Always Changing Tests: Students and counselor consider the implications of new ACT features

Riley TerBush

In September of 2020, the ACT will implement a three-pronged policy to its testing services. The changes will allow students to take the test online at testing centers, retake individual test sections and superscore sections of the test. 

Students will be able to retake the individual sections an unlimited number of times on testing dates throughout the year, allowing subject-specific studying for test sections.

Sneha Muthuramesh, a sophomore who said she will take the ACT next year, said, “I think it’s way easier for students to get a higher score with these changes. I feel like there are certain sections that I probably would be weaker on concept-wise, so I think that’s really effective (but) I feel like (colleges) won’t look at it as seriously because it’s easier to retake.”

Chloe Chui, as a junior, will determine her standardized test scores this year for upcoming college applications. She said, “I think it would definitely improve scores because generally if you have a problem on the SAT, it’s usually just one particular section rather than the entire test, but you don’t have the option just to take it one (section) at a time.”

Superscoring refers to a college’s choice to consider the combination of a student’s highest test scores for individual sections, rather than only the highest composite score. This feature is already available for the SAT test. Only certain colleges choose to superscore the SAT, and the same will be true for the ACT. 

Chui said, “I think superscoring does actually more accurately reflect the student, because a lot of the time when you’re taking a really long test, sometimes you’re not operating at your complete capacity, so superscoring allows students to really show colleges what they’re capable of.”

According to Melinda Stephan, college and career counselor, the general consensus among the high school and college community is that the new policy will likely favor more financially able students.

Stephan said, “I don’t think that’s the intention, but I think that’s maybe what the result is, is that students with more privilege in those ways will have more opportunities and access to this new way of improving their scores.”

There is some concern that using the highest test scores will incorrectly represent student aptitude, though according to research the ACT conducted, superscoring was more representative of a student’s grades in the first year of college than composite scores. 

Stephan said research from test-optional schools shows grades to be as valid as test scores in college applications.

Stephan said, “What they’re finding is the rigor that they took in high school–so the coursework they took in high school and the grades they earned in those more challenging classes–(is) probably more predictive of how they’re going to do first year (in college).”

While the number of test-optional colleges like Ball State University is on the rise, Stephan said she still recommends sending colleges test scores, since they are still relevant for scholarships and honors college placement.

“If we’re talking test optional, I think there are some students that it’s a great idea to choose not to send scores,” Stephan said. “I would still encourage all students to take the test and I would still stand by a recommendation that they take both tests, see which one they do better on and take that one again. Then they can make a decision about whether they should send test scores or retake certain sections.”

While the changes only go into effect in September of next year, Stephan said this year’s juniors are not necessarily at a disadvantage, since as seniors they can typically submit standardized test scores to colleges up until mid-January.

Stephan said, “The processes involved with changes like this on the back end are probably more complicated than any of us realize.”