ACT FAQ: Expert Answers to Frequently Asked Questions


Here at PrepScholar, we get a lot of questions about every aspect of the ACT. To help, we've compiled this ACT FAQ to address all of your questions about the test – whether you haven’t even cracked open a prep book to study for it yet or if you’ve taken it four times and are wondering which scores to send to colleges.

Read on to get the answers to all of your burning ACT-related questions and links to the best articles on our site to help you prepare for the ACT.


ACT FAQ Table of Contents


Preparing for the ACT



Should I even be taking the ACT? Don’t colleges really prefer the SAT?

Colleges do not have a preference between the SAT and the ACT. They are seen as completely equal options to fulfill the standardized testing requirement. You can choose which test to take based completely on your personal preference.

So why does everyone still seem to think that the SAT is seen as more prestigious? Since the SAT has been around for longer, it used to the only standardized test accepted for college applications at many institutions. But since its creation in the late 1950s, the ACT began to be widely accepted as an equally acceptable alternative to the SAT. It was adopted first in Midwestern and Western states, but eventually became common on the East Coast as well. Back in 2007, the last SAT-only holdout, Harvey Mudd, began accepting the ACT.

True, if you look at the admissions data from many east-coast schools, the majority of applicants still send the SAT as opposed to the ACT. But that isn’t because those colleges prefer the SAT. It’s because students in East Coast states take the SAT more commonly than the ACT, and the majority of applicants to those schools come from the east coast.

So when deciding between the ACT and the SAT, the choice comes down to your ability and your personal preferences. Choose the test that's best for you! 

Further Reading: What Do Ivy League Schools Think of the ACT, Do You Need to Take Both the SAT and the ACT, New SAT vs ACT: Comparison Charts


When should I take the ACT for the first time?

PrepScholar recommends you take the ACT for the first time junior fall. This way, you can retake the test if needed junior spring, and then be ready to focus exclusively on college applications your senior fall.

This timing is also optimal given where you are in your high school career – you should have learned all the content tested on the ACT by the beginning of junior year, and you won’t be so far away from your first algebra class that you’re hazy on concepts like solving a system of equations. If you try and take the ACT earlier, as a sophomore or freshman, you may struggle with it because you lack certain content knowledge, especially in math.

Of course, if you’re reading this as a junior or even a senior, don’t panic. As long as you take the test by senior fall, you’ll be able to apply to colleges.

But earlier is better to avoid a last-minute time crunch or taking the last test before apps are due. Even if you have to use an accelerated study timeline, we strongly recommend working to have the ACT over and done with before senior year starts. It will save you lots of stress, we promise!

Further Reading: When Should I Take the ACT for the First Time?


I took the ACT at school for free, but it didn’t include the essay (also known as the ACT Plus Writing). Do I have to retake the ACT?

There are two cases in which you would want to retake the ACT if you have already taken it as part of state testing, but without the optional Writing/Essay section.

Case 1: You are applying to schools that require the ACT Plus Writing. Unfortunately, even if you have an ACT score from state testing, you need to take the entire ACT Plus Writing to be able to apply to certain colleges. The plus side to this is that you’ve already had a (free!) practice run at the ACT, so if you study before your first official ACT Plus Writing, you’ll be very well-prepared for the test and will likely beat your first score.

Case 2: You didn’t score as high as you wanted on the ACT and/or you’re applying to schools with higher ACT score averages than you earned. The ACT is an important part of your college application, so you want to give yourself the best shot possible at your dream schools by earning a high enough score. (You can read more about finding your target ACT score below!)

If you’re not applying to any schools that require ACT Plus Writing and your score is high enough for all of the schools you want to apply to, you do not have to retake the ACT. Lucky you!

Further Reading: Should You Take the ACT With or Without Writing?, Which States Require the ACT? Full List and Advice, Which Colleges Require ACT Writing? 633 schools


How long should I study for the ACT?

There is no "one size fits all" answer to how long you should study for the ACT. How much time you spend on ACT prep varies based on the score you want and how much time you have to study.

To get started, these are PrepScholar's estimates for how long you should study for the ACT, based on how many points you need to improve by. Of course, these are just estimates, and will vary based on your personal strengths and weaknesses. Don't stop studying until you're sure you can achieve your target score on the real test!

