Staff file photo / SAT, ACT and PSAT books used by students to prepare for their standardized testing.

Students hoping to boost their ACT scores will soon have a new option for improving their college admissions chances.

Beginning with the September 2020 ACT test date, students who have taken the ACT at least once and aren't satisfied with their score on one or more of the sections of the test can choose to retake individual sections instead of having to take the entire test over again.

At some testing centers, students will also be able to choose between taking the test on paper or online, which could give them faster access to their results.

The ACT is also changing how it calculates composite scores and students will be able to send their best scores from each section, whether or not they were taken at the same time, to colleges, the ACT announced earlier this week.

"Students come first at ACT, and these groundbreaking new options will directly benefit them, providing more choices, an improved testing experience, and a better opportunity to showcase their readiness and reach their maximum potential," said Suzana Delanghe, ACT chief commercial officer, in a statement. "With these changes, ACT is evolving to meet students in the digital world in which they live. We want to do a better job of helping them succeed."

The ACT is one of two national tests many colleges use to judge students' readiness for college. It tests students in four subject areas: English, math, reading and science, plus an optional writing test. The other popular test is the SAT, which is run by the College Board.

The ACT is the preferred test in Tennessee. School districts that are evaluated on whether they are graduating students who are ready for college are also evaluated based on students' average ACT scores.

One Tennessee Department of Education goal, laid out in the previous administration's strategic plan, is even tied to the college admissions test. In 2015, the department made it a goal that by 2020, the average composite score on the ACT for all Tennessee students would be a 21 — which is also the minimum score required for Tennessee students to be eligible for the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship.

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To view fall 2019 and spring 2020 ACT test dates in Tennessee, click here.


Many educators think that the changes are beneficial to students.

Students at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, a public charter school in Hamilton County, often take the test multiple times.

The school's executive director, Elaine Swafford, said the changes are beneficial for students.

"For my juniors this year, let's say they scored 25 on the math, they can concentrate on the English portion next," she said. "I think students will be more amenable to going back and retaking the test."

Swafford also said the quicker turnaround on results would allow educators to talk with students about their next steps while the testing experience is still fresh.

"That is useful data and gives us an opportunity to talk to kids while it's fresh," she said. "That gives children choice. It's a plus for our kids."

Hamilton County students' ACT scores have typically lagged behind the state though.

The highest possible ACT score is 36. In 2018, the county's composite ACT score was 19.9, with 97% of the 2018 graduating class taking the test. The state's average score was 20.2. In 2017, the state's former Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Tennessee's public schools had set a new record for average ACT score — 20.1.

In an effort to boost the class of 2019's scores earlier this year, Hamilton County Schools offered free online ACT test preparation courses to students.

At the time, Superintendent Bryan Johnson acknowledged the impact a high score could have on a student's college options.

"We know increasing an ACT score can bring additional opportunities for scholarships and college entrance for our seniors," Superintendent Bryan Johnson said in a statement. "Research also indicates that students who take the test more than once can increase their score by as much as 2 points."

The ACT test with writing costs $68, and without writing costs $52. Fee waivers are available for eligible students for up to two tests, but some local schools give students the option to take the test for free.

Students are also able to take a free practice test online through the ACT Academy, which can help them determine which format — paper or online — they prefer.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.