can you retake the act

OK, so you’ve gotten your ACT score report and you’re unhappy with your ACT score—now you’re wondering, “Can you retake the ACT?” Or, maybe you haven’t taken the ACT test but are already worried about whatever score you’ll earn during your initial go-around, and are hoping to take the pressure off with the possibility of a retake.

Well, breathe easy: the answer is yes, you can retake the ACT. A better question, however, is, should you? There are a lot of things to consider before you make a plan to retake the ACT.

Why You Should Retake the ACT: Score Improvement

Taking the ACT even once requires an investment of time, money, and effort. Why bother going through it all again? The reason most people give is that they want to improve their ACT score, but just how realistic an aspiration is that?

It’s a pretty safe bet, as it turns out—retesting is widely known to boost test scores. In a 2016 ACT Policy Briefing, a study closely examined the phenomenon of “multiple testers” and reached the conclusion that for the sizable minority of students (between 40-45%) who took the ACT more than once, their average composite scores were nearly 3 points higher. Moreover, there was a slight but clear trend among re-testers: with each additional time a student took the ACT again, their average score increased.

Here at Piqosity, we take data analysis seriously, and whenever we’re examining statistics (particularly about test results), we always remind our readers: don’t confuse correlation with causation. In this case, what that means is that not every student who takes the ACT for a second, third, fourth, or even tenth time is guaranteed a high score. It’s important to remember that in most cases, students who retake the ACT also spend extra time studying for their retest. Their improvement is thus partially attributable to their increased preparation (in addition to the practice that comes with taking the actual ACT for the first time).

It’s also important to note that while taking the ACT over and over again will most likely improve your scores, this doesn’t mean that eventually you will achieve a perfect score. Remember that statistic from earlier, about how students saw an average of a 3-point improvement? If you had earned a 20 the first time around, the odds of your then achieving above a 23 are worse-than-average (and the odds of getting a perfect 36 are very slim indeed).

So while there’s a clear statistical advantage to retesting, and while in most cases we recommend it, it’s not a “magic bullet” and there are always other considerations to keep in mind.

To Retake or Not to Retake? 

Whether or not you should retake the exam depends on your situation. We’ll break down five important things to consider before diving into the ACT a second (or third—or fourth!) time.

1. Understanding Your ACT Score

Now that you know that you can retake the ACT, it’s time to reflect on what you are hoping to accomplish with a retake. In order to do that, you will first need to make sure you fully understand your ACT score and what it means for you and your goals.

Generally, the first thing people want to know is, “What is a Good ACT Score?” While you might think the answer is a perfect composite score (36) or close to it, the answer is actually much more complex.

Note: Your ACT Student Report includes many metrics other than your Composite Score, all of which are described in the linked article. For the purposes of this article, when we refer to an “ACT Score,” we mean the Composite Score metric. 

One major function of these standardized tests is to prove to colleges of your choice that your academic strengths are above average. For example: in 2022, the average composite ACT score was 19.3. For many students, earning above this number meant they attained a “good” score. All-in-all, a “good” score is a score that helps you get accepted to your school of choice!

2. Does Your Current ACT Score Align With Your Goals?

Do you plan to attend college? Are you setting your sights on an Ivy League school? Before deciding to retake the ACT, you need to determine if your current score is in line with your goals. If you plan to attend a school with low (or no) ACT score requirements or a community college, you probably don’t need to retake the ACT.

For a highly selective school like Harvard or Columbia, you should aim for a considerably higher-than-average ACT score, say, between 34 and 36. For a smaller or less competitive school, like the University of Houston, you can aim a bit lower, say for a score between 22 and 27. While a slightly lower ACT score than you aim for won’t completely rule you out of admittance to your school of choice, a better score will increase your chances for an accepted application.

Note: Many schools are now “test optional” or “test free”, which means that they do not require you to send in any ACT (or SAT) scores at all. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to send in scores, though: on the contrary, doing so will only help your application. 