0-1 ACT Composite Point Improvement: 10 hours
1-2 ACT Point Improvement: 20 hours
2-4 ACT Point Improvement: 40 hours
4-6 ACT Point Improvement: 80 hours
6-9 ACT Point Improvement: 150 hours+

You can calculate your weekly ACT prep time by following these three steps:

  1. Find your starting score (which you can learn by taking a practice test)
  2. Find your score goal (see "How do I come up with a target ACT score" below)
  3. Decide much time you can spend on ACT studying each week

Let’s take an example. Say Student A’s ACT score goal is a 28, but they scored a 24 on an ACT practice test. That means Student A has to improve by 4 points. Based on our estimates of point increases to study hours, Student A needs to put in around 40 hours of study time.

Here are three potential study plans for Student A:

  1. Light: 4 hours a week for 10 weeks
  2. Moderate: 8 hours a week for 5 weeks
  3. Heavy: 20 hours a week for 2 weeks

Each of these plans comes out to the required 40 hours. Student A can choose the right plan for them based on their schedule. If Student A has a lot of extracurricular commitments but does have plenty of time before they take their first ACT, Study Plan 1 may be best, since they can squeeze in a couple of 2-hour study sessions each week in between homework and club meetings.

If Student A is taking the ACT in 3 weeks and needs to improve, fast, than they might take on the more cram-like schedule of Study Plan 3. Obviously, this plan would involve toning down other commitments, and perhaps would be most feasible over a school break or summer vacation.

So your next steps are as follows:

  1. Find your target score
  2. Find your starting score (take a practice exam)
  3. Using our hours-to-points estimate, figure out how long you need to study, and then create your own schedule

Further Reading: Exactly How Long Should I Study for the ACT, How to Beat Procrastination in Your ACT Prep


How do I come up with a target ACT score?

Your target ACT score is a score above the 75th percentile for admitted students at all of the schools you hope to apply to.

Above the 75th percentile? What we mean is, you want a score above a school's "middle 50 percent range," which is the range of admitted student ACT scores between the 25th and 75th percentile. In other words, you want a score that is higher than 75% of last year's admitted applicants. Why? Because having such a high score gives you an excellent chance of admission. As an example, here are some examples of ACT middle 50 ranges at a few Massachusetts colleges:

  • Harvard College: 32-35
  • Tufts University: 30-33
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst: 24-29

You need to look up the score ranges for all colleges you are seriously interested in applying to, and then set your target score based on the most competitive school you’re applying to. For example, a student whose most competitive school is Harvard should set their ACT target score at 36. A student whose most competitive school is University of Massachuetts Amherst should set their target score at 30. This way, even if you miss your score goal by a point or two, you will likely have a really strong ACT score for the other schools on your list!

Further Reading: What's a Good ACT Score for Your College, What's a Good ACT Score? A Bad Score? An Excellent Score?, Average ACT Scores: What They Mean for You, ACT Score Percentiles


How should I study for the ACT?

If you haven’t already, start your ACT studying by taking a complete practice exam, timing yourself strictly. This will give you the best information about your strengths and weaknesses on the test and be the baseline for your study plan. For example, even if you're great at math, you might realize that ACT Math is really hard for you because you ran out of time while taking your first practice test. This is crucial information to know as you begin studying!

Once you've taken that first practice test, grade, score, and evaluate it carefully. Calculate your starting composite score. Then, note your strengths and your weaknesses. (We recommend using a notebook to start logging and tracking your weaknesses.)

Look for patterns in wrong answers. This could be in terms of content or test strategy. For example, when you evaluate the Math section, you might notice that missed most of the trigonometry questions. That's a big clue that you need to review some key trigonometry concepts and spent plenty of time practicing math questions. Or, you might notice that you tend to get most questions right at the beginning of a test section, but rush towards the end and get a lot of wrong answers. That's a clue that you need to work on timing.

