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Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Everything You Need to Know about ACT Superscore and ACT Score Choice

We’ve already looked at how taking the ACT more than once can be a great way to get your best possible score on the exam. Two of the reasons for this are its effects on your ACT superscore and ACT Score Choice options.

However, don’t worry if you’re not sure what these are. First of all, you’re not alone! And second of all, you’ve come to the right place, because understanding these facets of the ACT is the first step to using them to your advantage on college apps.

So let’s take a look…

(If you’re not fully comfortable with how ACT scoring works, don’t worry. Click to learn all about ACT score ranges and figure out your target ACT scores. Then come back here to put it all in the context of admissions!)

Table of Contents


 

What is an ACT Superscore?

ACT superscores are when your ACT score report gets bitten by a radioactive spider and your numbers get a superhuman boost.

Kidding. Obviously. Although that would be pretty cool, it’s not precisely the case.

An ACT superscore is the average of your highest individual ACT section scores across different test dates. This average creates a new SUPER composite score (or superscore) that will, in most cases, be higher than the composite score of any individual test you took.

 

ACT Superscore Example

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you took the ACT three times with the following results:

February: English: 31; Math: 28; Reading: 34; Science: 24; Composite: 29

April: English: 32; Math: 29; Reading: 32; Science: 28; Composite: 30

September: English: 34; Math: 27; Reading: 35; Science: 27; Composite: 31

In order to figure out your ACT superscore, you take the highest individual section score and put them all together for a new composite. So here are the highest hypothetical ACT scores in our example:

February: English: 31; Math: 28; Reading: 34; Science: 24; Composite: 29

April: English: 32; Math: 29; Reading: 32; Science: 28; Composite: 30

September: English: 34; Math: 27; Reading: 35; Science: 27; Composite: 31

And our new superscore would be:

Superscore: English: 34; Math: 29; Reading: 35; Science: 28; Composite: 32

 

Ta-da!

 

How Can an ACT Superscore Help Me?

Well, for one, it can give you a little confidence boost. You have the ability to get the ACT composite score that your superscore reveals; you just haven’t been able to pull it off on one single test administration yet.

But, more importantly, it can help you in college admissions when you apply to schools that use superscores or that will consider your individual ACT section scores.

And even if you are targeting colleges that don’t superscore the ACT, you will likely be using collective applications such as the Common Application or Universal Application (applications that allow students to apply to over 500 schools) to apply to many of these schools. These applications allow you to input your highest individual section scores on the ACT, regardless of the date you achieved them. So even if these highest individual scores aren’t officially considered, at least you can put them in front of the eyes of admissions officers for a bonus.

 

Why Do Colleges Use ACT Superscores?

Because they get that you’re a human being. And human beings simply cannot be 100% on top of their game for every subject, all the time. (If you’re about to argue with me that you, in fact, can be, then please send me a message – I’ve always wanted to meet an alien.)

Maybe one time you didn’t get a great night of sleep and struggled crunching numbers more than usual. Or maybe you just happened to get particularly tricky reading passages. There’s always going to be an element of randomness involved with standardized testing, whether we like it or not. Flukes happen; superscores are one way to give you, as an applicant, the benefit of the doubt.

 

Which Colleges Superscore the ACT?

There are around 100 or so colleges and universities that superscore the ACT or that will consider individual section scores on the ACT. Some prominent ones include Cal Tech, Boston College, Colorado College, Duke, Georgia Tech, John Hopkins, Miami, MIT, UC-Boulder, Maryland, Denver, Georgia, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Vermont, Vassar, and Wash U.

Admissions offices change their policies on test scores all the time, and this has become even more of a trend as of late as more schools develop test flexible and test optional policies, so always be sure to check the admissions websites of the schools you are applying to, and when in doubt, call the admissions office to ask about their current policies. This way you can make smart decisions about which ACT score reports you want to send to which school.

Amidst all of the confusion that comes along with application season, the last thing you want is to miss an opportunity to represent your best self. And for many colleges, looking at superscores is their way of allowing just that.

 

Does This Mean I Should Take the ACT an Infinite Number of Times?

If a college superscores, there is certainly a huge advantage to taking the ACT or SAT more than once. However, the same general rules apply whether or not there’s superscoring involved: you want to keep testing as long as you honestly think you can improve your end result. For most people, that cap is anywhere between the second and fourth test.

And remember, given that not all schools superscore, you want to strive for your best scores in each section every time—regardless of prior testing outcomes. It’s one thing to focus studying on the section you feel weakest in. It’s something entirely different to waste time “gaming” the system and only caring about one section per test.

Application readers will still see the entirety of the testing history that you send in, even if they are directed to superscore; a little bit of positive consistency never hurt anyone.

So that is your ACT superscore! Now, let’s take a look at another ACT program: ACT Score Choice.

 

What is ACT Score Choice?

Unlike the superscore, Score Choice is a more self-explanatory term. Well, at first glance.

First, a little bit of context. 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, no. 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:

  • Cornell
  • Duke
  • Georgetown
  • Maryland
  • Rice
  • South Carolina
  • Stanford
  • Texas A&M
  • UPenn
  • University of California system
  • University of Washington
  • Yale

…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:

“Okay, 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…

 

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.

And that’s ACT Score Choice. However, most of us apply to more than one school. So what happens if you end up juggling ACT superscore schools with ACT Score Choice schools?

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.

And so, at the end of the day…

 

Which ACT Scores Should You Send to Colleges After an ACT Retake?

It really is a good idea to retake your ACT if you’re not satisfied with the score you got the first time, because there’s no real risk in doing so. Colleges do want to see your highest ACT score, even if you’ve done multiple retakes. If you score higher on a later try, great! If you score lower on a retry (sad, but it happens), you can still submit your earlier, higher score with Score Choice. Keep mind, though, that you may need to send all of your scores to get the highest superscore you achieved recorded by those schools.

Tread carefully with a few highly selective schools, though, that do require all of your ACT scores. It doesn’t mean that a somewhat lower score from another test date will necessarily hurt you, but you don’t want to take the ACT unprepared and get a much lower score than what you are capable of.

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About Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!


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