Finally, regardless of where you are hoping to attend college, you may be hoping to gain more scholarship money. Higher ACT scores are often a criteria for certain kinds of financial aid. If this is one of your goals, retaking might be your best bet, just to see if you can get an extra boost financially.

3. Does Taking the ACT Again Work With Your Schedule?

For every ACT retake you do, that’s an afternoon of time lost. Moreover, each test requires dozens of hours of preparation. Do you have the time to commit to such a feat? For many, it may be difficult to take the ACT more than once or twice, simply due to the time commitment. Look into upcoming ACT test dates to see if one works for you, at a convenient testing location.

4. How Much Does it Cost to Retake the ACT? 

Taking the ACT again is a financial commitment. Each ACT without Writing section is $66, and the ACT with Writing is $91. If you took the full ACT three times, for instance, you would be out $273 in test fees alone. (Although unlikely, if you take the full ACT all twelve times, that’s $1,092 in test fees!) And remember, this doesn’t include the cost of test prep materials, any additional fees, and travel expenses to and from your multiple tests. For some students, multiple retakes is not a very financially prudent strategy.

Regardless of how many times you are planning to take the ACT, you may qualify for an ACT fee waiver: if you qualify, you may be able to take the ACT up to four times, completely for free!

5. Should You Take the SAT instead of Retaking the ACT?

If the colleges or scholarships you’re applying for also accept SAT scores, consider trying out the SAT instead of taking the ACT again.

It’s generally a great idea to take both the SAT and the ACT—having scores for both exams can help you stand out in college admissions and qualify for more scholarships. Above everything, doing so allows you choose the better test score to send to your college of choice. One test may appeal more to your skills than the other, as the ACT and SAT have many differences, including:

Plus, the SAT is easier to take than the ACT, thanks to its shorter, digital redesign; as such, the experience of taking the SAT will take less time (and cost less!) than an ACT retake.

How Many Times Can You Retake the ACT? 

You can take the entire ACT up to TWELVE times (in other words, you can retake it eleven times after your initial testing). Many students take it at least one extra time, if not a second—in 2020, just over 40% of students took the ACT more than once.

If you are planning on retaking the ACT, you will need to take the whole test again, not just one or two sections. You may have heard that if you choose to retake the ACT, you have the option to only retake certain sections. While this was indeed a proposal, plans to implement section retests are currently postponed.

While the ACT section retake is not currently available, another perk is: the ACT superscore! If you take the ACT more than once, you have the option of receiving a superscore based on the highest scores you have attained on each section of the test. For instance, if on your retake you score better in the English and Science sections, but not Math and Reading, only the higher-scoring sections will be used to calculate your new superscore.

You might feel tempted to take the ACT over and over again until your superscore is soaring! But, it’s important to note that it’s still up to individual colleges whether they consider scores on a superscore basis or not. Remember that most colleges would consider a very high one-time composite score to be more impressive than the same score achieved through superscoring. (Plus, taking it that many times will cost you significant time and money!)

Prepare for Your ACT Retakes with Piqosity!

So, can you retake the ACT? You sure can, but it might not be the right answer for you. Think about your goals and if you have the time and finances to commit to such a venture. And remember, while retaking the ACT is often a good idea, it doesn’t guarantee that you will score higher—especially if you do not prepare. Take some time to carefully consider how to improve your ACT score. Spoiler alert: it’s all about preparation and taking multiple practice exams!

As you begin or continue your test prep journey, Piqosity is here to help! Along with our full-length, online ELA and Math courses for grades 6-11, we offer full SAT, ACT, and ISEE test prep courses, each of which includes 12 practice exams, dozens of concept lessons, personalized practice software, and more. When you sign up for Piqosity, you have access to our test prep materials for 365 days—so, no matter how many times you take the test, you’ll have our practice tests and prep resources available!

The best part? You can try out all of Piqosity’s features with our free community account. When you’re ready to upgrade, Piqosity’s year-long accounts start at only $89. (Secure a 10% off coupon by joining our mailing list!)