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ACT To Allow Students To Retake Sections Of The Test To Improve Overall Score


For students thinking about college, taking college entrance exams such as the SAT and the ACT, that's a big part of the process. Most high schoolers know the drill. You sit in a silent room for hours. You fill in a bubble to answer questions on a variety of subjects. You cross your fingers. While the ACT covers math, science, English and reading, today the company behind the ACT announced a few new options for students taking the test next year. Here's NPR's Elissa Nadworny.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: It's kind of rare to find a student who's good at all the sections of the test. You might be really good at dissecting a sentence but not so great at reading graphs. For Kevonte Dorris, a senior in Nashville, Tenn., he took the ACT and did a lot better on the English than the math, so he's taking a class that's helping him improve.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Plus 38 - OK, you're right there.

KEVONTE DORRIS: And when I combined it, I got X.


DORRIS: And then...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Combine your Xes. What do you get?

NADWORNY: It's not that Kevonte doesn't like math. It's just that sometimes, he gets tripped up.

DORRIS: I get real frustrated if I don't know what I'm doing. And then, like, once I get frustrated, I got to, like, shut down. And then it's, like, test time, and it's like, what am I doing?

NADWORNY: He knows he needs a higher score on the ACT because he wants to be the first person in his family to graduate from college.

DORRIS: I just want to get to that point to say, I actually went and completed college.

NADWORNY: In order to improve his math score, he has to retake the entire ACT again. That's three full hours of reading, math, science and English. But starting next September, a student like Kevonte will have the option to take just one section of the test. It's part of a number of changes that the test maker announced today.

MARTEN ROORDA: You can just focus on that one section, and you don't have to sit for three hours. That's - so that's a big benefit.

NADWORNY: That's Marten Roorda, the CEO of the ACT. Another change - students will get something called a super score. It combines your highest score on each section, regardless of when you took them.

ROORDA: It will measure your full capability and your full potential, and I think that's great news for the students.

NADWORNY: The September 2020 test will also be available online, which will make it so students can get their scores in just two days. That's instead of waiting weeks for results in the mail. Experts say this is a game-changer for students trying to make application deadlines and figure out where they're going to apply to college and their options for financial aid.

LINDSEY BARCLAY: I think it's great news, but there are also implications for this.

NADWORNY: Lindsey Barclay leads an organization called CollegeTracks that helps low- and moderate-income students apply to college. The opportunity to take just a section or two of the test is valuable, she says. But she's worried it will benefit wealthier students.

BARCLAY: Those who have access to test prep, which can be a very costly investment, may be able to take the test multiple times and pick various sections to improve their score. But for students who don't have access to test prep, they may not be able to prepare as strategically.

NADWORNY: Research has shown that test scores better predict a student's income than their ability to do well in college. That's one reason more and more colleges are dropping standardized tests from their admissions requirements. Experts see this move as a way to make the ACT more appealing for students so they take this test and not the rival admissions test - the SAT.

Elissa Nadworny, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONIC YOUTH SONG, "TEEN AGE RIOT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.