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The Benefits of Superscoring: Lessons from Higher Ed Leaders

Updated 4/2/2021

Colleges and universities have different policies for accepting multiple sets of test scores from students. Some prefer the most recent test scores, while others use the highest test results from across all test attempts. 

While some schools calculate the average across all ACT tests, others calculate a “superscore.” And starting April 2, 2021, ACT will be automatically calculating the superscore for students.

The superscore takes the highest ACT subject scores (English, math, reading, and science) from all of the student’s test attempts and averages them to create a new ACT composite score.

Ultimately, test score decisions are up to the institution to make, but colleges and universities take guidance from organizations such as ACT on how to fairly and accurately use and interpret score data.

As an organization grounded in research, ACT listens and responds appropriately when new information comes to light. Over the past two years, we have been investigating whether superscoring is a fair and valid practice.

Based on results from a recent study, ACT now endorses superscoring. The study revealed that superscores were more predictive of how students would perform in their college courses than other scoring methods. This result held true when we looked at various subgroups’ performance (i.e. income level, race/ethnicity, gender, etc.), meaning students from underserved backgrounds are not negatively impacted by superscoring.

Since this news impacts higher ed leaders, we recently convened a panel of three enrollment professionals to learn more about how public and private institutions are using superscoring in admissions:

  • Tammy Aagard, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management - University of Florida;
  • Kellie Kane, Executive Director of Admissions - University of Pittsburgh; and
  • Ashley Nguyen, Associate Director of Admission - Pepperdine University.

Why are you moving to superscore the ACT? How does this help students applying to your college?

Tammy – University of Florida: We’re now moving to superscore the ACT because it fits in with our philosophy of holistic review. We always tell students that they are more than a point-in-time assessment, so we need to ensure that how we review their results fits in with that same philosophy of a holistic review. Even though we are predominantly an SAT state, more of our applications are coming from students who’ve taken the ACT. So, in order to give all applicants full advantage, we’ve moved to also superscore the ACT.

Kellie – University of Pittsburgh: We have had success in using superscores in the past. We have been able to take a little bit of the pressure away from students as they prepare to take the test. If we can say to a student, “Your math section was strong, so maybe just concentrate on the English section,” instead of asking them to do just as well in math while increasing that English score, then our hope is we can alleviate just a little bit of the stress in an already way too stressful process. It has always been our hope to have a student-focused and student-friendly process.

The University of Pittsburgh monitors whether superscoring affects underrepresented students, low-income students, and first-generation students. We don't want any of our practices to negatively affect any of those populations. So far, we’ve received positive feedback from individuals throughout our process on how student-friendly we have made it and received encouragement to continue to support the practice of using superscores in our admissions review.

Ashley – Pepperdine University: We have historically superscored the SAT, and now that ACT is advising that colleges superscore the ACT, it’s only natural that we start this practice with ACT as well. It’s important for us to be student-centric and adopt student-friendly policies. We believe that a superscore approach is in line with our policies here on campus to admit holistically. For best practice purposes, we will continue to superscore.

What advice do you have for other institutions navigating the policy shift to superscoring?

Kellie – The tools we use to accept and calculate superscores, Salesforce and PeopleSoft, are managed by our central IT and not our individual admissions office. So, the importance of the superscoring project had to fit in with the rest of the University’s list of demands. We have a good working relationship with the IT team, which helped get them on board. We provided as much information as possible and laid the full plan out in front of them to speed up the process. If we didn’t do this, it may have been a longer and more difficult process to enact these changes.

Tammy – Also, it helps to align the project with institutional goals (e.g. increase diversity, enrollment, etc.). Being able to communicate how this aligns with organizational goals can get you the political push you need to change your policy and process.

How has superscoring affected the merit-based scholarships you provide?

Ashley – We don’t have hard cut-offs on our merit-based scholarships that we offer on the front end, so it varies admitted class by admitted class. It’s not something we’ve necessarily seen an increase in, but I’m curious to see whether there’s any change or what the implications are once we start superscoring the ACT this year. My guess is there would not be any change.

Tammy – Superscoring impacted our Bright Futures scholarship. We had to educate the legislature about what superscoring is, how it works, and how it would impact Bright Futures. When legislators heard about the positive impact of this, it became a much easier sell for us.

Kellie – We haven’t seen any changes at our Pittsburgh campus because we don’t have a specific cut-off for scores. However, our regional campuses have used some of those charts with GPA and specific ACT scores, so it is their scholarship budgets that we’ll definitely have to keep an eye on and make adjustments.

How are you calculating the superscore at your university?

Ashley – Our tech team built out code in our CRM, so once a test score gets uploaded from ACT or College Board it goes straight into our system, which automatically calculates the superscore for our committee review.

Kellie – At Pitt we load all of our test scores into PeopleSoft and that’s where our central IT comes into the picture. They calculate the high score behind the scenes and repopulate it into the student’s test scores.

Tammy – Our test scores come into Slate first. We don’t send the test scores immediately to PeopleSoft; we have them go into Slate and then later into Campus Solutions.

When a school superscores, do they see all test scores and dates or only the final superscore?

Ashley – For all of our institutions, they can see both. They can see all of the individual test scores if they’re interested, but they can also see the superscore.

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ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Grounded in 60 years of research, ACT is a trusted leader in college and career readiness solutions. Each year, ACT serves millions of students, job seekers, schools, government agencies and employers in the US and around the world with learning resources, assessments, research and credentials designed to help them succeed from elementary school through career.