Students can improve their ACT score by focusing on specific ACT content sections.

Recently, ACT, Inc. announced changes in the administration of the ACT, rolling out in September 2020. This directly affects how each student can improve their ACT score. Soon after, major news outlets such as the New York Times led a round of worry and speculation. Can changes to the ACT make the college admissions process more challenging for students? Is this a sign of the end of standardized testing? Neither position is based on the reality of the testing landscape.

Currently, around two million students take the ACT each year. Generally, grades are the most important factor in college admissions, but many colleges utilize testing results as a tool for eliminating unqualified and borderline candidates. The ACT is slightly less popular than the SAT for this purpose, although virtually all colleges and universities in the U.S. accept either test equally.

How is the ACT changing?

The changes announced by ACT, Inc. do not indicate any change to the ACT content or format. They will impact how students experience the ACT and their ACT score. The changes include an increase in price, a limit on the number of times students can take the test, and a rollout of the computer-based version of the ACT. More on those later. The most important part of the changes has to do with superscoring.

What does superscoring mean?

Superscoring is very common with SAT scores. It is a means of ensuring a student’s total score represents their actual skill. Many students take the SAT or ACT more than once. Sometimes, repeat testers find themselves in a situation in which they earn a lower score on an individual section than previously. Superscoring accounts for those discrepancies.

For example, a student scored a 600 in English and 550 in Math on the May 2019 SAT. They might take the October SAT in an attempt to improve the Math result. However, they may earn a 580 in English while improving to a 610 in Math. Colleges recognize this does not mean the student suddenly became less knowledgable in English, The college then counts the May 2019 English score of 600 and the October 2019 Math score of 610 in the student’s file.

For more information, visit our blog post about superscoring .

How does superscoring work for the ACT?

The ACT score is a composite, averaged from the four multiple-choice sections of the test. Historically, colleges have been far less likely over the last two decades to superscore ACT results. ACT, Inc., is proposing that students will be able to sign up to take only an individual section of the ACT, instead of having to take the full test just over again just to improve one section.

This allows a student to focus on improving a single ACT content section without the stress of having to take the whole test. It also removes the risk of seeing other sections go down on repeat testings. ACT, Inc., hopes that colleges will consider the top individual section scores submitted by students and create a superscore composite.

There are five ACT content sections: English (grammar), Math, Reading, Science, and the optional Writing Test (essay). Until the announced changes go into effect, students must sign up for the full ACT. They can still decide whether or not to take the essay. After the changes, students will be able to sign up for individual sections.

At Livius, one of our most commonly recommended ACT tips is that students complete the essay section at least once. This way, students have an essay result in the event they end up applying to schools that require an essay score for admissions. Even if the essay isn’t required by a school of choice, the essay can also provide a supplemental writing sample, which is a useful addition to an application.

Can you take the ACT on a computer?

In addition to superscoring, ACT, Inc has finally rolled out computer-based testing nationally. For most of the last decade, ACT, Inc., has promised to transition the ACT from a paper-based to computer-based test. After several beta tests in Tennessee and Kentucky, ACT, Inc. rolled out limited weekday in-school administrations at partner schools in those two states.

Starting next September, students across the U.S. will be able to take the ACT on a computer at testing centers and at schools with appropriate computer infrastructure on the same day as the majority of students take the test with pencil and paper. ACT, Inc. previously stated that their ultimate goal is that all students will take the ACT on computers, and this seems the first real step toward that goal.

ACT, Inc. made no mention of adaptive testing, in which questions vary in difficulty based on student performance. Other computer-based exams such as the GRE have used adaptive testing for years. When the ACT first announced computer-based testing over a decade ago, they planned to make the ACT adaptive. The recent announcement regarding limited computer-based administration indicates that students taking the test with pencil and paper and those taking the test via computer will be taking the same exam.

What else is changing about the ACT?

The other changes announced by ACT, Inc., are somewhat less exciting. ACT, Inc., appears to have raised the price on the ACT starting September 2020. It was previously $44 or $60 without/with the essay. It will change to $52 or $68 without/with the essay. They have not announced the pricing for taking a single section. Additionally, they have not said if students can take multiple individual sections in a single sitting.

Also, there is now a limit on the number of times a student can register for the ACT. Starting next September, there will be a limit of 12 testings for the ACT. Previously, there was no limit on the number of times a student could take the ACT. Considering that students can now take a single section, the limit seems designed to keep students from taking one section at a time, every testing, indefinitely, chasing the perfect ACT score.

An accessible ACT score

ACT, Inc., claims that the upcoming changes should make the test more accessible to students who may experience barriers to taking the exam. Hopefully, these changes will allow students to perform to their full potential and achieve their ideal ACT score. Whether that goal is met or not is yet to be seen.

Want solid ACT tips? Check out our blog posts about test prep, including guessing strategies.