Blog updated as of March 13, 2023.
SAT and ACT test scores are often used by schools as a predictor of college academic success. Scores also provide a common academic measure that can be used to compare all applicants. But how are these tests scored and how do colleges receive scores and evaluate them?
How the SAT and ACT are Scored
The SAT test is divided into two sections, math and reading/writing, with the potential to earn 800 points for each section and a total composite score of 1600 points. The ACT test is divided into four sections–math, reading, English, and science–with the potential to earn 36 points per section and a total composite (average) score of 36.
Test Score Submissions
When you register for the SAT and/or ACT, you can request your test scores be automatically submitted to four colleges of your choice (you can select more than four, but you’ll have to pay for it). However, if you take the test more than once, the large majority of colleges will only use your highest section scores when evaluating your application.
Some students prefer to only submit their best test score to colleges, and they can do this by registering for score choice. If you choose to send your scores using score choice, you will lose the four free score reports given during registration. For many students, this is a small price to pay to know that the school of their dreams won’t see their first attempt at the SAT or ACT. Additionally, some colleges will accept self-reported scores on your application and will only require official scores after you are accepted. This means, you don’t have to waste money sending official score reports to all colleges to which you can apply. You can self report your scores and then send official scores to the school you plan to attend. Check each college’s policy carefully!
If you submit more than one SAT score with your application, which one will colleges evaluate? While each college admissions department follows its own SAT scoring policy, most schools superscore. Superscoring combines the highest math section score and highest reading/writing section score, even if they are taken from different test dates. Some of the highly competitive schools will follow a policy of looking at the highest test score in one sitting, which means your highest total score from one single test date. If the chart below indicates your test scores, the highest test score in one sitting would be 1260 and the superscore would be 1290.
Like the SATs, colleges follow their own scoring policies when evaluating ACT test scores. They can accept the highest total composite score from one single test date, average the highest section scores across all test dates (superscore), or a combination. UVA, for example, does not recalculate the ACT composite score but does look at the highest score for each individual section (see more info and an example on UVA’s admission blog.
If the chart below indicates your test scores, the composite score would be 22 and the superscore would be 23 since all composite scores are rounded up or down.
The majority of Virginia colleges superscore SAT test scores but are split on how they evaluate ACT scores. Below is a chart of popular Virginia schools and their SAT and ACT scoring policies. NOTE: While we try to ensure information is up-to-date, double check the policy at each school as the way colleges are using SAT/ACT scores has been changing quickly over the last few years.
|GMU||Superscore||Highest Composite Score|
|JMU||Superscore||Highest Composite Score|
|ODU||Superscore||Highest Composite School|
|Radford||Superscore||Highest Composite Score|
In addition to superscoring, many schools have adopted test optional admissions policies. For more information on considerations before applying test optional, read our blog post “Why Take the SAT in a Test Optional World?”
Why does Scoring Policy Matter?
Scoring policy can influence the way you study for the SAT or ACT. If all the colleges you apply to superscore, you can focus on just one section when studying after you’ve hit your goal score on the other sections. If the colleges you apply to evaluate the total composite score you can study your weaker areas across all sections to increase your total score. You will also need to continue to practice your stronger subject areas to keep that information fresh.