June 2020 Update: ACT has announced that the launch of section retesting has been postponed to fall of 2021. The postponement was to accommodate the larger number of students needing to take the full test in the fall after COVID-related test cancellations in spring of 2020.
One Thing is Constant: Change
ACT is introducing three major changes: 1) providing superscore reporting; 2) allowing single section retesting; and 3) administering test sections on computer, not on pencil and paper. These changes are controversial, and I’ll summarize the pros and cons of each change below.
First, however, I want to provide some context. After twenty years of preparing students for standardized tests, I’ve learned when it comes to ACT and SAT, one thing is constant: change.
Since its inception in 1959, ACT has undergone significant changes. In the 1980s, the “enhanced” ACT increased focus on problem-solving skills through the introduction of Reading and Science Reasoning sections, replacing the previous version’s Social Studies and Natural Science sections, and in 2005 ACT appended a new Essay section. Unlike previous, more structural changes, the forthcoming 2020 ACT changes affect only how the test is administered, not constructed.
While these upcoming ACT changes will be significant, they are trivial compared to the identity crisis that ACT’s rival SAT has experienced. Since it was introduced in 1926, the SAT has changed its name four times, and its construct has undergone eight significant revisions. It was originally called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, then the Scholastic Assessment Test, then the SAT I: Reasoning Test, then the SAT Reasoning Test, and now simply the SAT.
These name changes have paralleled shifts in the test’s identity. Initially designed as an adapted version of an IQ test, the first SAT was intended to give a snapshot of intrinsic academic promise. Early adopters included the then-president of Harvard University, who appreciated that the SAT measured intelligence rather than quality of high school education. Over time, the SAT has changed radically in content, construct, and purpose. One revealing way to see this shift is through analysis of number of questions and time per question on the SAT, at its inception in 1926 and today.
From a student’s perspective, the current SAT allows 289% more time per question than initially provided in 1926—a shift that allows for a dramatically different problem-solving approach. Relaxing time pressure and including academic content much more like that which students see in school, the SAT has shifted from an intelligence test to an academic achievement test, a seismic shift. The most recent SAT revision in 2016 explicitly aligned the test with the Common Core State Standards and high school curricula. Today, the writers of the SAT state explicitly that the best way to prepare for the SAT is to take and excel in challenging high school coursework.
ACT’s identity, on the other hand, has always been clear since Everett Franklin Lindquist, Professor of Education at University of Iowa, first designed it: ACT is a test of academic achievement, not IQ. However, how you administer a test matters, and what 2020 promises is big changes in ACT’s administration.
Superscore Reporting: Show Your Best Test-taking Self
ACT will now report a superscore to colleges for students that test more than once. What does this mean?
If a student took the ACT on one official test date and scored a composite 25 with a 30 in English, a 20 in Math, a 30 in Reading, and a 20 in Science and then re-tested and scored another composite 25 but this time with a 20 in English, a 30 in Math, a 20 in Reading, and a 30 in Science, the ACT will report that student’s superscore, that is, the highest scores in each subject between those two tests.
That student then would report a 30: 30 in English, 30 in Math, 30 in Reading, and 30 in Science.
ACT’s research purports that the superscore offers colleges the most accurate performance metric rather than a single test administration when predicting college success. With superscoring, ACT is moving in the direction of SAT, which has offered superscoring—or “composite scoring”—for many years.
Allowing Single Section Retesting: ↑Focus = ↑Score
ACT will allow students to retest after taking a full-length ACT at least once, and, when retesting, students can elect to take only one, two, or three of the four total sections. What does this mean?
If a student takes a full-length ACT and does well in the first three sections—English, Math, Reading—but does not like the score of the Science section, the fourth section, that student can retest and elect to only test on the Science section (and then superscore the results).
Administering Test Sections on Computer: Screen-time vs. Pencil & Paper
Beginning in September 2020, testers at selected test centers will be able to opt in to computer-based testing.
These three changes will go into effect for the September 2020 national test date. We do not yet know how colleges and universities will react to superscoring: it’s possible some or many do not accept the new superscore. Policies have yet to be set. As we acquire more information, we’ll share it with you and help guide you with the most thoughtful strategy on how best to react to these changes.
Since 2001, we at Academic Approach have seen many changes in the testing landscape, but one thing remains the same: tests are standardized; students are not. We are here to help each student navigate the journey to higher education and improved academic performance with a personalized approach. Along the way, we will help you grow, acquire high-impact academic skills, and make the best decisions especially in changing times.
Matthew Pietrafetta founded Academic Approach in 2001 and currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer. Matthew earned his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in English Language and Literature at Columbia University in New York City.