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.

Major Shifts in ACT Testing Options

Section Retesting, Superscore Reporting, Online Testing

ACT announced three major testing initiatives this week, primarily rooted in recently released research on the power of the superscore. These changes will go into effect for the September 2020 national test date.

ACT released new analysis in August of this year that found that a superscore—a combination of the highest section scores across multiple test dates—was the most accurate predictor of a student’s later college GPA. As a result of this research, ACT is making three major changes: section retesting, superscore reporting, and online testing.

Section Retesting

For students who have already taken the full-length ACT at least once, they will be allowed to sign up to retake specific sections rather than the test as a whole. The cost for this option has not yet been released, though ACT has confirmed that the price point would be lower than the full-length test. Any retakes of specific sections would be taken online, and students will be able to take one, two, or three subjects in a given retest sitting.

Superscore Reporting

ACT will report a superscore to colleges for students that test more than once. In their research, the superscore method was more predictive of a student’s college GPA than any other method, including a student’s average, latest, or highest ACT composite score. Reporting the superscore encourages colleges to use the most accurate performance metric rather than a single test administration when predicting college success.

Online Testing for National Test Dates

A third major initiative from ACT will allow students to take the ACT online for any national test date. In the past, the ACT has been available online at international test sites and at specific state or districts that have signed on for online testing, but the option was not available to students testing independently. Starting in September 2020, testers at selected test centers (with plans to expand to all test centers) will be able to opt in to online testing.

Testing online has the distinct advantage of quicker score release, as scores from online test dates are released only two days after testing. Scores from pencil and paper exams are returned approximately ten days after testing. 

ACT has clearly stated that at this time, there are no plans to discontinue the pencil and paper option.

New Options, New Questions

These changes certainly offer advantageous options to students, allowing them more flexibility in testing and scoring. This flexibility, however, raises several questions regarding the reliability of the scores.

When it comes to comparability of performance to pencil and paper testing, online testing has shown mixed results. Research from the writers of the SAT, the College Board, in January of this year, found that students testing online outperformed students taking pencil and paper tests on Reading sections though not on Writing or Math. Conversely, students taking the national PARCC exams (Common Core assessments) on computer underperformed compared to students testing with pencil and paper. 

ACT has released relatively little research on the validity of online test scores. They did conduct comparability studies in 2014 and 2015 and implemented equating methodology to adjust for differences between online and pencil and paper tests. Currently, ACT is conducting additional research to “support score comparability.” Given that these changes will almost certainly mean more and more students will be testing online, the comparability of formats will be critical.

Questions also arise about the reliability of individual section scores provided in a retake setting. ACT has found that students perform similarly on subjects regardless of test order, supporting their shift to retesting. However, their FAQ only states that they have “planned” studies to confirm comparability of the single-section testing. Historically, ACT has reported a standard error of measurement for all subject test and composite ACT scores. The standard error of measurement for each subject individually ranges from 1.55 to 2.01 scaled score points. The standard error of measurement for a composite, however, is reduced to only 0.93 scaled score points. With this change, the question remains: will retaking individual sections increase the standard error of measurement for a composite score, making scores less reliable?

All of these initiatives will go into effect for the September 2020 national test date. Academic Approach will be providing more information to our students, schools, and families on how this will impact our program design. We’ll also be on the lookout for updates from colleges on how they plan to process superscores and retesting scores. Registration for these new options will not be available until July 2020. We also encourage you to visit ACT’s detailed FAQ for more information on these changes!