Next, research your target ACT score, using the method in the above question ("How do I come up with a target ACT score?"). Find the difference between your starting score and your target score. Based on the difference between your starting score and target score, estimate the amount of hours you'll need to study and how long you'll study each week. (See "How long should I study for the ACT?" above for more on this process.) Here are two quick examples:

  • Starting Score: 24
  • Target Score: 28
  • Points to Improve: 4
  • Approximate Hours Needed: 40
  • Study Plan: 8 hours per week for 5 weeks
  • Starting Score: 29
  • Target Score: 35
  • Points to Improve: 6
  • Approximate Hours Needed: 80
  • Study Plan: 10 hours a week for 8 weeks

Now you're finally ready to hit the books! Focus your studying around your weak areas – whether that’s a particular subject area or a problem you keep hitting (like running out of time on the ACT Math or Reading sections). Some students might spend the majority of their study time on one subject area that they struggle with. Others might need to study for all four sections equally. Check out the links before for resources to get started.

Further Reading:

Free ACT Practice Tests, How to Get the Most Out of ACT Practice Tests, How to Get the Most Realistic ACT Practice Test Experience

The Ultimate Study Guides to ACT English, ACT Math, ACT Reading, and ACT Science

The Best ACT Prep Books, The Best ACT Prep Websites, 15 Tips and Tricks to Improve Your ACT Score, 26 Great Alternatives to ACT Practice Tests


What should I know about the ACT before I take it?

Studying for the content on the ACT is important, but it’s also helpful to be familiar with the logistics of the ACT before test day: how long the test is, what the exact rules are, and what to do to be prepared on test day. Check out the links below to get a full briefing on ACT logistics so that when you sit down at your desk on test day, you're ready to focus 100% on the test itself.

Further Reading: How Long is the ACT, ACT Instructions: Complete Guide, Rules and Regulations on the ACT, What to Do the Night Before the ACT, Where Should You Take the ACT


Evaluating Your ACT Score


Is my ACT score bad/good/amazing? 

In terms of the national ACT percentile rankings, these are the important score benchmarks:

  • 20: 50th percentile (average!)
  • 24: 75th percentile
  • 28: 90th percentile
  • 33+: 99th percentile

So in terms of the national rankings, anything above a 20 is above average, any score above 24 is really good, and anything above a 28 is amazing!

But don't let that score go to your head just yet. The real measure of your ACT score's quality is how it stacks up to the score averages at colleges you want to apply to. (See "How do I come up with my target ACT score?" for more on finding a college's ACT score ranges.)

One thing that's interesting about this is that an ACT score that's amazing for one student could actually be low for another. Let's take an example.

Student A got a 30 on the ACT. This is an amazing score for them since they are applying to a few colleges and universities in state. Not only is this score more than enough to get them admitted, it even is high enough to qualify for many scholarships!

Student B also got a 30. This is a low score for them since they are set on getting into either Stanford or MIT, and need at least a 33, but ideally higher, to be a competitive applicant.

The bottom line? You'll have to research the ACT score ranges at your dream schools to decide once and for all if your ACT score is bad, great, or amazing.

Further Reading: What's a Good ACT Score for Your College, ACT Percentiles, Average ACT Scores: What They Mean for You, What's a Bad ACT Score, Scholarships for ACT Scores, ACT Scores for the Ivy League


My ACT score is low. Am I doomed?

Many students get really stressed after they get their ACT scores back, especially if they did worse than they wanted to. But, first of all, remember that your ACT score is not a measure of your intelligence! Just because you got a score that's low (either in terms of national rankings or the college you want to go to) does not mean that you, as a student and a person, do not have promise.

The ACT, at the end of the day, is just a multiple-choice test. So if you didn't do as well as you wanted, you can study more and retake it. (This is why we recommend taking the test for the first time junior fall, so you have plenty of time for retakes!) If you didn't do as well as you wanted the first time, you likely had some test-taking strategy issues or maybe there was content you simply didn't understand. Either way, those are both things that can be fixed with hard work, study, and practice. (Check out our links to study and practice resources below to get started!)

And if you're ashamed or embarrassed about your first score, don't stress. If you score higher on a retake, you can actually delete your first ACT score! It never has to see the light of day.

Finally, if you get a low ACT score and you don't have time to retake it before a college's deadline, you can still apply to other schools that aren't as hard to get into. Even if you don't get into your dream school, as long as you get into college and get great grades an an undergraduate, you will be able to meet your graduate school and career goals. Don't let this one little test slow you down!

