High schoolers will find it easier next year to submit a high ACT exam score as part of the competitive college admissions process.
But as the changes were announced Tuesday, some parents, students and tutors wondered whether they would fan the frenzy over test scores, putting students who did not have access to coaching at a further disadvantage.
Officials at ACT, which makes the exam, said that starting next September, students would be able to retake specific sections rather than the entire test, which lasts about three hours.
The change would allow students to avoid getting a worse grade on a section they had scored well on earlier. Although a growing number of colleges and universities have made test scores an optional part of college applications, many high schoolers feel pressure to score highly on the ACT and SAT exams.
There are five subsections on the ACT — reading, math, science, English and writing, which is optional — graded on a scale of 1 to 36. Scores on the four required sections are averaged into a composite score. But a student’s highest composite score may not necessarily include the highest subscores if they were achieved on a test with a lower composite score.
Starting in September, students will get a new “superscore” that combines their highest scores on the subsections from the different times they took the test. Currently, if students who have taken the test more than once want colleges to see their best subscores, they have to send in multiple test results.
“They might think, ‘Why do I have to sit through and take all these tests again if I only need to improve my math score?” said Ed Colby, an ACT spokesman. “We’re trying to save them time. We’re trying to save them money.”
Test experts said the changes would probably allow many students to up their game. Testing coaches now generally work with students on the entire test. Under the new rules, they would be able to serially work on one subject at a time, trying to boost a score in math, before moving on to English or science, experts said.
Akil Bello, a college consultant, said the move “advantages the rich, who have coaches, who have advisers, who are strategically crafting their plan to take them to college.”
Students can take the test up to 12 times. According to the ACT, research shows that students who take the test more than once have slightly higher first-year college grades than those who take the test a single time. The organization’s theory is that those students are motivated to succeed, which translates into better academic performance.
Taking the whole test costs $52 without the optional writing section, and $68 with it. ACT officials said taking an individual section would be cheaper, but they had not yet decided on a price.