Changes to the ACT

What are the actual changes? 

Starting in September of 2020, the ACT will be offering two new options for students: 1. the option of full tests online (in addition to the traditional paper and pencil test), and 2. retakes of partial sections (online only). 

This second option brings with it a new superscore to any individual (single-sitting) score report, which will include the best section from any full or partial sitting. To see how this plays out, let’s walk through an example of a student’s test scores. 

For example, if a student’s current scores are 

Oct 2019: 24/26/24/23 = 24

Feb 2020: 21/29/25/24 = 25, and her superscore is now a 26. 

Sep 2020 retake of Science only for a 29, her individual best is still a 25, but her superscore is now a 27. 

This student would opt to send her February exam, as that’s her highest single-sitting score, and with it would now show the superscore of 24/29/25/29 = 27. 

Impact on Online Only Scores

Online only scores will likely dip before they improve (especially in Reading and/or Science), as any big adjustment to test taking usually “takes some getting used to.” This has proven true for those students in states that require ACT taking for graduation. It is also why students in public schools in California are given in-class practice time for the CASPP, namely because it is recognized that adjusting to online testing is its own hurdle. More research is needed to see just what capabilities ACT includes in their online version of the sections. 

Impact on scores 

Composite scores will likely end up being lower, as students may try fewer times to retake the whole single sitting, preferring to only retake single sections. 

Superscores will likely increase, as students will be able to exclusively focus on individual sections in whichever way they choose to impact their superscores.

Admission Chances

This is the hardest to predict, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it trended similarly to what happened when the SAT was redesigned: the first year was anyone’s guess, but ended up significantly favoring those students who did very well. After that, things seemed to even out between test-taking groups. My theory as to why this happened? Two possibilities exist: either the admissions departments didn’t know how to weigh the changes, and therefore their innate bias won out over any levels of logic because there simply was none, or because the changes were easier to navigate for several students, which made their scores stand out more than they would have once everyone has learned the ropes. 

It’s also possible that the concordance scales will change, although that impact likely won’t be felt until the second year. When the SAT was redesigned, it was over a year before both organizations agreed as to what the concordance was between the two tests. Admissions departments will either be in the dark about how to compare the two, will decide based on old scales, or will make their own inferences based on the numbers they’re seeing overall at their institutions. 

Additional Considerations

Juniors planning for fall dates as seniors can add a lot of stress to their lives because we don’t know exactly how these changes are going to impact them specifically or the landscape as a whole. 

Will schools change policy on superscoring the ACT once these changes are in place? Will they still superscore but only on full sittings submitted in the traditional manner? We have no idea at this point. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the bigger school systems keep accepting superscore in the same manner that they have been (superscoring from multiple single-sitting full test dates) simply because updating their software may be more trouble than it’s worth. Other schools may agree with ACT’s assessment that the superscore really is the best measure of a student’s ability in college and will embrace the updated measure with outstretched arms. And even other schools may shun the ACT, as they are already predisposed towards the SAT. 


Our advice is the simplest: a strong single-sitting score will end all debate about which schools weigh which option most favorably. It’s not the easiest way to go (taking all four sections together each time), but in the long run it may save considerable guesswork and stress about your score and admission chances. 

While a great superscore may be all you need, a superscore will never beat out a same score in a single sitting.  

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