “but I would really caution against changing the mindset of taking the test. You should not fall into the trap of being relaxed because you get a second chance.”
Why? If students adopt a mindset of “it’s no big deal, I’ll redo it,” and recalibrate test prep to align with perceived lower stakes—for the entire test or for the sections they anticipate having to retake—risks include:
- Performing poorly, and below their potential, on all ACT sections
- Performing below potential by setting aside the positive manifestation of the “flight or fight”
phenomenon, the one that has students “in the zone” when they take the ACT
- Scoring so low it will be difficult to take measures to improve the score to a level suitable for admission to a top school
- Scoring low enough on one or more sections to trigger the likelihood of a multiple retake scenario
- Suffering a crisis of confidence that undermines the potential for significant improvement on retakes
“This changes the strategy of retakes, rather than strategy of prep,” Madison says. “You always prep hard and smart to do as well as you can the first time.”
The Scoop on the ‘Superscore’
Here’s what the ACT blog post on the changes says about the superscore:
ACT superscoring: ACT will report a superscore for students who have taken the ACT test more than once, giving colleges the option to use the student’s best scores from all test administrations, rather than scores from just one sitting, in their admission and scholarship decisions. New ACT research suggests that superscoring is actually more predictive of how students will perform in their college courses than other scoring methods.
“This is really nice,” says Madison, but with an important caveat. When the ACT says the new superscore will give “colleges the option to use the student’s best scores from all test administrations,” it’s referencing the fact that not all schools may accept superscores—or may have a policy that focuses on the highest scores but requires the submission of all scores.
Yale University is a good example. It’s policy reads like this:
Multiple Tests & Test Dates: Applicants who have taken the SAT or ACT exam multiple times should report all scores from whichever test they choose to report. Applicants who choose to report scores from both the SAT and ACT should report all scores received on both tests. If space in the testing section of the application is insufficient to self-report all SAT or ACT scores, applicants should use the “Update Application” form available via the Yale Admissions Status Portal to self-report additional scores after submitting an application. Applicants may also send all official scores directly to Yale via the testing agency. Yale’s CEEB code for the SAT is 3987; the ACT code is 0618. Applicants are not required to send scores taken prior to beginning high school.
Superscoring: When assessing SAT results, admissions officers will focus on the highest individual section scores from all test dates. For example, if an applicant took the SAT twice, the highest Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math scores will be considered individually. When assessing ACT results, admissions officers will focus on the highest ACT Composite from all test dates while also considering individual ACT subscores.
What that means is that Yale admissions officers will see and review all of a student’s score on the SAT or ACT—underscoring Madison’s caution against students’ using the ACT retake policy as a crutch. For example, a student who took the ACT math section four times before achieving their best score might risk s making a negative impression on an application to Yale, or to Harvard.
Under Harvard’s FAQ section is the question: Does Harvard superscore test results? The answer is:
“We do not create superscores for applicants. We will evaluate your application noting the highest test scores in each section across test dates for the SAT and your strongest sitting for the ACT. We take into account your educational background when reviewing your scores.”
Even though Harvard takes note of the highest test scores in each section, the answer suggests that the Ivy League school also sees and reviews all test scores.
Madison echoes the frequent advice of her colleague, Bulldog Tutors’ Director of Admissions Consulting Jessica Magro, in stressing that students must do strategic research to determine the policies of schools on their college list—and make sure that list is filled with schools that are a good fit, where the student is well-positioned to be accepted based on all salient factors, including the policy on test scores.
ACT or SAT Test Prep Is a Process if Done Properly
“Test prep is a process. You really have to put in the time if you want to make any gains,” says Madison, who focused intensively on ACT test prep with a student from May into October, after having provided subject tutoring last academic year.
“She went from 19 to 28 on math,” Madison says of the student’s score on ACT prep tests (versions of the official test) provided by Bulldog. “It’s possible to make those leaps and bounds with Bulldog Tutors.”
Overall, the student went from a 21 composite score to a 28 composite, a very significant increase because it paves the way for acceptance by a very good school.
“That’s the value of approaching test prep the right way and putting in sufficient time and work,” Madison says.
Taking the ACT Online vs. Paper
“A lot of graduate school admission tests are already online. It’s just the way things are moving,” says Madison, who sees the change as a positive, given that the ACT provides students with a computer or laptop at testing center, and allows them to work things out on paper as part of taking the test online.
“You’ll get your scores back faster, which will enable you to figure out your next steps faster,” Madison says.
With offices in New Haven and Guilford, Bulldog Tutors provides the highest quality private tutoring, test prep, and college admissions counseling in Connecticut. Bulldog’s Ivy League-educated tutors have achieved top scores on every exam that they teach and take a personalized approach to instruction that targets students’ weaknesses and helps them succeed on admissions tests and in subjects where they may have been under-served by traditional educational settings.
For additional information, call the New Haven office at (203) 562-1000, or see the Bulldog Tutor website, https://www.bulldogtutors.com.