The Latest on ACT Superscore and ACT Score Choice

Test form and pencil representing ACT Superscore and ACT Score Choice - From lecroitg/pixabay

As of April 2021, ACT has started automatically calculating test superscores for tests from September 2016 to now. (This is in addition to the composite score you’ll get for each ACT test you take individually.) You may have seen the headlines and thought: so what? How does this affect my life? But actually, the ACT superscore change—combined with ACT Score Choice—can help you put your best possible application forward to colleges.

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…

 

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 section scores from individual ACT sections 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.

Check out Magoosh’s ACT Superscoring livestream for more details!
 

 
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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!
 
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Why Did the ACT Start Automatic Superscoring?

The ACT’s goal is to provide a tool that colleges can use to help pick students who will succeed there. And ACT’s researchers (oh, there are many ACT researchers!) have found that, for students who take the test more than once, superscoring gives the best indication of how students will do in college classes. And these findings didn’t change when they adjusted for income, race and ethnicity, or gender—meaning that this is a truly equitable way both students and colleges can benefit. By doing this automatically, the ACT is making sure that it’s not just students who are “in the know” who benefit—it’s all test-takers!

With automatic superscoring, you have the option of sending your superscores to the colleges that accept them, meaning that they only see the sections you did the best on, regardless of how many times you retook the ACT. For colleges that don’t accept superscoring, make sure to check out our section below on Score Choice!


 

Which Colleges Accept ACT Superscore?

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 Amherst College, Columbia University, Cornell, Colorado College, Duke, Georgia Tech, New York University (NYU), Johns Hopkins, Miami, MIT, UC-Boulder, Maryland, Denver, Georgia, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Pittsburgh, Pomona College, Stanford, Trinity University, Vermont, Vassar, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, Washington University, and Wheaton College, among others.

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.

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.

For example, in light of all of the test-optional policies that have taken place during COVID-19, some schools that previously used superscores no longer require scores at all. Cal Tech, for example, put a two-year moratorium on all test scores. This makes it even more important to check with each individual admissions department!

Finally, keep in mind that the announcement of the automatic ACT superscore is super new. As colleges and scholarship programs see students’ results automatically calculated for them now, they may revise their superscore policies to take this into account—likely to be more generous. Again, it’s worth checking with different admissions departments!

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.
 
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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.

Until the ACT allows for section-only retakes (still under development) remember that not all schools superscore. This means that, unless you are retaking only a single section, 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.

 

Can I Retake ACT Sections Individually to Maximize My Superscore?

Eventually, yes! ACT has announced that they’ll allow students to retake individual sections of the ACT. This means that instead of retaking the entire exam, you’ll be able to retake just the section(s) where you’re hoping to boost your score. However, the option isn’t available just yet.

Why would you want to do this? In short, for the superscore of ACT sections! If you have one section with a significantly lower score than others, you won’t have to retake the entire test for another shot at raising it. Instead, you can take that section alone, saving you time and money. You’ll also avoid the possibility of getting lower scores on other sections, which is important if you’re applying to some schools that superscore and some that don’t.

If you’re retaking an individual section of the ACT, follow the same steps you’d take for an overall ACT retake, but focus your efforts on that section. Brush up on your weaknesses, capitalize on your strengths, and make sure you have a solid plan in place!

While you may wonder how to superscore ACT sections after taking an individual section over, it’s simple: take your highest score from each section, no matter what dates you took them on.

Find out more about ACT section retakes here!
 
So that is your ACT superscore! Now, let’s take a look at another ACT program: ACT Score Choice.
 
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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.
 
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Does Score Choice Mean I Can Choose Which Individual ACT section Scores I Want Sent?

By sending your ACT superscore to colleges, they’ll already see the highest subscores/sectional scores you received across multiple ACT tests—which is great news. ACT sends them at least one full composite score, as well as the scores from the tests that are part of the superscore (the new composite score from your highest sectional scores). So this solves the problem of sending sectional scores, which ACT didn’t previously allow you to do; now, ACT is sending those superscores (highest sectional scores) automatically!
 
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Colleges that Don’t Allow Score Choice

Score Choice 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:

…and more, though this list has shrunk dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic as more schools have become test-optional at this time. Remember, 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.
 
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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.
 
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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

I highly suggest you wait to see your ACT scores before sending. Yes, even if you are using fee waivers!

With ACT’s recent announcement about superscoring, they’ve also announced that students who receive fee waivers will get “four ACT test waivers to take the ACT for free and unlimited score reports to send to colleges and institutions.” In other words? 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.

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…
 
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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 superscoring and/or Score Choice.

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.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!