3 changes to the ACT that could help students succeed

In this Jan. 17, 2016 file photo, a sign is seen at the entrance to a hall for a college test preparation class in Bethesda, Md. (The Associated Press)

If the ACT is on the horizon for you or your child, you may want to know about some recently announced changes. Read on to learn how these three changes could help students showcase their full potential to colleges and universities.

1) Online testing allows for faster turnaround in scores

For decades, students have sat down to take the ACT with paper and pencil. While that method will still be available, students will soon have the option to take the test online at test centers across the country. (All changes will go into effect September 2020.)

The online test will feature the same format, content and timing as the pen-and-paper exam, but there’s still a considerable benefit to testing online. Instead of waiting weeks for their results, online testers will get their scores in as little as two days.

This faster turnaround time enables students to use their score immediately on college applications or, if they’re unhappy with the results, make a plan right away to study and retest.

2) Section retesting allows for second chances without all the stress

The ACT features four sections: English, Math, Reading and Science (plus an optional Writing section). While retesting has been available to students for quite some time, that retest has always required students to retake the entire exam. This is time-consuming and stressful. Students must continue studying for all four sections, or risk pulling up one section score only to see another one drop on the retest.

Soon, however, students will soon be able to just retake the section or sections they’d like to improve. This gives students a second (or third) chance to put their best foot forward without the stress of studying for and retesting all four sections.

Not only will retesting save students time both in test prep and on actual test day, it will make the exam more coachable. Students who identify an area of difficulty will be able to seek out a tutor to help them focus their efforts and fine-tune their scores in one area until they succeed.

3) An ACT superscore allows students to showcase their full potential

Right now, the ACT’s composite score is calculated by averaging a student’s scores in each of the four sections. Each sitting of the test produces one composite score, so a student needs to perform their very best in every section all in one test day to achieve their best possible composite score.

Soon, however, the ACT will calculate a superscore — the average of a student’s four best section scores across all attempts, whether those attempts were full tests or section retests. This allows students to showcase their full potential and achieve a higher score to put on college applications.

Not all schools accept a superscore, but many do. And with the ACT now making the superscore a part of their official scoring process, we may see even more accept this result in the near future.

Does the ACT now make it easier for students to succeed?

Many students will find these changes do, in fact, make it easier for them to succeed — especially if they’re willing to work hard to improve their scores in individual sections.

The ACT wants students to choose their test over their competition (the College Board’s SAT), so they’ve announced these changes to offer students a better experience and ensure them that the ACT will represent their best work.

That being said, these announcements are only one piece of a larger puzzle. Several key differences in concepts and approaches determine which test will better reflect a student’s strengths and potential.

Which test is best for your child, the SAT or ACT?

Because every school in the country accepts both the SAT and ACT, it’s important to know which test a student will score best on. About one-third of students score better on one test over another on baseline exams. For the other two-thirds, it’s personal preference.

I’ve always found it’s a best practice to have students sit for both exams in a practice format (we offer these for free in the community, as do other organizations) to determine their ideal fit.

By choosing one test to prepare for instead of both, students can hone their efforts and save time, money and a whole lot of stress.

Ann Dolin is the founder of Educational Connections Tutoring and the author of “Homework Made Simple.”

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