Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes in the ACT

With many significant events happening in our world this week including Turkey’s airstrikes on Syria and an evolving impeachment inquiry, you may have missed the big news in college admissions that broke on Wednesday: significant changes to ACT test administrations.

ACT announced that they will be implementing three new policies starting in September 2020:

  • Students will be allowed to use Score Choice when submitting their scores to colleges, which means that they may select their strongest English, Reading, Math, and Science sections from multiple testing sessions.
  • Students will be allowed to re-take (only after completing one full ACT test) separate sections of the ACT in order to try to improve scores on certain sections without retaking the entire ACT test.
  • Online ACT testing will be an option available next year. Section re-takes will be offered exclusively through online testing.

Of course, these significant changes have the effect of inciting a boiling cauldron of questions from school counselors, independent counselors, students and parents. I’ve already heard one of my current senior students exclaim, “That’s so unfair that it isn’t happening until next year! I wish I could submit a superscore!”

This latest move in the ongoing tug-of-war between SAT and ACT for the American people’s moolah equates to adding The Incredible Hulk as the anchor of ACT’s team. We predict that students will jump at the chance to retake sections of the ACT in the future and will delight in the opportunity to send colleges a score report with only their highest section scores, even though many colleges already superscore the ACT.

However, the fallout of this move means even more test-frenzied over-analysis and strategizing infused into an already over-complicated process. We worry that students will feel obligated to test too much, aiming for a perfect 36 on each section instead of doing something more interesting and enriching on a Saturday morning. How will test centers and high schools adjust to or meet the new technological demands of these policies? How do students with fewer financial resources and less access to experienced admissions counseling stay visible in such a competitive and expensive testing race? And, if these changes result in a general rise in scores, how will colleges choose between an increasing number of extraordinarily well-qualified candidates?

Perhaps the most important question: in this never-ending tug-of-war between SAT and ACT, what happens when the last twine of rope finally breaks, and where will that leave our students?

We will continue to monitor the professional conversations surrounding standardized testing in US college admissions so that we can counsel our young people with sensitivity and wisdom, never giving up on the belief that applying to colleges can still be an inherently positive experience and an exciting and self-revelatory journey into young adulthood.

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