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ACT Changes Rescoring Policies

By September 14, 2016September 26th, 2016ACT, For Students


ACT’s controversial essay scoring has claimed more victims — in this case, two of its more student-friendly policies. Testers who felt that there were inconsistencies in the multiple-choice grading or that readers had incorrectly scored their essays have long had the right of appeal at ACT. One of the problems with that “right” is that it came with a price tag. For $50, students could have ACT reread and rescore their essays. Rescoring never resulted in a lower score and the $50 was returned if the score increased upon review; this was a low-risk way for students in the know (and with $50 laying around) to seek higher scores.

ACT’s score report services indicates that students can no longer directly challenge the legitimacy of their essay readers’ scores. Instead, the Score Verification Service will simply confirm that ACT followed its own rules and didn’t mis-scan the essay. “ACT will verify that your essay was scored by at least two independent, qualified readers and by a third reader in the event that the two scores differed by more than one point in any domain. ACT will also verify that your essay was properly captured and displayed to readers.” The essay would only be rescored if the verification reveals procedural missteps. ACT has knocked 20% off the fee (it is now $40) while knocking off almost 100% of the value. The hand-scoring service for bubble sheets appears to be another victim of ACT’s shift to stricter, more profitable policies.*

ACT’s essay rescoring policy was flawed from the outset. Given the absurdity of Writing grading, lots of refunds were given. The score changes were embarrassing to ACT and were clearly not helping the bottom line. It seemed inevitable that ACT would eventually adopt the “All Scores Final” policy of the College Board on the SAT Essay.  No waivers were — or are — available for rescoring, so equity issues were a lingering concern. While the essay policy arguably provided justice for some students, it added to the pile of injustices for less advantaged testers.

Essay rescoring was useful in one sense: It put the lie to assertions that the scoring of these standardized timed “writing” tasks is reliable enough relative to the exercise’s value. What does it say about a test’s reliability and fairness if individual testers can challenge their score’s legitimacy for a fee and often prevail? However, that argument against the essay scoring methodology is made easily enough anyway.

The elimination of rescoring follows the abandonment of the 36 scale for the essay, announced a few months ago and implemented on the September 2016 exam. While it is encouraging that ACT seems to be responding to criticism, the fear is that it is taking a bunker mentality rather than engaging in discussion or providing transparency. The rescoring policy was dropped onto their website with no notice of a change. While 60-70% of ACT and SAT students will spend the extra fees and time for the optional essays, colleges are increasingly dubious about using essay scores for admission. Only about 10% of colleges are requiring ACT Writing for the class of 2017, and even those asking for the essay appear to put little weight on it. The nature of ACT Writing and SAT Essay scores is that the distinctions between applicants rarely have meaning. Students in the class of 2018 and beyond should closely track colleges’ essay policies. Concerns about “low scores” on the essay can sometimes lead to poor testing or re-testing decisions.

* For the multiple-choice portions of the test, score verification is another $50, and all that is promised is that “ACT will verify that your responses were checked against the correct score key.” We find this baffling. Who could imagine that a test could ever be scored with the wrong key? College Board’s hand-scoring service explicitly states that an obvious error in mis-bubbling, i.e. being one row off in recording answers on an entire section, could be manually corrected. It’s unclear whether ACT may simply be under-promising so that it can over-deliver. A black-and-white reading of the policy, though, indicates that the new service provides little hope of redress for students. We will update families and counselors when we learn more about how “score verification” is working in the real world.

Adam Ingersoll

Adam began his career in test prep in 1993 while at the University of Southern California, where he was a student-athlete on the basketball team, worked in the admission office, and graduated magna cum laude. Over the last three decades he has guided thousands of families to successful experiences with standardized tests and has mentored hundreds of the industry's most sought-after tutors. Adam is known nationally as a leading expert on college admission testing and is a frequent presenter at higher ed conferences, faculty development workshops, and school seminars.


  • m. edwards says:

    Just to clarify changes to challenging or rescoring the ACT writing section will take effect beginning September 2016. Further, ACT will no longer rescore the written or multiple-choice portion of the test. However, any student (s) wanting to challenge or request the ACT Writing Section taken June 2016 is rescored will have the opportunity to exercise that option. Please advise.

  • Raj P says:

    Hi Adam,

    It is tragic on how they changed this policy. What recourse do we outside of this to have the essay re-read?

    Pl advice

    • Art Sawyer says:

      The policy change, unfortunately, is unalterable. College Board and ACT have both decided that their initial graders’ decisions will be final.

      • HEDIEH says:

        My daughter is one point away from 34. With no re-scoring option available, is there any other recommended option to possibly get the extra point?

  • Karabella H. says:

    Thank you for this enlightening article that has confirmed what I thought changed on the ACT’s website and relieved my stresses somewhat. As a homeschooled senior in high school who has taken the ACT twice, will take it again in September, and recently received a 33 composite score but 6 on the newly-scaled essay, I have been very frustrated by ACT’s policies and their unskillful grading and apathy towards students whose futures unfortunately and practically rest in their hands nowadays (with such weight put on standardized testing in college applications). I am typically a very good writer (English is my strong suit, and I took a difficult college English class and received an A), and I don’t mean to brag but instead make the point that I believe that ACT has either ridiculously high standards on their essay or unfair grading. I was going to appeal my writing essay until I realized that the updated “re-scoring” does not even force the graders to reconsider your essay as it used to, and instead, as you said, only makes them ensure that they followed their own rules. I have become increasingly worried about my relatively low essay score and the fact that I may not receive a much better one when I take this final ACT (although of course I am trying and will continue to try my hardest), especially since I will be applying to colleges such as Princeton and Yale, but after reading this article I have been relieved to see that colleges such as the aforementioned are not putting much weight on standardized tests’ writing essays. Hopefully colleges that do require the ACT writing essay will realize more and more how inequitable ACT has been and focus even more on application components such as GPA and the essay written specifically for the application.

    Thank you again for writing this informative and reassuring article.

    –Karabella H.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I sometimes wonder why I spend so much time worrying and writing about these things. Then I receive kind posts such as yours and it feels very much worthwhile. I’m glad that the article was helpful.

      And our feelings toward ACT on this matter are in agreement!

  • Cristina says:

    Do you know of anyone whose score was modified after it was manually corrected on the multiple choice sections? Does it really happen?

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