Further Reading:

Easiest Colleges to Get Into, Schools with Guaranteed Admission, What is a Safety School? How To Find YoursDid You Know You Can Delete ACT Scores

Free ACT Practice Tests, How to Get the Most Out of ACT Practice Tests, How to Get the Most Realistic ACT Practice Test Experience

The Ultimate Study Guides to ACT English, ACT Math, ACT Reading, and ACT Science

The Best ACT Prep Books, The Best ACT Prep Websites, 15 Tips and Tricks to Improve Your ACT Score, 26 Great Alternatives to ACT Practice Tests


I got [x] score on my first ACT. Should I retake the test?

This answer to this question depends completely on what your goals for colleges and scholarships are! So the first thing to figure out if you haven’t already is this: what is your ACT target score? (See "How do I come up with a target score?" above.) Obviously, if you scored lower than your target score, you should probably consider retaking the exam.

However, you also need to consider how many points you need to improve by to hit your target, and whether you have the time to devote to making that happen. Improving 2 or 3 composite points is very doable, but trying to improve by 10 points is a very difficult task. (We will explore just how possible it is to make big point increases in the next question!)

If you scored lower than your target score and you have sufficient time to restudy, then you should retake the ACT.

But if you do not have sufficient time to study, do not just wing an ACT retake and hope for the best! If you retake the ACT without addressing your test-taking weaknesses or content struggles, it's likely you will either get the same composite score, or even a slightly lower score.

Further Reading: What's a Good ACT Score for Your College, Should You Retake the ACT, Already Have a High ACT Score? How to Improve Even More, How to Get a Perfect 36 on the ACT, by a Perfect Scorer, ACT Score Decrease? How Much it Can Drop and Why


Is it possible to go from [x] ACT score to [y] ACT score in [z] amount of time?

First, in terms of ACT composite score increases, these are the basic possibilities, which of course will vary based on personal factors:

  • 1-2 points: Very doable. Your main obstacle is likely test-taking strategy and a few small content issues.
  • 3-5 points: Doable, but you will have to devote more study hours to accomplish this increase.
  • 6-8 points: Possible, but it will take some very serious studying and commitment. You likely will have to address some content deficits in addition to practicing.
  • 8+: This will really depend on your situation and time available for studying. You will likely have to address some serious content deficits before you focus on improving your test-taking strategy. 

Those possibilities aside, whether you can actually achieve your desired increase depends simply on this: how many hours can you devote to studying? Even if you're just aiming for a small 2-point increase, you have to devote time to studying to actually meet your goal. There are no shortcuts!

With that in mind, this is an estimate of the amount of hours you will need to accomplish ACT composite point increases:

0-1 ACT Composite Point Improvement: 10 hours
1-2 ACT Point Improvement: 20 hours
2-4 ACT Point Improvement: 40 hours
4-6 ACT Point Improvement: 80 hours
6-9 ACT Point Improvement: 150 hours+

Again, these are just estimates, and the time you need will vary based on your own personal strengths and weaknesses.

To get an idea of what these points-to-hours estimates look like in action, and how feasible it is to make certain point increases, let's look at two students who each have 2 months before their next ACT.


Student A

  • First ACT Score: 26
  • ACT Score Goal: 28
  • Points to Increase: 2

Based on our estimates, Student A has to devote about 20 hours to ACT prep to meet their goal of going from a 26 to a 28. Since they have two months to study, they can easily fit this study time into their schedule. Two months is about 8 weeks. If Student A devotes 3 hours each week to ACT prep, they will log 24 study hours, more than their total goal, by the time they sit down for their ACT retake.

Student A can fit those 3 hours into their schedule however they need to: with a single 3-hour study session one day a week, or 1 hour for three days a week, or with 30 minutes six days a week. All of those study plans could fit into even a very busy student's schedule. So you can see why a 2-point ACT composite increase is very doable!


Student B

  • First ACT Score: 26
  • ACT Score Goal: 34
  • Points to Increase: 8

Student B has their work cut out for them! To go from a 26 to a 34 will require some serious study time: at least 150 hours, so let's go with 160 as our estimate.

