SAT Superscore, ACT Superscore: What is a Superscore?

The big day has already come and gone, and you’ve been sitting around the house biting your nails for the past two weeks. You could sit around even longer, waiting for the hard copy of your standardized test score report to arrive, but why would you? Scores are available online long before the paper copy will arrive. So log on to the College Board website and see how you did.

SAT Superscore

Let’s assume that on the SAT, you received a 590 in Critical Reading, a 640 in Mathematics, and a 600 in Writing. Your overall score would be an 1830 (out of 2400). You might compare your score to your friends’ scores or you might compare your scores to those of accepted applicants at the colleges you are interested in. These measures are somewhat helpful in determining what your scores mean, but what you really want to look at are your percentile ranks.

Our imaginary scores would place you above 78 percent of the students in the country for your reading score, above 83 percent of students for math, and above 82 percent of students in writing. Note that although you have a separate score reported for your essay (on a scale of 1-12), that score is already part of the complex calculation used to arrive at the 600. You will also see a writing subscore for the multiple choice questions (on a scale of 20-80), but again, don’t pay too much attention to it. The score between 200 and 800 is what matters.

Also keep in mind that your scores are estimates. The test writers are only human after all and it can be difficult for them to create so many versions of the SAT that all have the same level of difficulty among all the various questions. If you took the SAT multiple times in a row without studying at all in between, you could expect your scores in each section to fluctuate by as much as 80 points, 40 points higher or 40 points lower.

This is part of the reason that some colleges superscore the SAT. Many students take the SAT multiple times (of course, they study in between!). Because of variations in the test content, the second time a student takes the SAT, he might do worse in reading but much better in math. It wouldn’t be fair if your higher reading score from the first test was disregarded. So, some schools will look at all of the test scores you submit and use the highest score you achieved in each section. For example, they may take your math score from your first test and your reading and grammar scores from your second test and then combine them to give you your highest score possible out of 2400. In fact, the College Board publishes data that tells you whether the schools you are interested in superscore or only look at the scores from the last time you took the test. If you’ve ever wondered how applicants at Ivy League schools seem to have near perfect SAT scores, this is how. Very few applicants to those schools scored a 2400 in a single attempt.

ACT Superscore

If you took the ACT, a percentile-based interpretation of your scores also makes more sense than does a numbers-based interpretation. Let’s say that you received a 25 in English, a 21 in Math, a 28 in Reading, and a 23 in Science. In terms of percentiles, those scores are 78% in English, 55% in Math, 85% in Reading, and 70% in Science. Again, that’s the percentage of students across the country that you performed better than. The composite score is simply an average of those four subscores, so in our scenario, you would have a sample composite score of 24, which is the 74th percentile. A separate score is reported (on a scale of 2 -12) if you took the optional essay, and a separate English score is also reported (on a scale of 1 – 36) that combines the multiple-choice writing with the essay score, but the composite score uses only the multiple choice subscore.

Just like the SAT, there is some variation across tests, with some being noticeably harder than others. If you took the ACT multiple times, you could expect each of your subscores (and therefore your composite score) to vary by as much as 4 points, 2 points higher or 2 points lower. Again, this is why the percentiles matter more than the raw score. Although in our scenario a 23 in science was the 70th percentile, if the next ACT has a science section that is more difficult, a 22 might be the 70th percentile. Percentiles allow everyone to be compared in the same way.

The difference between the tests, though, is that superscoring is not very widely practiced with the ACT. ACT recommends that colleges use a single highest composite score for their admissions criteria and many schools abide by this recommendation. However, since the ACT is more of a content test than the SAT is, students can still benefit from taking the ACT multiple times, as long as they study in between. The content is presented in a more straightforward way, which allows students to more easily assess their errors, practice, and improve their scores.

What’s the Magic Number?

When you finally get to see your score report, hopefully you will see your magic number written on it – the number that, when combined with your grade point average, extracurricular activities, and recommendations, will get you into your first choice college. If not, remember that you can take these tests again, and you may even want to do so that you can take advantage of superscoring. Check the registration dates carefully to make sure that you register in time and will receive your score report in time to make any college application deadlines.

SAT and ACT Tutoring

If you are considering hiring an expert SAT tutor or ACT tutor to help your child prepare for the SAT or ACT, Origins Tutoring can help. Please call us at 917.287.7927 so we can begin to develop a personalized SAT tutoring and/or ACT tutoring program for your child.