Last Updated On: November 9th, 2020

ACT Superscore: At a glance

In your preparation for the ACT or SAT scores or in looking at colleges, you may have come across the term “superscore” and been confused about what it means. After all, if you’ve taken the ACT you already have a score, but now there’s this other way of quantifying your score? Luckily, in this blog we break down just what is the ACT superscore and how it can work for you. Put simply, an ACT superscore is the best possible score made up of individual section scores from multiple tests.

Let’s look at an example:

Say you have taken the ACT two times in the United States. On your first time in January, you scored a 25, with subscores of 23 in English, 26 in Reading, 27 in Science scores, and 24 in Math. (For more on the specifics of how the ACT is scored, check here.) On your second test in March you got a new composite score of 26, with a 22 in English, a 24 in Reading, a 30 in Science, and a 28 in math. Normally, your best score choice, and the one that would be submitted to colleges, would be that 26. However, if you are in high school applying to college that allow you to superscore, then you could take your best score in each ACT section from separate tests, so you would end up with a score where you had a:

23 in English from your January test
26 in Reading from your January test
30 in Science from your March test
28 in math from your March test.

Your ACT composite score is derived by averaging your four subscores, so in this new superscore you would end up with a 26.75 raw score, and because the ACT rounds up to whole numbers, your new superscore would be a 27. For those of you who are interested, here’s that math broken down more clearly:

23+26+30+28= 107
107/4=26.75
26.75 rounds to 27.

Don’t worry too much about these calculations. On your real test, the ACT does them for you, and they will also send super scores in their score reports to college boards, who can then choose whether or not to take them into account.

How Superscoring can work for you:

This example is an illustration of just what super scoring methods can do for you. In the scenario we just created, your score jumped a whole point on the ACT just by applying superscoring. And remember, because the ACT is only scored out of 36, one point is actually a fairly large gain. In this scenario, that improvement from a 26 to a 27 actually raised your test score from the 82nd percentile to the 85th. Therefore, it’s worth taking superscoring into account when determining your ACT test strategy. Notice that in the scenario we created, the benefits of superscoring only kick in if you take the test multiple times. We already recommend that most students take the ACT more than once in order to maximize their chances of getting a higher score, but superscoring makes that even more important. Even if a student doesn’t do much studying in between test dates, they can still benefit from superscoring. Furthermore, if, as recommended, students do study in between test dates, the benefits of superscoring can be even greater. Knowing that most schools will accept a superscore means that when you are picking schools to apply to, you can use your own ACT superscore to see which ones you might have a shot of getting into.

What Superscoring cannot do for you:

We know we’ve just spent the last few paragraphs talking about how great superscoring is, but we want to be clear: superscoring is not an adequate substitute for actual test prep and hard work. While many students can benefit from superscoring, especially with three or more test dates, the benefits are likely to be modest, it’s rare to see more than a point or two gain based on superscoring. Superscoring is designed to help students take advantage of their best performances in each subject, but remember, you still have to earn those subscores on actual tests in order to take advantage of them later. A superscore will help eliminate points you might lose by having a bad day on the science section and running out of time on the last passage, provided you did well in the science section when you took the test two months ago. It won’t make up for the fact that you didn’t practice the science section and don’t have a good strategy for FAQ’s. Your best bet for obtaining a strong ACT score is to study, take and retake practice tests, and get help from a tutor or prep class. Some hard work and a smart study schedule will allow you to get the strong section scores that will mean that the point or two you might get from superscoring will push an already strong ACT composite score even higher and let you have a good shot at getting into the schools you want.

Which schools allow Superscoring?

A majority of colleges allow ACT superscoring. However, there isn’t really a consistent rule as to which types of schools do or don’t accept superscores, so you’ll want to check every school you apply to in order to determine their superscore policy. Most schools explain their position on superscoring on their websites in their standardized test policy section. For example, here is Stanford explaining that they do take superscores, and here is Harvard explaining that they do not. There are a few lists of all the schools that allow superscoring on the internet, but, given that the last two we checked appeared to contradict each other, and the rate at which schools have been updating their test policies due to Covid-19, we highly recommend that you check each school individually.

How should schools’ Superscore policies determine where I apply?

Because your ACT score is only one part of your application and your superscore gains are likely to be only a point or two, in general we don’t recommend making radical changes to your list of colleges based on their superscore policies. A really strong superscore could maybe change a reach into a target school, but for the most part, if a school wasn’t a reasonable place for you to apply without a superscore, it will remain a reach even with a superscore. Conversely, if a school doesn’t accept superscoring but their median ACT range is within your highest composite score, feel free to apply even though you might be a slightly weaker applicant than you would have been otherwise. Your guidance counselor or college admissions officers can help you with the specifics of which schools are good application targets, but feel free to keep these general rules in mind.

We hope that this introduction to superscoring has been helpful to you as you begin to navigate the test prep and college application processes. Remember, superscoring is a tool that can help you maximize your ACT scores, but it is no substitute for a full study plan.

How section retesting can help boost your Superscore even higher:

One final key thing to keep in mind about superscoring: the ACT has announced that they will allow section retesting beginning 2021. If you have already taken a full ACT, you can choose to retake 1-3 sections on your next test date rather than having to retake the full test. Section retests will also only be available in a digital format. This can be especially helpful if your scores on your first test were strong except for one or two sections that you want to hone in on and spend more time studying, or if you found the whole test long and tiring and felt you lost focus in the final sections. With section retesting you can focus on addressing your weaknesses and improving your superscore without having to retake a full test.

We hope that this introduction to superscoring has been helpful to you as you begin to navigate the test prep and college application processes. Remember, superscoring is a tool that can help you maximize your ACT scores, but it is no substitute for a full study plan.

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