To fit 160 study hours into 8 weeks, Student B has to study, on average, for 20 hours each week: basically, the ACT will become Student B's part-time job! They could study 4 hours on each school night to fit in 20 hours, or maybe 6 hours on each weekend day, plus 2 hours a night Monday through Thursday. Either way, ACT prep will become a big part of their life, and Student B will likely have to cut back on extracurricular commitments.

So while going from a 26 to a 34 in 8 weeks is certainly possible, you can see why it would take a huge time commitment and likely be quite stressful. If possible, Student B should aim for a later ACT retake date. For example, if they wait 4 months to retake the ACT, they could reduce their needed study time to much-more-manageable 10 hours per week.

Further reading: How Long Should I Study for the ACT, 25 to 32: 10-Day Fast ACT Study Plan, How to Cram for the ACT


The ACT Essay



Can you tell me about the new ACT essay?

The old ACT Writing section was fairly straightforward – it gave you a prompt that you basically had to take a “yes” or “no” opinion on. You could use evidence from your own life, from any books you had read, or recent articles. It was shorter, as well: just 30 minutes. Those were the days!

The new essay, which was first offered in September 2015, is a bit more complicated. It’s 40 minutes long, and instead of just having you offer your opinion on a topic, you have to read through two to three opinions other people have already written on the topic. Then, your essay has to evaluate those different opinions and weave them into your own opinion about the topic. You can check out our guide with example prompts and analysis.

When you take the writing test, you'll receive a writing test score on a scale of 1-36, and four writing domain scores (Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions), each scored on a scale of 2-12. (Those domain scores do not add up to your final writing score. Confusing, we know!) Your writing test score will not affect your overall ACT composite score.

A picture of your essay will be available to the colleges you send ACT Plus Writing scores to. So it's important to give it your strongest effort, even though the essay score will not affect your ACT Composite score.

Check out the links below for more in-depth guides to the new ACT Writing test, including tips for how to approach the essay.

Further Reading: Complete Guide to the New ACT Writing Test, ACT Essay Scoring: Completely Explained


I got [a lowish score] on the new ACT essay even though my composite is [high]. Does this look bad to schools?

When colleges evaluate the ACT, by far the most important factor is your overall composite score. Your subject area scores (English, Math, Reading, and Science) are also looked at for more context.

Your essay score will be noticed, but colleges understand it’s a first draft written under timed conditions – they don’t expect it to be your best writing! They also realize the essay changed in 2015 and will expect some score fluctuations as students get used to the new essay.

Part of the reason some colleges require the ACT Plus Writing is because it means they will have a sample of your actual writing – so if your personal statement sounds like it was produced by a completely different writer (say, a paid professional), they’ll know. But your ACT Essay is not meant to be the most important evaluator of your writing skills.

Read more: All Colleges That Require the ACT Plus Writing

So unless your score is terrible compared to your composite (say you have a 33 composite but only got 12/36 on your essay), it’s not worth retaking the ACT just to improve your essay. Especially if you have a high composite and then it drops on your essay-improving retake, that could actually hurt your chances at some selective schools.

That said, if your essay score is way lower than you think it should be, be sure to read up on the recent controversy over ACT essay scoring!


Scholarships and College



What scholarships can I get with my ACT score?

Many students wonder if their ACT score is high enough to get them a scholarship. Before we explain how likely your score is to earn you some serious scholarship cash, it’s important to understand the two broad types of scholarships available.

  1. Merit-Based Scholarships: these are awards based on student achievement.
  1. Need-Based Scholarships/Financial Aid: these are awards based on student need.

As a rough rule of thumb, the more selective the college, the less likely it is to have merit-based scholarships. Why? Well, let’s take a school like Stanford. Stanford’s admit rate last year was just about 5% -- so only one in twenty applicants got in. Since that means everyone who gets into Stanford is pretty exceptional, it would be hard for Stanford to pick and choose among their admits to decide who gets merit-based funding. So instead, Stanford, along with many of the Ivy Leagues and other top schools, only has need-based scholarships available, to make sure money goes to students with greater financial need.

That said, plenty of selective colleges also have merit-based scholarships. I will be focusing on merit-based scholarships in this answer, since your ACT score could help you get one. But check out the links below to learn more about need-based financial aid and how to apply for it.

