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How Do Colleges View Multiple Attempts at the ACT/SAT?

Standardized tests can be a key factor in college admission and scholarship awards.  As a result, students often take the SAT or ACT more than once, attempting to earn the highest scores possible. Understanding how colleges view multiple attempts at these tests can help you decide if you should take one again

Multiple Attempts Are Common

If you are considering taking the ACT or SAT for a second or third time, you are not alone.  Nationwide, most students will take their choice of test two or three times.  However, simply retaking these exams will not improve your scores.  Before retaking either the SAT or ACT, many students find it beneficial to review content, calm their nerves, or learn how to employ different test-taking strategies.

Colleges Use Your Best Scores

Colleges and universities understand that students will take entrance exams multiple times, and will use your best score. Don’t worry that admissions officers will see multiple attempts at the test; this is the norm. But don’t think colleges will be impressed with your effort. They want to see results and don’t care that you’ve been diligent in retaking the SAT or ACT.

There is no limit on the number of times a student can take the SAT or ACT. I like to use common sense as a guide—more than three attempts is unlikely to result in better scores unless a student has devoted considerable time and effort to improvement. Colleges do not penalize students for multiple attempts. Unlike with some graduate school exams, colleges do not average ACT/SAT scores.  They will determine students’ best scores using one of two methods:  “superscoring” or single highest results.

Some Schools Superscore

Superscoring refers to the practice of compiling a student’s highest scores, even if they come from different test dates. The practice of superscoring started with the SAT. Let’s consider this example:

                    Reading/Writing          Math               Total

Oct SAT         560                             700                 1260

Jan SAT         610                             660                 1270

Superscore    610 (Jan)                   700 (Oct)           1310

This student clearly benefits from the practice of superscoring where he/she has a total of 1310—a real plus if a program requires a minimum SAT score of 1300.

Some colleges have started to superscore the ACT, but that practice is less common. It is also common for a school to superscore the SAT, but not the ACT, so be sure to ask if you are focusing on the ACT.

Superscoring allows students to focus on improving one graded section at a time without having to worry about their results on the other portion. It can also save you from an additional attempt at the test if a college is willing to superscore. But make sure to check with every school on your list to learn their policies.

Some Schools Use Single-Highest Results

Other colleges and universities prefer to use a student’s best scores from a single test date.  For a student who has taken the SAT multiple times, the college would look at the total of both sections and use the results from the test date on which the student earned the highest total score. From the example above, the total from the January test (1270) is the student’s highest total, so would be the score used. For the ACT, colleges would look for the best composite score.

If you plan to retake the ACT / SAT and send your scores to colleges using this calculation method, you have to pay attention to all areas of the exam in order to improve your total score.

Colleges Tell Applicants What They Want

Students should look at all the colleges on their list and determine how each school evaluates standardized scores.  Most colleges and universities are forthcoming with their policies, often posting them on their websites.  Regardless of how a school calculates your best scores, they may request that you send results from all test dates. If a particular school does not request all scores, you can use score choice options to send only your best results.

In this day of highly competitive college admissions, you need for colleges to see your best ACT & SAT results.  Understanding how colleges view multiple attempts at these tests can help you plan your own test-taking and college admissions strategies.

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