The February 9 ACT Exam date is fast approaching. For those who have taken the exam ACTexamonce or more, here’s something to help relieve some test anxiety: a growing number of colleges allow the practice of “superscoring“. But what is superscoring and how does it differ from standard practices? 

Colleges receive your scores in one of two ways: when you register for the exam and elect to have your scores automatically sent to specific schools (a bad practice, by the way); and when you wait and send scores directly from ACT to the admissions office as part of your application. If they receive more than one exam, they generally consider those scores included on the exam for which your composite (overall) score is highest. So if your composite scores are 25 and 27, all four of the section scores (English, mathematics, reading and science) from the latter exam date will be used to determine your worthiness as an applicant. If your composite is two points higher, it makes sense that most of your section scores would be better, right? You may, however, have really nailed the science section first time out, but the other three sections didn’t go so well. Wouldn’t it be nice to cherry pick your best scores, regardless of when they occurred?

Superscoring allows you to do just that: submit all scores for consideration and have the admissions office calculate a superscore composite based on performance, not exam date. Sounds great…but what’s the catch? There is no catch, although you need to remember that they’re doing this for everyone, not just you, so superscoring isn’t really a way to vault yourself in front of other applicants — it’s an aid to help the student whose scores may be inconsistent. Essentially it rewards the process of retaking the exam (unless of course you score exactly the same from one to the next).

No formal list of superscore colleges exists although an independent consulting firm, College Admissions Partners, does keep an up to date list. The practice is more common at private colleges, and more likely to be found at those with more selective admissions requirements. It’s helpful to know who is and isn’t on this list to understand exactly how high the bar may be set. EX: Tufts University admits only 21% of applicants, with a mean ACT composite of 31 (equal to the 97th percentile nationally). Here’s one possible way you could hit that 31 using a couple of 28’s:

  1. 28 composite (25 English, 30 math, 31 reading, 24 science)
  2. 28 composite (31 English, 26 math, 25 reading, 30 science)

Granted, most students won’t have this much variation of section scores but it shows you what’s possible with superscoring.

Q: So should I seek out superscore colleges to increase my chances?  I don’t think so. Whether or not a college superscores has absolutely nothing to do with how well that college fits you and your needs. My point is simply to be aware of the practices used by admissions offices. That 31 seems out of reach, but our little math exercise suggests otherwise.

As in all things college-related, it pays to do your homework.