What is ACT Score Choice?
First, a little bit of context here. The ACT has always offered what is commonly referred to as “score choice,” meaning you get to choose which test dates you want to be sent to schools. In the past, this was something that differentiated the ACT from the SAT. The creators of the SAT, the College Board, used to send all of your scores to colleges on one score report. You couldn’t choose which scores you wanted to be sent. This meant that if completely tanked the SAT in January because you were battling the flu and then rebounded for a great score in May, both of those test dates were going to be sent to schools whether you liked it or not.
But with increasing competition from the ACT, the College Board wizened up, and a few years ago, instituted score choice as well. Now, you have the power on both the ACT and the SAT to choose one, several, or all of your test dates to send.
Does Score Choice Mean I Can Choose Which Individual ACT Section Scores I Want Sent?
Unfortunately not. You can only choose which test dates you want to send. So every score you received on that test date will be sent to schools. This means that if you are applying to colleges or universities that superscore, you’ll need to send all test dates on which you achieved your highest individual section scores.
Sometimes this can bring up an important decision. Let’s say you got higher English, Reading, and Math scores on one test, but something horrific happened on Science: you bubbled in fifteen answers wrong, for example. This is unlikely to happen, but let’s say, for whatever reason you got a REALLY low Science score. You’ll need to decide whether it’s worth it to let colleges see this lower score for the sake of a superscore.
Colleges That Don’t Allow Score Choice
This all may seem just fine and dandy. Power to the students, right?! However, there are multiple schools that have said, “Thanks, but no thanks” to score choice from either the ACT or the SAT. This list has grown in recent years.
These grinches of score choice include:
University of California system
University of Washington
…and more. Colleges can change requirements at any time and there are new rules every admissions season, so always check with your schools to find out their specific score requirements.
Here are the questions I get asked most often on this point:
Ok, soooo….how would my schools KNOW if I didn’t send in all my scores?
The truth is, chances are, they wouldn’t. But this doesn’t mean you should be dishonest. You’ll be signing a statement on your application form that testifies to the fact that you are being truthful, and lying in anyway on your college applications is never a good idea.
Buuuuut, what if I did realllllly bad on one of my tests?
If this is the case–maybe you were sick, maybe you got bad advice to take the test your sophomore year before you were prepared for it, maybe you were shaken up by a family tragedy–the best thing you can do is be honest and send in your scores, but also use the space for “Additional Information” on your application to explain the circumstances succinctly. Don’t whine, but it is perfectly fine to give college admissions officers some context for considering the scores that you don’t think represent you well.
Fewer Colleges Allowing Scoring Choices Means You Should Never Take the ACT or SAT UNPREPARED.
It’s a really bad idea to just head out there on a whim, and “see how you do” on the ACT or SAT. Acting on such a fancy can come back to bite you when you go to apply to an uber-competitive school that does not honor score choice. It’s definitely true that most students see improvement on the test when they take it more than once, so don’t let this scare you into thinking it’s all or nothing or that you don’t have room to improve. Colleges prefer to give you the benefit of the doubt: your higher scores means higher rankings for them! But there’s no need to set yourself up for failure. Instead, set yourself up for some success by doing some solid test prep before you even think about taking the test.
How to Use ACT Score Choice Thoughtfully
When sending their score reports, most students tend to just check off the boxes for all of their schools without thinking about differentiating between their test score submissions for different schools. Now, if you just took the test once, or have the same, or very similar, scores, it may not matter much.
But if you are applying to some schools that superscore the ACT and some schools that only take your highest composite score, you may want to pick and choose who gets what. In general this means sending all of the test dates that have your highest individual scores to colleges that superscore and only the test date with your highest overall composite score to schools that only look at one score.
ACT Score Choice and Free ACT Score Reports
Unfortunately, making the most of score choice means you can’t take full advantage of the four free test reports you are allowed with each administration of the ACT. This is because you have to elect to send those score reports out before you ever see your scores. So, obviously, there’s little choice there for you in the matter. So, if you have the means to do so, I highly suggest you wait to see your scores before sending. The good news for the SAT is that if you have a fee waiver, you can send four score reports for free at any time after you take the SAT, so you don’t need to elect to do it during test registration. But sadly, the ACT does not currently offer this.