Some colleges admissions offices will use a practice called superscoring as they consider an applicant’s SAT scores. Superscoring combines subtest scores from different test dates and calculates them to the student’s best advantage. So, a student will be able to use their best math, reading, and writing score for multiple test dates to combine for a higher overall composite score
Let’s take a look at an example to see how this process works for one homeschooling student named Tyler. He first took the SAT in the spring of his junior year. While he was pleased with his math score he felt his reading and writing scores would go up with more preparation. Higher scores would make Tyler more competitive for admissions to colleges he was interested in so he decided to work on his reading and writing over the summer and he took the test again the fall of his senior year. Here are his scores:
As we can see in this example Tyler’s score in September is overall stronger than his test in June. However, he’d lose on on his very strong math score if he only used the September scores. With superscoring the top scores from each subtest are combined. By retaking the test and using superscoring Tyler’s overall score comes up 130 points which is a significant improvement.
Question: Does every college superscore every test?
No, they don’t. Every college sets their own policies.
Question: Why does this matter for the students?
Superscoring can be helpful especially for test takers with test anxiety. Knowing you won’t lose your stronger scores if you have a bad day is helpful. While there is a great deal of painstaking work that goes into trying to make each administration of the test the same level of difficulty, there will always be differences for individual students. It may be that a particular reading passage is especially easy of difficult for a student based on their life experience or education. Also, there can be a significant difference between scores on different days just based on the student’s mood or energy level.
Question: Really, doesn’t it still look bad if college sees that sometimes I have lower scores?
While students often find it difficult to believe, the truth is that admissions really only considers the strongest scores submitted. It is understood that students can score worse on a given day if they just have a bad day. Also, some students score lower on material that they haven’t covered recently in school. The math score may be highest right when a student is finishing algebra, but actually can go down when they’ve moved on to calculus which is not covered on the exam.
Question: Is superscoring just for the SAT?
Traditionally colleges have only superscored for the SAT, but more and more colleges are now superscoring for the ACT too. Check out this post for more information.
Question: I’ve taken both the SAT and the ACT and scored better in math on the SAT and better in reading on the ACT – can those scores be combined for a super score?
No. Colleges generally only superscore across an individual test. For this reason, it will make sense for a lot of students to take practice tests of both the SAT and ACT at home and then pick their best test and take that officially twice instead of taking the ACT once and the SAT once.