Feb. 7, 2021
Starting this fall, the ACT is undergoing some changes. Before I go further, I want to reassure you that these changes are entirely to your benefit — so don't stress about them! These are modifications to the testing experience, not to the content, which will still consist of four required sections — English, Math, Reading and Science — and one optional Writing portion. But since the way in which you take the test is nearly as important as the content itself, make sure you're aware of these three tectonic changes coming to the ACT.
For the first time in its history, the ACT will allow you to retake individual sections of the test. That means if you're unhappy with your score on any individual section, you will not need to sit for the entire test again to have a chance at improving. The average student will take the ACT more than once, and this new option can potentially save you time in two ways: Not only will you spend less time taking the whole exam again, but you also can focus your later rounds of preparation around the section(s) you'll be retaking.
Do note that the first time you take the ACT, you'll still be required to take the entire exam (sans the optional Writing section, if you choose to skip it). Also, note that section retesting isn't available in the traditional paper-and-pencil format. Instead, you'll have to turn to….
Online testing has been available in very limited circumstances (mostly in schools and outside the United States) since 2016. But that is the second big change coming to the test this year. Now, you will have the option of either taking the test the traditional way (using paper or pencil) or using a computer. In either case, you will still take the test at a testing site, so this does not mean you have the option of taking the test in the comfort of your own home. This also means that regardless of whether you're taking one section or the whole test, you'll be restricted to whatever testing dates are available.
If you're retaking an individual section, you don't get a choice: You must take it the electronic format. If you're taking the whole test, you'll want to look at the pros and cons of each. The printed test may be more familiar to what you've taken in high school classes, but it'll take longer to get results. On the other hand, the electronic test comes with the following tools that may help — assuming you don't lose any time getting used to navigating through them:
You might have guessed that these first two changes may have some impact on how you receive your test scores. If so, you guessed correctly! First, let's talk about the timeline: Students who utilize online testing can expect their results in as little as two business days. That's a marked improvement on the typical two to eight weeks students can expect when utilizing the paper and pencil method.
Second, the option of Section Retesting officially brings superscoring to the ACT. For those who haven't heard of superscores, the concept is fairly straightforward: The ACT will take your best individual section scores from across test administrations in order to create your highest possible composite score. Students who take advantage of Section Retesting will have the option of sending either one full ACT composite score or a superscore to prospective colleges. Do note that just because the ACT will calculate your superscores does not mean that all schools will accept them. Check with each school on your list to ensure you're providing the scores they require.