SUMMARIZING THE CHANGES
Starting in September 2020, three main changes will take place:
There are a couple of points I want to emphasize about the first two policy changes.
First: ACT will allow students to take single test sections only after the student has sat for a complete test. Students do not have the option of taking the test one section at a time from the beginning.
Second: on a report with a superscore, ACT will include the following:
I'll clarify point (3) with a few examples:
The single section retest policy, in particular, is the kind of change we haven’t encountered before. Even when the SAT changed its format over the years, the basic construct of “go in, take a full-length test, receive all your scores in a couple of weeks” wasn’t affected. So we’re all in new territory here.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE CHANGES
What Probably Won’t Change
First of all, not all colleges currently use superscoring in their application processes, and they won’t be required to do so going forward, even if they are presented with superscoring information from ACT. These colleges will continue to refer to the complete set(s) of scores from individual test date(s), not the superscore composite. So if you’re applying to these schools and you want to raise the score that they consider, you’ll still need to retake the full test.
Along similar lines, there are schools (such as my alma mater, Georgetown University) that require students to submit all test scores. So if you’re applying to Georgetown and you take the Science section five times, you will need to send the scores from all five test dates to Georgetown’s admissions office in order to comply with their admissions policies. (See Georgetown’s policy here under the heading “Score Choice.”) You can verify a school’s policies around superscoring and requirements for score reporting by going to the Admissions pages of the colleges you are considering.
Additionally, while it’s possible to retest individual sections, you’ll probably still want to study for all sections leading up to your first test date, given that ACT will always send out a set of scores from a test date when you took the full test, even with a superscore report. Because we don’t know exactly how schools will use the superscore and the score from the day when you took the full test within their admissions decisions, you’ll want your score from a single test date to be as good as it can be.
As things stand right now, SAT’s policies haven’t changed. If you want to raise your score in a section of the SAT, you need to retake the entire test. Colleges that use superscoring will superscore the SAT based on the scores included in your score report.
What Will Change
Once students receive their scores from the full test, they can decide whether to begin focusing on 1-3 sections for retesting or to continue working on all sections in an effort to improve their composite from a single test day.
Students and families will need to make choices about whether they want to prioritize a student's taking the test over fewer test dates, doing fewer sections per test date, or having more retests for a given section.
What Might Change
It will probably be easier to improve scores in individual sections because it is easier to retest an individual section than to retake the full test. You won’t need to block out four-plus hours of your day on the day of the official test. It won’t cost as much as taking the full test (though exact costs have yet to be announced). While preparing, you will be able to focus your time and energy on just the section(s) in which you want to raise your score.
If improved section scores lead to inflated superscores, it’s possible that higher superscores will become less of a competitive edge in the college admissions process as more students submit higher superscores. Similarly, if more students are scoring higher, mid-range superscores might become less competitive at some schools.
That said, because single-day composites likely won't undergo the same inflation as superscores, it’s possible that colleges will start weighing single-day composite scores more heavily than they do now, as this set of scores might allow for greater differentiation among applicants.
At this point, it’s difficult for anyone to say how the changes will affect the overall testing timeline for high school students, but it’s certainly possible that families will start thinking about the test prep process earlier to allow students greater flexibility in how they go about retesting.
If you’re reading this, it’s because you are aware of the importance of preparing for the SAT and ACT and thinking about how to do so mindfully and strategically. You’ll need to extend that mindset to these policies.
None of us is sure exactly how this will play out, but, as the policies develop, I encourage you to keep in mind that ACT and SAT scores are an opportunity to present your best self within the college admissions process and that you should use the policies to do that to the extent that you can.
You can read up on the most recent published information on the changes for yourself at ACT’s website. More information is available in ACT’s FAQ’s.
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