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Lessons from Tennessee: 3 Ways Schools Can Help Students Retake the ACT or SAT and Improve Their Scores

High school seniors in Tennessee are making an impressive case for the power of second chances through record-breaking results in retaking the ACT.

It’s no surprise that it was an educator, Thomas H. Palmer, who first shared the advice of “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Trying new things, failing, and learning from your mistakes is a common thread of any student journey – whether you’re a high school student or simply a student of life.

In the spirit of second chances, in 2016 Tennessee passed State House Bill 1537, or the Tennessee Student Assessment Transparency Act, offering its high school seniors an opportunity to retake the ACT for free, making it the first state in the country to do so.

This school year, three out of four high school seniors in Tennessee participated in the program, dubbed “ACT Senior Retake.” More than half of those 53,478 students improved their ACT score over their last attempt as high school juniors. Even more inspiring, those score improvements mean that thousands more high school seniors are now eligible for free money for college via Tennessee’s HOPE Scholarship program.

But the benefits of retaking the ACT don’t stop there. The 2018 ACT Senior Retake cohort also saw a higher number of students reach college-readiness benchmarks across math, English, science, and reading, preparing those students to head straight into college coursework without having to spend more money or time taking remedial college classes.

So how can your school district follow in Tennessee’s footsteps?

3 Ways Your High School Can Support the ACT or SAT Retake Efforts of Your Juniors and Seniors:

1. Let them Know (Early!). Encouraging high school students to take the ACT or SAT as juniors allows them a chance to gain familiarity with the test content, helps them assess their strengths and weakness, and affords them a longer runway of time to prep for the ACT or SAT before the whirlwind of college application season.

2. Help them Prep. There are many free and low-cost resources available to students and teachers alike to help study for the ACT and SAT. Here at Magoosh, students can prep for free using our flashcards and mobile apps or by checking out free content on our blog and YouTube channel. Students looking for low-cost SAT or ACT prep can also check out our affordable online plans.

3. Foot the Bill. At $64.50 and $67.00 respectively (as of early 2019), the SAT and ACT are a financial investment for students and their families, and each retake can put an additional burden that some families financially cannot afford. If it doesn’t already, in addition to educating families about fee waivers available for lower-income students, encourage your district to consider paying for students to retake the ACT or SAT free of charge. This can help ensure that the educational dreams of students are rightfully not dependent on their pocketbooks.

Retaking the ACT or SAT as a high school senior is a great opportunity for students to learn from their mistakes and find the best type of test prep for them. Research on the SAT shows that retaking not only improves scores, it also increases the likelihood of a student attending a four-year college.

Watch Magoosh student Nikolai explain how he took his ACT score from 24 to 33 over the course of several retakes:

As you can tell, at Magoosh we’re passionate about helping students increase their test scores without breaking the bank, so they can go far in exploring their educational dreams. Studying for the ACT or SAT is an investment in money and time for students and their families, and we applaud efforts like this one by the Tennessee Department of Education to make standardized testing more affordable and accessible for their high schoolers.

If your school is thinking about ways to help students prep for the ACT or SAT, we’re here to help!

There are plenty of free resources for teachers on our Schools Blog or you can find out how to bring Magoosh ACT/SAT Prep to your campus.

Whether you’re a high school student, teacher or administrator, we’d love to hear from you – what are your thoughts on schools helping their students retake the ACT or SAT?



  • Kemi Bello

    Kemi works to tell stories about the who, the what, and the why of Magoosh in order to encourage more students, parents, and educators around the world to prep smart, go far, and enjoy the ride with us. With a BS in Economics and Mathematics from the University of Houston, she has spent the past decade advocating for the rights of immigrants, including stints touring the southern US in a bus named Priscilla and dancing in a workers’ rights flashmob. When not waxing poetic about increasing educational access for all students at Magoosh, Kemi can be found whispering sweet nothings to her many houseplants, trying on cardigans, or wandering the streets of Oakland, in search of sunshine.