Retaking the ACT
During the last testing year, according to ACT, 43% of ACT-tested students chose to take the exam again. With about 2.09 million total test-takers in that year (64% of all U.S. high school graduates), this means that almost 900,000 of them retook the ACT. A 2017 survey of 280,000 ACT-tested first-time college students found that two test attempts (35.3%) was the most common outcome in this group, followed by one test attempt (29.1%), three test attempts (20.2%), and four or more test attempts (15.4%). Taking the ACT more than once is not at all unusual, and students should not be ashamed of trying to improve their scores.
ACT tracks composite test scores for students who have previously taken the exam. The data show that 57% of these students improved their scores, 22% received lower scores, and 21% got the same score as before. If you're thinking about retaking the ACT, the odds are in your favor.
There are a number of factors that can be used to help make informed decisions on whether or not retesting is a good idea. If student performance is substantially below scores on practice tests, if the student was physically ill or uncomfortable during the test, or if the student has since done additional coursework in areas of weakness are all indicators that retakes might produce favorable results. Students should note that if they retest, they must take the entire exam again (ACT policies do not permit retaking individual ACT sections only).
There are official limits on how many test attempts an individual student is allowed. Research on standardized retesting generally shows conformity to the law of diminishing returns, meaning that score gains tend to become less pronounced with each subsequent attempt. Furthermore, it becomes more difficult for a given student to improve as he or she gets higher on the scale of score percentiles (it's much easier to increase an original score of 18 than an original score of 32). What's the bottom line? We don't recommend taking the ACT more than three times unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Students who take the ACT multiple times are allowed to choose which complete set of scores to send to colleges or other organizations. In other words, you get to choose the entire test administration from which schools receive scores. ACT will not report only the highest scores from several test administrations (this process is usually referred to as "superscoring"). A student cannot, for example, order score reports that include only his or her best ACT Science score and best ACT Writing score if they are from different test administrations.
ACT policies apply only to score reporting, and the organization has no control over university admission policies. Recent research has shown strong correlations between superscoring and college GPA, and the practice has therefore acquired some degree of legitimacy in college admissions (Columbia University is an example of an elite institution that has adopted superscoring). Some institutions (such as Yale University) take a different view by requiring their applicants to report scores from all test attempts. Prospective college students are advised to comprehensively review their preferred institutions' rules on standardized testing.
The Tennessee Department of Education recently instituted a state-funded Senior Retake Day for the ACT, and all high school seniors in the state's public schools were automatically signed up. The average ACT composite score for 2018 Tennessee public high school graduates who retested in 2017 was 21.5, compared to a 17.4 average for their peers who tested a single time. About 52,000 students participated in the program, which was available regardless of whether or not they had taken the ACT during their junior year. Approximately 19,000 students (40% of retakes and 36.5% of the total group) improved their scores. This program is part of an overall upward trend in the state, which saw mean ACT composite scores for public school students grow from 19.0 in 2011 to 20.1 in 2017 (the national average for public school students is 21).