Many colleges and universities have merit scholarships, but how they choose the winners varies widely – some scholarships are a simple combination of GPA and ACT score, while others, especially many full-rides, are a mini-application in themselves (you may have to submit your transcript, ACT score, essay or essays, a list of your extracurriculars, and letters of recommendation for some of the most prestigious scholarships!).

In addition to scholarships offered by colleges, there are private scholarships (funded by companies, individuals, and foundations) that, again, have their own selection criteria (but generally, the higher the scholarship, the longer the application). You can search for these scholarships on websites like FastWeb and College Board’s Big Future.

The bottom line: you have to do research. Keep in mind the higher your ACT score, the more likely it is it will earn (or help you earn) a scholarship.

Based on ACT percentiles and information from college websites, these are our rough guidelines for how likely an ACT composite is to net you a scholarship (assuming you also have a strong GPA).

  • 33-36: Very high likelihood
  • 30-32: High likelihood
  • 27-30: Decent likelihood
  • 24-26 Possible

Any ACT score lower than a 24 is not likely to be as competitive for scholarships on its own. Merit scholarships are given for exceptional performance, which is why a 24 and up (the 75th percentile and up) could earn a scholarship. A lower score is less likely to help you earn a merit scholarship since you don't stand out as much among other high school students.

Further Reading: Guaranteed Scholarships for ACT Scores, How to Do College Research Right, 79 Colleges with Full-Ride Scholarships, What Is Financial Aid?, How to Apply for Financial Aid, 27 Colleges With the Best Financial Aid, Every College That Offers 100% Financial Aid


My ACT score is [x]. Where should I apply to college?

“Where should I apply to college?” is an incredibly broad question, but one that we get a lot here at PrepScholar! Since there are literally hundreds of colleges and universities in the US alone, if we drew up a list of all of the colleges and universities that your ACT score could feasibly make you competitive for, it would be way too long a list to be useful!

Instead, work backwards a bit. Start researching colleges based on factors that are important to you: location, size, cost, what you want to study, special programs, athletic programs, fine arts, etc.

Once you have a list of between 15 to 20 colleges, then you can learn more about their admissions data and whether your ACT score would make you competitive there or not.

As you refine your list, aim to include some schools that are reaches for you (your ACT score is at or below their score averages), targets (your ACT score is at or just above their averages) and safeties (your ACT score is way above). If you apply to only reach schools, you risk being rejected everywhere (it’s not like the lottery – the more tickets you buy doesn’t increase your chance of “winning!”). But if you apply to only safety schools, you could miss out on a really great college opportunity. Check out the articles below to learn more about college research and drawing up an application list.

Further Reading: How to Do College Research Right, What is a Safety School?, What is a Target School?, What is a Reach School?, How to Get Merit Scholarships and Honors at State Schools, Colleges with Guaranteed Admission for ACT Scores


My ACT score is [x], my GPA is [y]. Will I get into [z] college?

PrepScholar has put together pages for hundreds of colleges and universities that allow you to plug in your GPA and SAT/ACT score and get an estimate of your admissions chances based on the most current admissions data. These pages are where to go if you just want to know your odds of admission given your ACT score and current GPA. Here are the pages for some of the most asked-about colleges and universities:

Top Schools: Stanford, MIT, UChicago, Duke, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Caltech, Johns Hopkins

The Ivy League: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth, Penn, Cornell

To look up this page for any college or university, just search "[Name of College/University] ACT GPA Prepscholar" in any search engine.

But moving beyond the numbers, you need to put together the strongest application possible for your chances to pan out, especially if your odds of admission are low and/or you're applying to a highly selective school. Learn more about writing the personal statement, getting stellar letters of recommendation, and which extracurriculars you should do. We also highly recommend reading our guide to getting into Harvard by PrepScholar founder Allen Cheng. Even if you're not aiming for Harvard, this post breaks down a lot of the common misconceptions about college admissions and can help you leverage your personal strengths to become the best possible applicant.

Finally, it's important to make sure to apply to a mix of schools, including reaches, targets, and safeties. Read more about what a reach school is, what a target school is, and what a safety school is. When you're putting together your application list, try to include reaches, targets, and safeties to maximize your choices come senior spring.


Sending Scores

I have multiple ACT scores. Which ones should I send to schools?

If you're applying to any schools that require all of your ACT scores, send all of your ACT scores. End of story!

