Just try to keep up with the alphabet soup of college admissions. There’s the SAT, ACT, and TOEFL. Maybe you want to apply EA or ED or EDII, or prefer to wait for Regular. Are you applying to the UCs or the CSUs? It makes me dizzy just thinking about it. And then, we get bombs like the one the ACT dropped.  As reported in The New York Times beginning in September of 2020, students will be able to retake certain sections of the ACT to increase their composite score. In this game of cat and mouse between the ACT and SAT, this is a pretty big blow, and I can imagine the folks at the SAT are scrambling to come up with a response to keep their market share. As with most things, there are some pros and some cons to ACT’s recent announcement.

Let’s tackle the pros:

  • Gives students the opportunity to focus future exams on specific areas
  • Adds a safety net for students
  • Puts less pressure on the idea of having to nail the test all in one sitting
  • Encourages the colleges to think in a different way about standardized testing
  • Puts pressure on the SAT to adopt something similar

And now, some cons:

  • It doesn’t sound like ACT spoke to a lot of colleges before making this decision. Will they accept these new composite scores?
  • Does it really address the issue? Students with means are still going to be able to pay for more exams and take it multiple times. 
  • It may spread out the testing season even longer creating even more stress for students over a longer period.
  • Will students just keep testing over and over to gain a point here and a point there?

As the world of standardized testing continues to change with more and more schools going test-optional, this latest move seems evenly split between helping students and a marketing ploy for the ACT. Like most other things, we will have to wait and see how the market actually responds. Will students flock to the ACT and stick with it because they can retest? Will the colleges accept these mashed-up scores? Will the SAT offer the same opportunity soon or find some other way to one-up the ACT? 

What it does show is that standardized testing is just as much a business as it is a way to help students achieve their college goals. According to research from Penn State, the entire business is now worth between $400 and $700 million per year. This number doesn’t even touch the tons of test preparation guides, books, classes, and seminars guaranteed to crack the exam. It is evident that this is less about student access and more about the bottom line for these companies. Time to stir the soup again!