ACT and SAT college entrance exams consist of sections. ACT has English, Math, Reading, and Science. SAT has two sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math. Each section receives a score, and those scores are averaged into a Composite. Students frequently sit for an exam several times so each test sitting has its own Composite score. Most colleges just want to know the highest Composite score from a single testing date. Some colleges, though, will calculate a student’s superscore instead.
A superscore is when the highest individual section scores from across all test sittings are used for the calculation of the superscored Composite.
Let’s look at an example ACT student.
|9/12/2020 test date||12/12/2020 test date|
|Composite||22.25 (rounded to nearest whole number = 22)||23.25 (23)|
The highest single Composite score is 23, from 12/12/2020. To calculate the superscore, we’ll take the English, Reading, and Science scores from December and use the Math score from September. The result is a 23.75 rounded to a 24. The superscore will never be lower than your highest single Composite score.
ACT’s new emphasis on superscoring
In the past (and for the SAT), colleges allowing students to submit a superscored Composite would request that students provide them with all their testing scores. The college would then calculate the superscore.
In October of 2019, ACT proposed the roll out of individual section retakes where a student who had previously sat for the entire exam could retake just one section on a subsequent testing date. For example, if their math score was low, they could retake just the math portion. COVID-19 concerns kept this new roll out from happening. (We’ll wait and see if section retakes are launched in the future.)
If a student was only taking one section of the exam, then a superscore would need to be calculated from the best scores in that student’s ACT record. ACT did not launch section retakes, but they did launch an optional superscore report that students can send to colleges.
This new superscore report includes: the superscore with the highest sections and dates, the highest full ACT test score from one specific date, and all scores from every test event that were part of the superscore. ACT will include separate test results as far back as September 2016.
The superscore report for our sample student above would include this information:
|HIGHEST FULL ACT TEST SCORE: 12/20/2020||Composite 23||English|
|ALL ADDITIONAL TEST EVENT SCORES:||9/12/2020||English 22||Math 23||Reading 21||Science 23|
If this student had an additional test date but none of the section scores were part of the superscored Composite, it would not be included on the superscore report. The superscored Composite could consist of a wide variety of dates (more than the two dates used in our example). In that case, each test date with its scores would be listed in the “all additional test event scores” section.
Not all colleges use superscores.
We don’t know yet exactly how the ACT’s new report format will impact the number of colleges that use superscores. Most colleges have traditionally not superscored exams because that would mean students have to sit for multiple test dates. The cost for that could easily be prohibitive to many students, and asking for multiple test scores can be seen as unfairly biased towards families with more affluence.
Colleges that superscore the ACT can be found here. Colleges that superscore the SAT can be found here. Note: we can’t guarantee the accuracy of these lists as they can change often. Always refer to the college’s admissions page like this one from Ohio Dominican. Another example is Ohio University. OU is flexible and will use either the highest Composite test score or the superscore if a student chooses to submit test scores for more than one date.
ACT’s argument for superscoring
ACT insists that their research shows that superscores are more predictive of how students will perform academically in college. Those who tested multiple times did better on their first-year college GPA. The report hypothesizes that the correlation between retesting and doing better in college could be a result of a student’s motivation to do better academically—ask questions in class, visit their professor during office hours, etc.
They also have research saying that using superscores increases the subgroup differences only marginally. “For example, the average ACT Composite score for African-American students is 5.3 points lower than White students when based on the most recent ACT Composite score. Comparatively, the ACT Composite score for African-American students is 5.4 points lower than White students when based on a superscore ACT Composite Score.”
So, what is our recommendation?
Most students will want to send this ACT-generated superscore report to colleges when applying since it includes the superscore details (to be used by colleges that accept superscores) and the highest full ACT test score (for colleges that do not superscore).
Keep in mind that although superscoring may raise an individual’s Composite test score, it will also raise the test score of all other applicants.
College entrance testing has a lot of moving parts. In order to be sure you have an understanding of how it all works, be sure to register for one of our ACT/SAT/PSAT: The Ultimate Family Planning Guide webinars. If your family would like personalized assistance creating a testing game plan, consider a Private Consultation.
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