FAQ about Tests

Should I do the optional Writing section (essay) on the ACT?

Many colleges require that students take the ACT with the optional Writing section. If there is even a remote chance that you will be sending ACT scores to colleges, it would be wise to sign up for the optional Writing section on the ACT.

Do I need to take Subject Tests? If so, how many?

This depends on where you’re planning to apply. Most highly selective schools recommend or require Subject Tests scores as part of your application.

The number of Subject Tests required varies by school. Most ask for two, although there are a few notable exceptions. It’s a good idea to call the admissions offices or check the websites of the schools to which you are interested in applying to find out how many Subject Tests they require.

How does score choice work?

Recently, the College Board began allowing score choice for the SAT and Subject Tests, whereas the ACT has always allowed score choice. Score choice simply means that students can pick which SAT, Subject Test, or ACT scores they would like to send to colleges.

For instance, if Jane takes the SAT in January, March, and May and does best on the March test, she could decide to report only the March score. In that case, colleges would not see her January or May scores or even know that she had taken those tests.

There are some restrictions to how score choice can be used. Students must send all or none of the section scores from an individual test date. It’s not possible, for instance, to send Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score from the May SAT without also including the Math score. In addition, some colleges do not accept score choice, so knowing where you are planning to apply can impact the relevance of score choice. However, most colleges will consider applicants’ “superscores” (see below), so it often makes sense to submit more than one score, even when score choice is allowed.

How does superscoring work?

Colleges that superscore consider their applicants’ highest section scores from across all of their submitted test scores. For example, suppose a student took three SATs and received the following scores:

October SAT: 550 Evidence-Based Reading & Writing, 600 Math
January SAT: 650 Evidence-Based Reading & Writing, 540 Math
March SAT: 580 Evidence-Based Reading & Writing, 670 Math

A college receiving these scores would take the best scores on each section and combine them into a single superscore. An admissions officer glancing at the applicant’s file would likely see his test scores reported as:

Superscore: 650 Evidence-Based Reading & Writing, 670 Math

Note that the student did not score a personal best on either of the sections on his October SAT. Therefore, if he is applying to a college that accepts score choice, it would be best to send only the January and March scores.

While nearly all colleges superscore the SAT, many do not superscore the ACT. To learn about a school’s superscoring policy, visit its admissions website or contact the admissions department directly, or call the Pinnacle Prep office – we would be happy to walk you through the complexities and subtleties of score choice and superscoring.

Is there a disadvantage to taking the test multiple times? Does it start to look bad on an application?

Colleges that accept score choice (see above) will not know that you’ve taken the test multiple times unless you elect to send them multiple scores. So it behooves a student to take as many tests as possible, without interfering with schoolwork or causing undue stress, of course.

A few colleges do not accept score choice and instead require that applicants report all of their standardized test scores. For students applying to these schools, we suggest taking each test no more than 3 times – which means up to 3 SATs and 3 ACTs. The student would then submit all of his or her scores from the stronger test, whether it’s the SAT or the ACT. For many schools, getting a good superscore is much more important than the number of times you’ve taken the test.

Beyond this, the only disadvantage to taking the test multiple times is the possibility of burnout. For many students, it can be difficult to stay motivated during multiple administrations of the same test! Pinnacle Prep test plans are constructed to minimize burnout, and our tutors monitor students carefully to ensure that they are not being worn down by their test load. Please call our office to discuss how many times you should plan to take these tests.