SAT Superscore & ACT Superscore Explained – 2022-23

July 10, 2022

It is human nature to selectively showcase only our best moments while simultaneously sweeping those that are less flattering out of sight. When serious high school athletes put together highlight reels for recruitment videos, they cherry-pick touchdowns, dunks, or homeruns; not fumbles, air balls, and strikeouts. On social media, people can’t wait to post pictures of engagement rings, new material acquisitions, and flattering selfies. Yet, somehow marital disputes, money troubles, and uncomplimentary photos rarely grace one’s newsfeed. College applicants feel much the same way as they present themselves to prospective schools. Now, thanks to the practice of superscoring, they get just that opportunity when submitting standardized test scores. Let’s dig into the concepts of the ACT Superscore and SAT Superscore in more detail.

What is an SAT Superscore?

We begin with an example…

Johnny takes the SAT for the first time in spring of his junior year, scoring a 610 on the critical reading section and a 550 on the math section for a total score of 1160. He takes the test again in the fall of his senior year, scoring a 570 in critical reading and a 590 in math for an identical total score of 1160. Johnny scored no better the 2nd time around which would qualify as a pretty big disappointment, right?

Wrong. The vast majority of colleges and universities in the United States will take an applicant’s superscore. In other words–their best combined critical reading and math score. This means Johnny now has a 610 reading + 590 math for a total of 1200 making him a more competitive candidate for admission/merit aid at his target schools.

The impact of COVID-19 & test-optional policies

Of course, we must take a moment to acknowledge the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and that many students will not get the chance to take a single SAT or ACT let alone two or three exams. If you are in such a situation, you may find the following blogs and Dataverse pages to be of more use:

Should I Submit My SATs or ACTs to Colleges?

List of Test-Optional Colleges 

Why are colleges so nice?

They’re not. Colleges are actively engaged in prestige/rankings wars with one another. Returning to our friend Johnny, admitting an applicant with a 1200 is better for a school’s perceived selectivity than admitting an applicant with an 1160.

It’s no wonder 99% of schools are eager to make their applicants’ test scores look as strong as possible. The list of big-name colleges that do not superscore is fairly short but does include some prominent state institutions such as Penn State, the University of Wisconsin, and Arizona State. Be sure to check out your prospective institutions’ admissions websites for the most up-to-date superscore policies.

What is an ACT Superscore?

The higher education community was a bit late to the ACT superscore party, but things are now picking up steam. The ACT’s composite score is calculated by averaging together your scores (from 1-36) on English, math, reading, and science. Roughly 100 schools will now average together a student’s highest subtest scores from any administration of the exam, the ACT equivalent of superscoring. Included on this list are elite schools like Duke, Johns Hopkins, Vassar, MIT, and UNC.

Remember, the ACT will round up a composite score of 26.5 to a 27. This means you don’t have to improve very much on any one section to have an ACT superscore receive a 1 point boost.

Second (or third) time is a charm

Students typically take the SAT or ACT for the first time in the fall or spring of their junior year. Those who elect to retake the SAT the following fall improve their overall score by an average of 40 points. It makes sense that students would receive a natural boost for two reasons: 1) it’s not their first rodeo, they know the routine, the timing of the test, the format, etc.; and 2) since the last sitting, they’ve been exposed to more relevant academic material in the classroom. And these advantages don’t even account for the biggest difference of all—you have an entire summer to learn the secrets of the SAT/ACT backward and forward.

Remember, you only have to improve one section of either exam to improve your standing as an applicant.

SAT Superscore and ACT Superscore – An aid to merit aid

Even if you already sport scores that put you in good shape to be granted acceptance at the schools to which you will be applying, there is still a compelling reason to sit for the ACT/SAT one more time. Standardized test scores play a huge role in determining which applicants receive offers of merit aid. Remember, the intention of merit aid is to offer enough of a discount to attract talented students.

There are two metrics that will clue you in on your chances of scoring merit aid at a given university. The first is the percentage of students that receive merit aid, numbers which are readily accessible online. The second is to look at the 75th percentile of SAT/ACT scores for accepted students. This is also easy to track down online or in literally any college guidebook. If your score falls at or above that number AND a given school is known for being relatively generous with merit aid, chances are you will get a substantial offer.

College Transitions’ Bottom Line – SAT Superscore and ACT Superscore 

The superscore is your friend and an overwhelming percentage of schools utilize this tool for the SAT. Additionally, a growing number will do so for the ACT as well. Understanding the superscore should provide inspiration to take whichever test you choose two to three times. Doing so can make you more competitive from an admissions and merit aid standpoint. After all, the more selfies you snap, the better chance you’ll stumble upon that “perfect” profile pic.