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Do Colleges Average Your ACT Score?

Posted by Christine Sarikas | Nov 8, 2015 2:30:00 PM

ACT General Info

 

Like most students who take the ACT, you may have taken the test more than once or are thinking about taking it multiple times.  How will colleges look at your multiple test scores? Will they look at all your scores? Just your highest score? Will they average your scores and use that number? Standardized test scores are an important part of applying to college, but it’s not always clear how colleges will determine your ACT scores if you’ve taken the test more than once.

Will colleges average your ACT scores if you take the test multiple times? In short, no. Colleges don’t take the average of your scores. Instead, they will look at your “best” score; however, there are multiple ways a school can determine your best ACT score. In this article, I’ll go over the different methods schools use to look at multiple ACT scores, if they require you to send all your ACT scores, and how you can use this information to your advantage and help strengthen your college applications.

 

Do You Need to Send Schools All Your ACT Scores?

Before you start wondering what colleges do with multiple ACT scores, the first thing you need to know is whether they require you to send the results of every ACT you took in the first place.

In fact, most schools do NOT require you to send in all your scores, and ACT, Inc. makes it easy to choose which scores you want to send with an option referred to as Score Choice. (Note that the phrase "Score Choice" is technically more associated with the SAT Score Choice program, but the ACT has a similar policy for its own test score reporting.)

Schools that require you to send in all of your ACT scores will be referred to as "All Scores" schools. Both types of schools are discussed in more detail below.

 

Score Choice

ACT Score Choice gives you the option to send schools only the ACT scores you want them to see, rather than sending scores from every ACT you took. On the score report request form, you will be asked to list your college of choice and the test date you want to send on each line.

For schools that allow Score Choice, if you did poorly on one test date, you don’t need to send that score to schools, and they will never see it. This means that if you take the ACT six times, you can choose to send only your best score, or your best two scores, or as many scores as you'd like.

Be aware that if you are using Score Choice and choose to send your scores from a specific test, you must send your scores for the entire test; you cannot only send individual section scores to schools.

 

All Scores

Some schools, including certain highly selective schools like Yale and Stanford, require you to send all your ACT scores.  This means that you cannot use Score Choice, and you must send them the scores of every ACT you took, even if there was a particular test date when you didn’t score as well as you usually do. So, if you took the ACT six times, you need to send these schools your results from each of those six test dates. Check out our complete list of the schools that require you to send all your ACT scores.

 

Only some schools require you to send all your ACT scores

 

What Do Colleges Do If You Send Multiple ACT Scores?

You may end up sending a school more than one ACT score, either because they require it or because you earned multiple strong scores and want schools to see them.  So what do colleges do if they receive more than one ACT score from you? There are several options, and each is explained below.

 

Highest Sitting

Most schools, if you send them more than one ACT score, will simply use your highest ACT composite score from a single test date. So, if you took the ACT three times and received composite scores of 28, 29, and 30, the school would use your composite and section scores of the test date when you received a 30.

 

Superscoring

Another method that some schools use to determine your best score is called superscoring. When a school uses superscoring, that means they consider your highest section scores across all the dates you took the ACT and combine them into a superscore.

Look at the example below to see how superscoring works.

 

English

Math

Reading

Science

Composite

Exam 1

25

31

30

27

28

Exam 2

27

29

32

28

29

Exam 3

30

33

30

27

30

Superscore

30

33

32

28

31

 

 This student took the ACT three times, and, as you can see, her composite superscore is higher than any of the composite ACT scores for individual test dates. This is because superscoring combined all of her highest section scores from across the three tests. If you take the ACT with Writing, that section is also included in superscoring.

For schools that use superscoring, this student would be considered to have a composite ACT score of 31, and her section scores would be each of those listed under the Superscore row.

Superscoring benefits you because schools combine your best scores from each section of the ACT into one superscore, even if those scores didn’t occur in the same test. Wondering which colleges use superscoring? We have a complete list of schools that superscore the ACT.

 

Will Schools Look at Your Other Scores?

Regardless of whether a school uses superscoring or highest sitting, will they look at your "non-best" ACT scores as well? There's no clear-cut answer to this question since it varies for each school and often for each applicant; however, many times schools will look at your other test scores, even if your best score is the one they give the most weight to. This is particularly true for schools that require all scores sent.

