Most colleges will use your ACT scores in some capacity when making admissions decisions. If you take the ACT multiple times, however, it's not always clear which scores they will consider most strongly.
In this article, I'll give you an overview of the policies that exist at different colleges when it comes to reviewing ACT scores in the admissions process.
Most schools will focus on composite score values when considering your ACT scores. Schools that require the optional ACT Writing section will usually look at your Writing score separately or in the form of the English Language Arts (ELA) subscore (which is the average of your scores on the English, Reading, and Writing sections). Some admissions committees will look at subscores in the different subject areas based on the student’s academic interests and application strengths. This is most common at specialized colleges that are tech and engineering-oriented and are interested in math scores. Otherwise, schools will mainly look at the average of the four multiple choice sections.
Colleges may decide to look at your scores in different ways depending on their policies. Some schools will allow you to exercise Score Choice or use Superscoring, some don’t require score submissions at all, and some may accept other tests in place of the ACT. I’ll go over the different scenarios you might encounter in the next couple of sections.
Score Choice and Superscoring
Score Choice and Superscoring will affect which ACT scores colleges use in the application process. Score Choice is a built-in feature of the ACT that is allowed by many colleges. It just means that you can decide which test scores you want to send to schools (by test date only, not at the subsection level). Since you’re charged a fee to send score reports for each test date and not just for each school, using Score Choice can also save you money on your applications. You can’t send scores from some sections and not others, so you only have so much flexibility, but you can use Score Choice to keep low scores to yourself.
To be clear, this option has always been an inherent aspect of the ACT score reporting process. The ACT doesn't name it anything specific, but I'm calling it Score Choice here because that's the label that most people are familiar with (it's called Score Choice for the SAT). You should also know that some colleges will require you to submit all of your ACT scores, so don't automatically assume that you can omit some of your scores in the reporting process.
Superscoring is a practice that some colleges use after they receive your scores. It means that the school will take your highest scores on each section of the ACT and average them into one “super” composite score. Superscoring is a way for colleges to boost their standardized testing statistics while also allowing you to relax a little more when you take the ACT. If you get low scores on a section on one test date, you can devote your study time to remedying those mistakes. You will be able to focus on improving your scores for that specific section without worrying about the other sections where you already scored well.
Of course, Superscoring is only a factor if you submit scores from more than one test date to a school. It's also less common with ACT scores than with SAT scores. Here’s a list of schools that use Superscoring on the ACT. There are also some schools that won't average your top scores into one composite score but will consider your highest individual section scores from different test dates.
In general, most colleges will use your best scores on the ACT to judge your application whether that means Superscoring or just using your best one-time composite score out of the scores you decide to send them.
If all of your scores together are the Himalayas, most colleges only care about Mt. Everest.
What About ACT Writing?
Some schools will look at both your composite ACT score and your ACT Writing score. There are 633 colleges that currently require you to submit the ACT Writing section. The ACT Writing test shows colleges how well you can produce a sample of writing under pressure. Your main application essay isn't as helpful in judging your writing ability since most people painstakingly proofread these essays over the course of many hours.
The ACT also provides an ELA subscore that averages your scores on the English and Reading multiple choice sections and your score on the essay to create an additional score out of 36. Some schools use this score as a guide for placing students out of introductory writing courses.
Other Special Cases
There are some schools that are test optional, test blind, or test flexible, meaning you’ll have more choices to make when it comes to submitting your scores. “Test optional” schools give you the option of submitting your ACT scores, but they don’t require them for a completed application. If you do submit your scores, these schools will consider them in the same way that a school that requires scores might. If you choose not to submit your scores, then they will just use your GPA and high school course record to make their decision instead. There is only one school, Hampshire College, that is "test blind". This means that the admissions committee won't look at your ACT scores even if you do decide to send them.
“Test flexible” schools require you to submit scores from standardized tests, but they will accept other options besides standard ACT or SAT scores. For example, some schools say that you can send them three SAT Subject Test scores or three AP scores instead. In this case, if you decide that other scores are a better representation of your abilities, a school might not look at your ACT scores at all.
A very special case. What's inside? Could it be millions of ACT test booklets? We'll never know.
Colleges use different policies in deciding which ACT scores they will consider in the application process. Most schools require students to submit scores, but they will usually look at the highest composite score or use Superscoring to create your highest possible score out of subscores from different test dates. In most cases, you can choose to send schools only your best composite scores so that they won’t be negatively biased by a bad test date (although some competitive schools request access to all of your scores).
Some colleges ask to see your ACT Writing score, but it's considered less strongly than your composite score in the admissions decision. In rare cases, your ELA subscore will be used to determine your placement in introductory writing courses.
There are also test optional colleges that don’t require you to send standardized test scores at all and test flexible schools where you can send other test scores in place of the ACT. You should look up the policies at schools that interest you. For most colleges that take the ACT into consideration, you can assume that your highest score will be used in making admissions decisions.
You may be wondering how high of a score you should be aiming for on the ACT based on your college goals. Read our guide to find out what a good ACT score looks like for you.
You get four free score reports to send to colleges when you take the ACT. Our article will help you decide whether to make use of them or not.
How do you send your ACT scores to colleges anyways? I'm so glad you asked. Just click on the link to learn more!
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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.