With standardized test season in full swing, let’s talk briefly about superscoring. (Why, on a paying for college blog, are we talking about standardized tests? Because they’re one of the best tools for earning merit aid.)

Superscoring is when a school looks at a student’s best score from each section of the test (more often the SAT, but sometimes the ACT), rather than the highest aggregate score. The end result is often students taking and retaking standardized tests in an attempt to bring up the score in one section.

Schools typically look at SAT (and sometimes ACT) scores in one of three ways:

  • A school may access all scores but automatically superscore the student’s results. For example, a student who took the SAT twice may have got 640 Reading and Writing and 600 Math on one and 620 Reading and Writing and 650 Math on the other. The school would have all scores but disregard the lower ones and give the student a superscore of 640 + 650 = 1290.
  • A school may give the student the option of using the College Board’s “Score Choice” feature which allows the student to choose which SAT score to send to which college. In that case, the student superscores themselves and the school does not see the lower scores.
  • A school may require all test scores. This is often the case at the most selective colleges. Often they will still superscore the results; what they want to know is whether the student took tests excessively in pursuit of a particular score.

Superscoring is far more common with the SAT than with the ACT, which always allows students to choose which score to send. In the case of the ACT, this usually means it’s the best single day score rather than a superscore. Given all that, students are likely better served by preparing diligently for the tests, than by 4 or more attempts at the test itself to try to bring up the score. There are abundant free resources available for test preparation including free sample test days and online sample tests that students can use to gauge their readiness for the actual test. And of course, you can ask the schools you’re interested in how they score multiple test attempts.

What about the essay? Word on the street is your SAT or ACT essay is not a big factor in admissions decisions, unless it’s way out of line (negatively) with the rest of your scores.