ACT retake or not? Risks? How to prep for second sitting?

My twins first ACT scores released today. They are very happy with their scores but each want to improve one section and retake in April (already have seats). I know there are risks to retaking the ACT and potentially getting scores invalidated! Under what circumstances does this happen and should they retake? If so, what’s the best way to prep for a single section improvement? (Context: Both HS juniors, 4.0 UW/4.5+W, applying to some elite colleges and at least one Ivy each. DS interested in Econ/Business DD interested in film/TV/writing.)

DS: Comp 34 (M:34/R:36/E:34/S:31)

DD: Comp 34 (M:30/R:36/E:36/S:33)

Some of mine took them 3 times and just submitted the highest score.

For your son, it would probably be pretty easy to raise that science score, even up to 35 or 36. The science section is not about science, or about knowledge of science. It’s about data interpretation. Imagine if you had never seen a pie chart, or a bar graph, or a Venn diagram, and then you took a time-pressure standardized test with these things. The way to prep for the science section is to just do a bunch of science sections from retired ACT tests. These can be found in an ACT Official guide, but also by googling retired ACT tests. There’s usually a thread on Reddit giving links to tests that are LEGALLY in the public domain. As for the math for him, he might want to do a little bit of review prep, just so that he’s still up on it. If he brings his science up, his ACT would probably go up to a 35 - but that 34 is still very good.

As for your daughter, she could also do the same prep for the science, and probably bring it up to a 35/36 on the science. Her real issue is the math. For this, she should use a prep book such as the two book series The Best ACT Math Books Ever, and after she’s exhausted that, then maybe a few sessions with a math tutor. If she does all that, she’s probably going to wind up moving up to a 35 from a 34.

It’s up to you and them whether they think that the effort is worth it.


what do you mean invalidated?

do they have a list of schools. Most, not all, superscore.

Some will look at individual sections.

Look at the schools you are applying to - in most cases they superscore, so they’ll only look at the highest scores.

in fact, on common app, where you list them, you list only the highest, etc.

DS has a 33.75. They’d need 3 more points to get to a 34.5 or 35.

Dang - DD has the exact same.

A 34 is FANTASTIC - but for Ivy, a 35 is better. Not sure the TV/film/writing that Ivy is necessarily best.

DS has room to go in science. DD math and science.

Kids study differently - some from a book, some online (Khan Academy), some from old tests. We sent ours to a private tutor - six sessions - they can “focus” on areas for you. Not cheap ($95 an hour) - for us it worked. Each kid is different in how they learn or access to budget, etc. When I studied for GMAT way back when, I bought a book and hammered on one section a day - like an hour a day and did more on the english than math because that was my weakness - and did far better than i could have hoped for. That worked for me - as i was self motivated. But each kid is different.

A couple years ago they talked about allowing kids to re-take one section. Not sure if it’s happening but I would take the entire section.

But again, look at each school’s view. For example, Dartmouth says:

If you submit multiple scores from the SAT or ACT, we will accept superscored testing, i.e. your highest section scores in either test, regardless of the test dates.

Cornell has programs that are test blind - won’t even look at your test.

Good luck.

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Yes they have an initial list of schools-- doing lots of visits this year. Yes we know about superscoring and will take advantage of that. I’m worried about the ACT invalidating scores based on too much range across multiple sittings.

I don’t think that’s a risk.

My son had one section with a 24 and the next test a 34, etc.

I mean, he took it 6 times.

I wouldn’t worry about that - if people had to worry about that, they wouldn’t even take it a 2nd time - and many kids take it 4+ times…some many more than that.

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Take again only if they prep. If they aren’t interested don’t bother.

I would only take it one more time and be done with it. Move on to keeping grades up, EC’s and start crafting essays and apps. Apps are very time consuming.


I don’t think 34 would be a negative factor anywhere, quite literally, and also, look at the growing percentage rate of kids getting test-optional to top schools! If either of your kids gets rejected from a dream school with a lottery-like acceptance rate, it won’t be because of the test score.
But should that happen, will you (and the kids) be able to stop thinking that if only they got up to 35 or 36, the outcome would have been different?
If you suspect you’ll torture yourself with that thought for months and years, and they are willing to prep more, it will be a good, therapeutic effort.
My advice is based on similar doubts before the previous admission cycle.


I know what you mean! Yes they are willing to prep some more. Now they can target their prep more than before. They will be applying to some very competitive schools or hoping for merit at the just-below-elite level. So a 35 would be awesome, or at least no section scores that stand out as sub-par. think the latter may be more important than getting to 35 comprehensive score.

With a 34, I wouldn’t suggest retaking.


Why not? My daughter had a 34, one B freshman year, 9 AP’s, rest honors, applied to a couple of reach schools (JHU and Notre Dame), rejected, did get merit at UDel where she is now, but seems like the aim here is much higher (my daughter was hoping for a 35).

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I agree. Don’t know if a 35 would have gotten her a different answer but the only cost here is time. So y not take again. Once is less than most will take I presume.


My sons aren’t twins but just a year apart academically. Oldest wanted business. Youngest wanted film. Completely different animals. Business I get. The artsy film types not as much.

You have to flip hats when researching schools. The things you look for in a business school and film school are different. The only constant was fit and surrounding them with cohorts that will push them. Good luck.

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My daughter had a 34, one B freshman year, 10 or 11 AP’s, rest honors, applied to a reach school ED1 (Pomona), accepted without deferral.
To me, it’s proof that the scores above 34 are not decisive. Individual stories obviously vary.

Yes there’s almost no overlap in their lists so lots and lots of visits to do. Even fit they aren’t that much the same. My older D is a first year at Smith. Yet another animal. The twins aren’t looking at LACs at all!

Maybe it was the ED? I’m pretty sure my daughter would’ve received more merit if she had reached 35 for her school, the higher scholarship recipients seemed to have 35/36.

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I kind of agree but having an outlier section with a 30-31 score is worth trying to raise even if the composite doesn’t move. And merit is strongly score-based in many cases. They were planning on 3 tests each and now planing on 2.

ED can be a huge factor. Though my older D was rejected ED1 and ED2 rounds (and now very glad for it b/c she is so happy at Smith-- with merit!) Things work out.

Agreed this is true at some schools, but the Ivies and most elite colleges do not offer merit. So, if merit aid is important, the colleges lists for your kids will be different than they would otherwise be.

Sounds like it makes sense for your kids to take the test one more time if they are motivated to prep again, but after that they might focus on other components of their apps.

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yes ivies and some others don’t offer merit but others on their lists do: Emory, BU, BC, Vandy (very competitive to get though). They have both types on their lists. We don’t qualify for financial aid so merit would be nice. Not sure even an Ivy is worth the full price tag. I’m going to let it be their choice though. They’re applying to some publics too which are much less $$$ even OOS.

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