Read more: Colleges that Require All ACT Scores

If you're applying to schools that do not require all ACT scores, you only have to send your highest composite score – after all, you need just one ACT score to apply to college.

However, if the school “superscores” – combines different subject areas from different tests for a final higher composite score – consider sending the scores that would create the highest superscore.

If a school does not superscore but does consider all scores they receive, it’s up to you if you want to send multiple sets of scores. In general, it’s worth sending along a test with a much higher score on a certain section, but also keep in mind the ACT charges per test date to send scores, so it is expensive to send multiple scores to multiple schools. The most important single number on your score report is your composite score, so keep that in mind as you make your decision.

Further Reading: ACT Superscore Calculator, Do Colleges Average Your ACT Score?, Read This Before Sending ACT Scores to Colleges, Should You Send the Four Free ACT Score Reports?, Colleges that Superscore the ACT: Complete List


I took the SAT and the ACT. I also took some APs. Do I have to send all of these scores to colleges?

First, let’s talk about the SAT and ACT (and ignore the APs for now). For the vast majority of colleges, you have to send either the SAT or the ACT. You do not have to send both.

Note that there are two exceptions to the SAT or ACT rule:

 1. Schools like Stanford that require your entire testing history across both tests. These are rare cases – even schools that require all scores from one exam usually do not require you to send all ACT and all SAT scores, you just pick one exam and send all of the scores you have for that exam.

Read more: Colleges that Require All SAT Scores, Colleges that Require All ACT Scores

2. Schools with test-flexible policies that will allow you to send AP Test Scores, IB Test Scores, and others in lieu of the SAT or ACT.

Read more: Schools with Test-Flexible Policies

But for the vast majority of American colleges, you will have to send either the SAT or the ACT. So between your SAT and the ACT scores, choose the test with the highest score (or scores!) to send.

Read more: How to Convert and Compare SAT and ACT Scores

You may want to consider sending both scores only if, according to the SAT/ACT conversion tables, they are in very similar ranges. For example, perhaps your composite scores on each test are about equal, but you have a higher Math score on the ACT and a higher Reading score on the SAT. In that case, it could be worth sending both scores for colleges to see your different strengths. Note that it is more expensive to send scores from both tests, and again, you are only required to send one set of scores to apply.

Often, AP or IB tests can show strong ability in specific subjects, like United States History or Chemistry, which is good. But do not go out of your way to send mediocre scores! You have to ask yourself if your subject scores make your application look better or worse.

Further Reading: Complete Comparison Charts: ACT versus SAT, Are You Better at the SAT or ACT? Find Out For Sure, AP Scores in College Admission


I’m a senior and have one ACT score but it’s not great. I’m taking the ACT again in December but I won’t know the score until after I’ve submitted my applications. Should I submit my not-so-great score or wait for my December score before I decide?

To send your December ACT score so it’s received on time to be considered for most schools, your score needs to be sent to your schools as soon as it’s available. That means when you register to take the December ACT, you have to put down those schools on your registration, well before you’ve taken the exam and seen your score.

This also means that you are sending your December ACT score blind: you will not have the chance to see your score before you send it. (In the vast majority of cases, you will not have enough time to take the December test, view your score three weeks later, and then send your score to colleges – the score will arrive too far after the deadline to be considered.)

Because of this, I highly recommend sending the ACT score you do have, and then also sending along your December ACT as soon as it’s available. Since you need an ACT score in your file for it to be considered at all, it’s not worth risking the December score arriving too late to be considered and your whole file being thrown out.

Plus, there is no way to know your December ACT score will be higher than your current one. If your December ACT ended up being lower, not only will your application look worse, you were risking not completing it on time for nothing.

If your December ACT score ends up being higher, it will help out your application, since colleges will receive and note the higher score. But in the meantime, it’s safest to make sure there is a score in your file by the time the application is due.

If you’re reading this as a younger student, this is why we highly recommend taking the ACT the first time in your junior fall, so you have plenty of time to retake the exam if needed and so you won’t run into stressful application deadlines.

Further Reading: The Last ACT Dates for Early Decision Deadlines, The Last ACT Dates for Regular Decision Deadlines, Did You Know You Can Delete ACT Scores?


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About the Author
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Halle Edwards

Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.

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