ACT's Big Change

February 12, 2020

In October 2019, there was a big announcement about the ACT. Some call it a gamechanger to taking the five-part test that takes three hours to complete. So, what is this new change?

ACT revealed that come September 2020, you’ll be able to retake specific sections of the five-part test, one at a time. Sounds simple enough.

At College Prep Genius we like to examine the changes and help you understand them. It’s all about navigating the present system and use whatever is available to your advantage. It’s also worth analysing how changes will affect you, your cohort and the college system at large. Any change could bring unintended consequences. Let’s dive in and take a closer look.

The first step is you must take the (SAT, ACT or other) test—all sections, in one sitting. That part of the system is staying the same. Perhaps you don’t like the scores you have achieved, and you decide to retest. In fact, you can retest a number of times depending on which test/s you take. It’s a neat aspect of the testing system that allows you to engineer your score to best advantage.

With the SAT, by sitting the exam more than once, you choose your best scores for each section and then compile them to create what is called your SuperScore.

The announced ACT change means you can resit one section at a time. It provides a tweak to the SAT SuperScore and represents an incredible way to work the system in your favour.

A no-brainer

It seems like a no-brainer: just study one subject for a 35-minute* test instead of several for a 3-hour exam, then redo it if you don’t like the score.

*or 40-, 45- or 60-minutes depending on the section you choose to resit.

The new ACT system largely removes the stress from what is usually a much higher stakes game. All the while you put your top section-marks in the running. Some say it is a great way to put your best foot forward and improve your chances to get better scholarships.

It’s no secret that exam preparation and completion can be quite stressful in terms of time commitment—quite aside from the hours to complete the test.

With five sections scored in the ACT, a poor score in one section can drag the averaged scores right down. The new system allows you to brush one up on the one section that let you down. Do well, and your average will float upward and position you better for college.

When the new ACT allowance comes into play in September 2020, you’ll no longer have to send all your scores from each sitting of the ACT—just the scores of the sections you’ve sat.

But is it fair?

Now that you know the change, it’s worth asking…Is the ability to selectively sit sections of the test even fair? Is this kind of score engineering fair? Is it warranted?

Some people don’t think so. They think it can advantage people who are in higher socioeconomic groups who simply have more access to coaching. Be that as it may, there will always be people who seek help; those who can afford to, and those who choose not to, regardless of finances.

Sitting any standardized test (SAT, ACT etc.) costs money. Challenges will always exist with time and money affordability. And despite living in this highly connected world, there will always be a significant number of people who won’t know or understand the changes (and therefore won’t avail themselves of them).

Some people feel it’s very unfair to allow people several bites of the proverbial cherry, rather than limiting access to say, one, two or three tests only. Others say that the challenge of taking the exam itself, and sitting for the entire 3+ hours is part and parcel of the experience; that removing that and dumbing it down to little mini-tests does much more than advantage the few who can afford to test and retest.

You’ve got to ask yourself, is it fair to have some students do a test in 3-hours, with all the stresses associated with that, and others who then take each section at their leisure so they can be fresh for every testing-moment? It might be a way to reduce anxiety (as has been reported), but is it fair and equitable for some to have those advantages and others (the majority) not? Surely the exam experience, not just the exam results are important here.

Besides, as Soren Schwab of the CLT Exam explains: “taking one section at a time is a [very] different experience [to] taking an entire test. Students can just do test prep for a semester for one section, take it, and move on.”

The system could open up the way to being gamed by students who continually take the tests to gain by small margins (particularly those who have access to finances to fund their examination habit).

The result of this could be to shift the upper marks on the distribution curve. Will it also further disadvantage those who could not take more tests. Here’s how Schwab sees it: “The overall scores will continue to increase, and colleges will have a harder time paying test-score-based scholarships."

Does the new system change the stakes of college entry? Does it make it even more about strategy and not the fair-play system that standardized testing is supposed to be about. It could marginalize students rather than create the ‘level playing field’ the tests are renowned for.

What we don’t even yet know is whether colleges will treat SuperScores in the same was as conventionally submitted scores. Should somebody who scores well on their first full test do better than somebody who has resat a test sections a dozen times in order to score better and better?

And if you really think about it, isn’t taking and retaking tests really just a way of getting practice in test-taking? Wouldn’t you benefit by simply being better prepared from the get-go. That’s what we strongly believe at College Prep Genius!

There’s competition in the ranks

The new rules seem to be a way for ACT to grab some market share from SAT. The ACT and SAT have been almost neck and neck for market share for a while. Both are big businesses, so it’s little wonder strategies are being tested to seduce would-be test-takers over.

And, because a college’s reputation and national ranking relies heavily on the caliber of its students, the increasing competitiveness of ACT students should mean the colleges have a vested interest in backing the controversial new system.

It does cost you

Naturally, it’s going to cost you and of course, if it’s an attractive strategy that sees lots of uptake, it’s going to make ACT significant money. Already you can take the ACT 12 times, although most only take it once, or perhaps twice. Section-testing may increase revenue. It’s worth noting, that at the moment, the whole ACT costs $52. But to take a single section is unlikely to be pro-rated at $10.40 (20% of 52).

Another change you may not know about

The landscape of getting into college is changing. Did you know that some colleges have made test-scores an optional part of the application process? Notice the word “optional”? Just as it is with optional essay writing in the standardized tests, it would always be best to stack the cards in your favor and take an all-round approach, present well and benefit. To receive money, a test still must be submitted. Bottom line is, if awarding a place or a scholarship came down to two excellent candidates, with one having not done any tests and the other having also scored well, it’s likely the one who demonstrated great results would be seen as a more valuable recipient.

And a change whose time has come

These days we’re all connected by an incredible online network. You may not know this, but you can now take your ACT test online. This can only happen at certain test centers in certain states or if you take it abroad. The SAT remains a paper-based test. We are told that ACT results to online tests will be provided online and perhaps in as little as two business days.

A final word

With so many college-hopefuls it’s always going to be hard to be completely fair to everyone. There will always be someone who feels disadvantage (rightly or wrongly). One thing is for sure: The landscape is changing. Stay tuned as further developments are expected with more information coming later.

The ACT change seems to have created a lot more questions than to provide answers. The jury is out on the ultimate outcome of these seemingly pedestrian changes.

The answer to the whole conundrum is this: What is better? Preparing well from the start? Or doing the test over and over and over to engineer your marks?

The best—and most reliable—preparation is where you learn and understand the systems of the test and the different types of questions you’ll undoubtedly encounter. College Prep Genius is the most affordable and effective college prep system that gives you a greater chance of success. Thousands of students prove that prep works better than over-testing! Don’t use the costly exams as your test-prep. We think what’s going to happen is there will be two main groups of students:

Those that use the exams to practice their test-taking (and leave it to the last minute)

Those that prepare well in advance, do their exams and resit minimally as required.

Which group would you rather be in?

We’d love the chance to help you prepare the tried and true methods of College Prep Genius. It’s a system that’s still working well into its second decade. We keep on top of all the changes and we make sure you get the most out of the system, whenever you take your test.

CPG Founder | Author

Jean Burk is the author of the award-winning College Prep Genius program and has written numerous articles about the SAT and PSAT tests, high school prep, college prep, and how to get free college. She is a Fox News Contributor and has been featured as an SAT and Educational expert on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, TXA21, CW33, WE, Forbes, UShop TV and The Homeschool Channel.

She currently travels and speaks about the importance of college preparation at conventions, book fairs, schools, libraries, etc. She has taught her revolutionary, award-winning “Master the SAT” Prep Class all over the United States, mainland China, India, Hong Kong and Thailand. Her program is now also online at . 

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