Test Prep

How to Determine Whether to Register for the New ACT Section Retakes

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If the ACT is your test of choice, then you're probably already aware of some big ACT news: Starting this fall, you will be able to retake individual sections of the test if you've already taken the full ACT once in the last five years. This includes all four sections and the essay portion as well. So how can you decide whether it's worth it for you to retake a section or two?


Mary Pat O'Neil, founder of True Fit College Counseling in Redmond, Wash., thinks the one disadvantage of a section retest would be "if it causes a student to strive for perfectionism. That is a problem, in my opinion."

On the other hand, O'Neil says she thinks most students will love this option and does see several important advantages:

  • A student can "retire" a section and not have to take it again;
  • This benefits students with learning differences who don't receive testing accommodations (like extra time) or have a difficult time taking the test all at once;
  • A student won't have to waste time taking full-length practice tests;
  • Preparation for a section retake is very focused.

At this point, there are still some unknowns about the ACT section retesting process, but here are some important factors to consider as you figure out if this is the right solution for you:

Ask Your Target Schools

The most important question to answer is: Will your target schools accept ACT section retakes? This is something that all institutions are figuring out right now. Be sure to contact the admission offices at your target schools to verify this so you don't waste your time and money registering for a retake for no reason. "Students will need to monitor which colleges accept retakes. Like most things involved with college, it will likely not be that all colleges will accept the section retakes," O'Neil points out.

What's Your Budget?

You should also consider your budget. Although the fee to register for a section retest is still unknown ("ACT will make a future announcement regarding cost," the organization said), it will be less expensive than the cost of registering for the full ACT. The ACT has stated that it will be "inexpensive" so as to make retaking sections affordable for all students. It is also still unclear if there is an option to apply for a section retesting fee waiver.

Learn the Computer-Based Format

Another thing to be aware of is that all section retakes will be computer-based, not paper-based. Aside from refining your knowledge of the section material, you will also have to spend time to learn how the test section works in the computer-based format, as opposed to the paper-based format of the ACT that you are you used to taking. You will also have to find out if your local test center has the ability to offer computer-based testing. "The sites haven't been announced where the computerized testing will be done. It might be rolled out slowly. Students may need to travel a distance to be able to do section retesting," O'Neil says.

Consider Score Range Goals

When evaluating the score range you need to achieve, your goals are likely to depend on your target schools. O'Neil points out that, although students will want to score in the 99th percentile, the reality is that most will not. "If a student is only targeting highly selective schools (with acceptance rates of less than 25 percent), then top test scores are needed to simply be in the running. I believe in the importance of a student having a balanced college list so that they have choices. Eighty percent of colleges in the US accept at least half the students who apply. And these aren't 'safety schools' – a term I strongly dislike – these are wonderful colleges."

Ensure You Have Time Available for Test Prep

How much time will you have to fit in some test prep for an ACT section? Although studying for a section retake should take up less time than studying to retake the full-length ACT, consider your schedule and also the score requirements of your target schools. The time you'll need will likely depend on the score increase you are looking to achieve. O'Neil suggests that the Test Information Release service (you get your test booklet and answer key for $22) offered by the ACT for select test dates could be "an excellent resource for section retesting."

Will ACT Superscoring Help?

The ACT will begin superscore reporting in September 2020. If you've taken the full-length ACT more than once, or if you've just retested on one section, your ACT superscore will be automatically calculated. You will have the option to send either a full ACT test score or your ACT superscore to schools, but remember that not every college will be accepting ACT superscores, even if they happen to accept SAT superscores. That is something you will need to look into for each of your target schools.

In case you do worse on a section retake than you did the first time around, remember that you always have the right to delete an ACT score. And keep in mind that you don't need to keep retesting once you've hit a plateau. "There have been numerous studies done, and students do not normally see any score improvement after three tests. I tell students not to focus on lower scores – colleges look at the highest scores," O'Neil says.

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