Last year, Tennessee became the first state in the nation to offer seniors a free ACT retake opportunity. As a nationally recognized benchmark assessment for college and career readiness, the ACT has a major impact on student postsecondary opportunities. For instance, a composite score of 21 or higher makes a student eligible for Tennessee’s HOPE scholarship. Subject test scores of 19 or higher in English, reading, and math are required to avoid mandatory learning support (“remedial”) classes in Tennessee’s community colleges.

Last October, nearly 26,000 seniors gave up a perfect fall Saturday to take advantage of this opportunity—and it paid off. As a result of last year’s ACT retake, over 1,300 additional Tennessee students gained eligibility for the HOPE scholarship (up to $16,000 over four years) and thousands of students increased subject scores enough to avoid remedial coursework in college. Overall, nearly 40 percent of students who participated increased their composite score. In Maryville City, seniors saw an average increase of a full (1.0) composite point. While statewide participation was around 40 percent, some districts—such as Gibson, Trenton, and Jefferson County—achieved participation rates of over 65 percent.

While we celebrated these wins for students, our analysis of the 2016 ACT retake also showed clear opportunities to boost its impact. For instance, students who were most likely to increase overall were those with an initial composite score of 17 or below. However, students in this score range were underrepresented among students who participated in the retake. In order to increase access and equitable participation in the ACT retake, we engineered several important changes for the 2017 ACT retake.

• First, all districts will be able to offer the ACT retake in local schools on a school day this fall, rather than on a Saturday. Districts may offer the exam on Oct. 3 and/or Oct. 17.
• Second, all public school seniors—regardless of whether or not they participated in the state’s junior test administration—may participate on the retake day.
• Third, all seniors who were enrolled in Tennessee public schools as juniors are automatically registered for the retake. All students need to do is confirm their school’s test date and show up!

What should students do to prepare for the ACT retake?

In order to maximize the benefits of the retake, students should set a goal and make an intentional practice plan based on their goals. Students, parents, and teachers can find multiple resources, tips, and suggestions in our ACT Toolkit.

Where can I find more information about the ACT retake?

Detailed information regarding the logistics and implementation of the ACT Senior Retake Opportunity—including answers to frequently asked questions and school-level recommendations—can be found in the implementation guide.

This year, our goal is for participation rates of 65 percent or higher to be the norm in every high school. A senior at Jefferson County High School provides a clear case for the value of encouraging all students to participate: “I was not going to take it [the ACT] anymore, but I decided to give the senior retake a try. I went to tutoring before and after school, and worked on some skills within my classes.  I raised my score to a 30, and qualified for 20,000 more dollars of scholarship money.”

Bobby Cox, director of schools in Warren County, says, “The opportunity given districts to retake is awesome—our students see the importance of the ACT and [the retake] allows students to better their score and learn from previous experience.” By increasing participation in the ACT retake, more students will experience the growth—and the benefits—that come with trying again.

We don’t always get a second chance when it comes to life’s major events. When it comes to the retaking the ACT, however, this is a second chance that we can and should provide to all students.