In these cases, your scores still won't be averaged, but schools may review all your scores and make inferences if there were any outliers. For example, if you take the ACT three times and get composite scores of 32, 27, and 33, most schools will use 33 as your "official" ACT score, but they may wonder why you got a 27 for one test. One outlier score will usually have a small, if any, impact on your application, but it's still important to never blow off an ACT exam just because you think schools will only look at your best score. 

As mentioned above, schools that allow Score Choice only see the scores you send them, so you can take the ACT several times and only send your highest score in order for that to be the only results they see. 

The next sections give more recommendations on how you can use school score policies to plan and improve your ACT preparation methods.

 

Can You Take the ACT as Many Times as You Want?

Since most schools will use your best ACT score, either by using superscoring or highest sitting, does that mean you can take the ACT as many times as you want in order to maximize your chances of getting a high score?

Not exactly. You are allowed to take the ACT up to 12 times, and schools will continue to use your best score from those tests, whether by using superscoring or highest sitting. However, it is not recommended that you actually take the ACT 12 times. Generally, you shouldn’t take the ACT more than five or six times.

Taking the ACT more than six times can cause schools to think you don’t take the test seriously or have trouble improving your scores. It can also become very stressful and time-consuming, not to mention extremely expensive, because you have to keep paying to take the ACT and to send your scores to schools. Taking the ACT as many times as you can is particularly a bad idea if one of your schools requires All Scores sent because it increases the chance of you having an off-day and getting a lower than usual score, which those schools will see and which can possibly hurt your chances of being admitted.

Instead of taking the ACT as many times as you can, you should instead look at your test prep methods and how effective they are. Is your studying targeting and improving your weak areas? Are you learning what mistakes you make and how to avoid them?

By putting time and effort into studying effectively, you will be able to reach your target ACT score more easily than simply taking the ACT over and over. In general, we recommend taking the ACT two-three times to get your best score, regardless of whether the schools you’re applying to use superscoring or highest sitting to determine your best score.

 

Don't just take the ACT as many times as you can; it can hurt your college applications.

  

How Can You Use Score Policies to Improve Your ACT Prep?

If you know which schools you want to apply to, you can look at their score policies and use them to help guide your test-taking strategy.

If the schools you’re applying to use superscoring, then you can maximize your superscore by studying for and gaining a strong score in one ACT section at a time. For a more in-depth explanation of this strategy, check out our guide on how superscoring can affect your test strategy.

If a school uses highest sitting, then you should continue to study each section of the ACT in order to maximize your composite score.

For schools that require All Scores sent, you will want to make sure you are well-prepared each time you take the ACT. Those schools will see all of your exam scores, so you don’t want one bad test day to hurt your college applications. You will also want to keep studying for each section of the ACT, even if you are only trying to improve your score in one specific section. You don't want scores from your other sections to drop on a retake.

Even if the schools you’re applying to allow superscoring or Score Choice, you should always take the ACT seriously. As mentioned above, a very low score can be a red flag to schools, and it’s also just a waste of your time and money.

 

Conclusion

  • Most students take the ACT multiple times, and schools have different policies for reviewing multiple test scores.
  • Most schools don't require you to send scores from all the ACTs you took. Score Choice is a way for you to choose which ACT results you want schools to see.
  • If you send multiple ACT scores, schools won’t average them, but instead will use one of two methods to determine your "best score."
  • Some schools combine your highest section scores from multiple tests into a Superscore. This is known as Superscoring.
  • Other schools look at your highest score from a single test date.
  • Knowing which scoring policy schools use can help you structure your test prep and test-taking strategies to maximize your ACT scores for college applications.

 

What's Next?

First, what’s a good ACT score? Read our article on good, bad, and excellent ACT scores so you can identify and prepare for your target score.

Wondering when you should take the ACT? Read this article to figure out the best dates for you.

Check out our complete study plan for the ACT so you can keep up with your studying and make the most of every test date!

 

Want to improve your ACT score by 4 points? We have the industry's leading ACT prep program. Built by Harvard grads and ACT full scorers, the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible.

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Christine Sarikas
About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.



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