Superscoring the ACT

If your child plans to take the ACT test, you should know about ACT superscoring.

To understand what superscoring is, here’s some background:

Historically, college admission offices used a student’s composite ACT score that’s made up of four underlying categories:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Reading
  • Science

The test maker averages the four subcores, with each ranging from 1 to 36, to create a composite average.  Schools have traditionally only taken the composite score rather than cherry picking the best subscores. This practice penalizes teenagers who score better in some categories when taking multiple tests.

ACT Superscoring

Some schools, however, have ditched the old practice and are embracing ACT superscoring.pencil single

With this policy, a college will select a student’s highest subscores from each of the four categories and create what could be a more impressive superscore.

This practice, by the way, is standard procedure with the SAT. When a student takes multiple SAT tests, colleges routinely pick the best scores from the three SAT categories – math, reading and writing.

It makes sense for anyone, who suffers through the ACT test more than once, to ask whether a college superscores the ACT. Knowing what a school’s policy is towards superscoring is important because teenagers might be in a better position to gain admission to some schools or capture fatter financial aid packages or merit awards if their ACT results are superscored.

A Superscore Resource

Some of the big-name schools that superscore the ACT include Amherst College, Boston College, Brandeis University, Haverford College, New York University, Tufts University, U.S. Naval Academy, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina, Washington University in St. Louis and Williams College.

The best source that I have found for colleges that superscore the ACT is College Admissions Partners, which is an independent college consulting firm. You won’t necessarily find the test-optional schools on this list because, according to College Admissions Partners, the institutions that don’t require the SAT or ACT for admission almost always use superscoring.

Meanwhile, if you child does poorly on the ACT or SAT, you can find hundreds of test-optional schools at FairTest.org.

You can learn more about test-optional policies by reading this article that I wrote for The New York Times:

The Other Side of Test Optional

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11 Responses to Superscoring the ACT

  1. Phil October 17, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    RE: English & Math Super scores. This is the first I have heard of super scoring just the English and Math portions of the ACTs, but it makes sense. Most schools super score the SATs and only look at the English and Math portions so why not compare apples to apples.

    • rob January 13, 2014 at 10:15 pm #

      Well, I just called Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and they said they only super-score the english and math! Really would have hurt my son if I had forwarded his second ACT – somehow a “Cal Poly” was not interested in his 31 score in science on 2nd sitting.

  2. Sharon August 27, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    Let’s be clear – the SAT does not superscore, as noted above. It is certain colleges that superscore, and it is not standard operating procedure at any school that requires the test. Families should check with each school to which they apply to be sure. Also, some are starting to step back BECAUSE students will take the ACT four times in order to focus on a different section each time – that is just test overload……as a college counselor for 27 years, I find the whole thing ludicrous.

  3. Wendy March 6, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    Lynn,

    I think superscoring the ACT is great, especially since the SAT has done it for decades. My daughter’s superscore was one point higher than her best overall score and knocked her into a higher merit category for at least two schools. Another great school that superscores is University of Chicago. Out of the seven schools my daughter applied to, 3 of them superscored.

    Right or wrong, having my daughter take the ACT multiple times allowed her to put her mental focus each time on the section where she most needed to improve her score. Each subsequent time she took the ACT, there tended to be one section that suffered and one that improved a lot, but she seemed to be able to maintain or increase on the other two sections. Given the tight timing of the test, I think it is hard for a student to devote the same amount of energy and effort to four different content areas (probably a similar story on the SAT as well), so I definitely see the benefit of superscoring. Let the student prove overall knowledge of the content areas by combining the best sub-scores.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy March 6, 2013 at 11:18 pm #

      Wendy – I’m glad that superscoring worked for your daughter! Thanks for sharing.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

    • Mike Hoyt March 12, 2013 at 3:04 am #

      I hate to be so cynical, especially as my son just sat for his second SAT and preps for the upcoming ACT as I type, but this all shows how ridiculous the college admissions process is becoming. For many schools, it’s really just a game of strategy and chance. It has become more about the numbers than the fit. Thanks US News and World Report.

      • Lynn O'Shaughnessy March 12, 2013 at 3:11 am #

        You’ve got that right Mike! You can’t be too cynical about the higher-ed world.

        Lynn O’Shaughnessy

      • Lily August 27, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

        SAT and ACT scores do a really good job of showing how well typical kids master material. Kids who are voracious readers and read A LOT and read challenging books ace the vocab and reading sections without breaking a sweat. Kids who understand math concepts fluidly and intuitively ace the math section easily. If you know what you’re doing, you fly through the test. Though it may be very challenging for some, that means reading material, math material and problem solving is also very challenging for those students. Maybe students who don’t relish reading or math should skip the vanity college degree and seek out rewarding, good-paying jobs in construction, services, etc.

  4. Brian Eufinger March 6, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    Great post.

    A related ACT issue that is lurking is that a few schools, such as Georgia Tech, are summarily throwing out the ACT Reading and ACT Science sections. Many students applying to some of these schools only find this out after studying a good number of hours for those two sections and doing well. It can mean someone falsely thinking they have a “31” when their 27/27/34/34″ is really a 27.

    Link: http://www.admission.gatech.edu/apply/freshman-application/standardized-test-scores

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy March 6, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

      Wow Brian, that seems like a strange policy on Georgia Tech’s part. I also see they will mix and match parts of the SAT and ACT. Thanks for sharing.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

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    […] you heard of superscoring? Lynn O’Shaughnessy explains how superscoring the ACT can help your student and names some of the colleges who use the practice in this post on her blog, The College […]

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