New ACT Test Changes Can Boost Students' Scores

Last updated: Mar 10, 2020

High school students preparing for standardized college admission tests, we have exciting news: The ACT is making important updates to its exam that can save you time, money, and anxiety. Best news of all: The new ACT test changes can boost students’ scores. If you’re ready to make the most of the new ACT to achieve your best exam results, read on!

students in classroom taking the ACT exam

3 Major Changes to the ACT

Beginning with the September 2020 test, you will have three new options that could change how you feel about standardized testing and how you approach studying for it. What’s new:

  1. Section retesting
  2. Online testing
  3. Superscoring

Before we get into the details of the modifications, let’s clarify the things about the ACT that will stay the same. The content and length of the full exam are not changing. When you take the full ACT exam, you still will complete four sections of multiple-choice questions, English, math, science, and reading. The full test is still about three hours long. You still may tackle the optional 40-minute essay section. The ACT still will be offered seven times a year. And the cost for the full exam remains the same: $52 for the ACT with no writing; $68 for the ACT with essay.

Now, let’s explore how the three updates specifically can affect your preparation for the ACT exam and give you an edge in college admissions.

Section Retesting

The ACT’s first-time-ever option for section retesting allows you to retake a portion of the exam without having to repeat the entire ACT. So, if you aced the math and science sections, but faltered a bit in the English and reading sections, you may retest just those two sections. Or you could do one. Or three. It’s a second chance for a better score, eliminating the stress of studying again for the whole shebang.

Concentrating on just the sections you need to improve, you can focus your test prep, which can increase your score in that section and, in turn, your overall test results.

Here’s what you should know:

  • Your retest section is identical to the same section on a standard ACT test.
  • You may retake up to three sections on any ACT test date.
  • There are no limits on the number of times you may retest.
  • Section retests are offered digitally only.
  • You must take a full ACT exam before registering for a section retake.

Although the ACT has not announced the fee for section retests, the cost for a partial retake of the exam is expected to be considerably lower than sitting for the whole test. The SAT does not offer section retests.

student on laptop studying for the ACT exam

Online Testing

Another significant shift for the ACT is extending to students the option of online testing. The upside for test day is that the online ACT is a better format if you’re more comfortable taking tests on a computer rather than on paper. The upside for college admissions is that you will get your results much faster than with the paper format, which can take up to three weeks. The SAT also offers digital testing.

Here’s what you should know:

  • You get to choose which format you prefer, online or pencil-and-paper.
  • You could get your results in as little as two days, giving you more time to prep for section retakes or full exam retests. Or, if your results are solid, you can get straight to applying to colleges and for scholarships.
  • You may take the digital test only on Saturday test dates.
  • You take the online test on laptops or computers provided by the testing center, not on your own device.
  • You may highlight text, but jotting notes in the margin is not an option.
  • You may use scratch paper.
  • You may go back and change answers in the time remaining for that section.
  • Your price is the same for the online ACT as for the paper ACT.

If you opt for the digital ACT, make sure to include online practice exams in your test preparation. 

Superscoring

The third evolution of the ACT is to offer superscoring, which goes hand-in-hand with section retesting. Superscoring allows you to submit your highest score across multiple ACT full exams and section retakes, reflecting your best effort overall, rather than your performance on a single test day. The SAT offers superscoring, too, so this levels the playing field between the two standardized exams.

Here’s what you should know: 

  • Superscores are not accepted by every college; some still accept only a full composite score.
  • Your superscore will be calculated automatically by ACT.
  • You will have the option of sending your superscore or a full ACT composite test score to a college.

Study for the full exam the first time you take the ACT, then use your results to focus your test prep on only your weaker subjects for the next full exam or section retake.

student with laptop taking notes and studying for the ACT exam

Should You Wait Until September to Take the ACT?

A good strategy to take advantage of the changes to the ACT that go into effect in September is to study for and sit for the ACT the spring or summer before the updates become active. This initial full test gives you a benchmark for planning future test-taking, targeting sections that need more attention.

These updates can do great things for your ACT score, but you should keep tried-and-true testing methods in mind, too, and avoid some common misconceptions about the exam.

Here’s what works:

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