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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 06/ 9/2010

Do colleges superscore ACT and SAT equally?

By Valerie Strauss

Every time high school students sit for either the ACT or SAT college admissions tests, I am asked about the nuances of superscoring. With tens of thousands of rising high school seniors getting ready to take the ACT on Saturday, it’s a good time to review.

Superscoring is done by some colleges for students who take the same admissions test more than once.

Colleges look at the results of each test a student takes. If a student takes a test twice or more, the college will look at the subscores from each section (math, reading, etc) on every test date submitted, and take the highest for each.

Taking a test multiple times gives kids a chance to raise a score in a particular area (and, of course, it means that more test fees pour into the organizations that own and administer these exams).

There is mixed opinion on how much a student can raise a score on multiple tests, but there is enough anecdotal evidence to convince many kids that it is worth it. Sometimes, a bump of even 20 points on the SAT, or 1 to 2 points on the ACT, can make the difference between being accepted or rejected.

Still, many students labor under the misconception that most schools superscore both the ACT and the SAT. While many schools do, many more do so for the SAT than the ACT.

Why is this so? It’s not really clear.

Some counselors say the ACT folks used to discourage superscoring, insisting that the test parts constituted a whole that should not be broken apart for the sake of grading.

I asked ACT, the organization that owns the test, and here’s what spokesman Ed Colby said:

“I’m afraid we don’t really have a definitive answer for why fewer schools superscore the ACT than the SAT. We would defer to the colleges themselves on that question, as the answer may vary from school to school.

“ACT doesn’t make a specific recommendation to colleges in terms of how to deal with multiple scores. We leave it to them to decide which approach is best for their purposes. They are obviously in the best position to understand their own particular needs and the context in which they use the scores.

"As for knowing which institutions use the superscore option: That’s not really something we keep close track of.

"There’s more information about use of multiple scores on our website."

The bottom line is that while a growing number of schools are superscoring the ACT, many still don’t. There are some lists you can find on the Web (see below, but it is important to check each school because school policies changes).

It would be unfortunate to pursue a test-taking strategy that depends on superscoring -- such as concentrating on different sections on different test dates -- when the school a teen really wants to attend doesn’t superscore.

Here are some Web sites with superscoring information:

College Admissions Partners:

College Board (SAT):

Prep Matters:

Here’s more on the College Board’s “Score Choice” option for the SAT, which I wrote about recently:

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By Valerie Strauss  | June 9, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions, SAT and ACT  | Tags:  college admissions, college admissions tests, college application process, sat and act, superscoring, superscoring act, superscoring sat  
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Posted by: Eplee87 | June 9, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Since "superscoring" pretty obviously adds noise to the data, allowing for a larger role of luck in a student's scores and thus a worse estimate of his/her true ability, why do colleges do it? All I can think of is that they do it selectively- it gives them cover for admitting certain students that they want to admit for other, non-aptitude reasons.

Posted by: qaz1231 | June 10, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

It's really not something to get fussed about. If a student really does do better on a given day, why not allow it?

As for why they don't superscore the ACT routinely, there's an obvious reason: they only send scores as requested. SATs, until recently, sent all of them. I very much doubt most schools are hand-scoring super scores. So it would be easy to automate superscoring for the SAT, and impossible to do so for the ACT.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | June 10, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

"If a student really does do better on a given day, why not allow it?"

Because you're artificially inflating scores: you're counting good luck and discounting bad luck, and giving an advantage to kids who take the test multiple times (the more times you take it, the better the chances you get lucky and guess right a lot of times or happen to get questions you know).

Actually, maybe I just answered my own question: schools do it because it raises the SAT scores of their matriculants, which raises their USNews rankings.

Posted by: qaz1231 | June 10, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

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