fbpx Skip to main content

How to Interpret Your Student’s Recent ACT Scores and Make a Testing Plan

In March, public high schools in Wisconsin (and some private schools) administered the ACT during the school day. Scores have started coming out, so students may be wondering what they mean and how to use their score to make a plan going forward. We have you covered!

Interpreting Scores

The Basics

On each ACT, students receive a score out of 36 on four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. These four scores are averaged to create a Composite score, which is rounded to the nearest whole number. (For example, Composite scores of 27.5 and 28.25 both would be rounded to 28.) On the in-school ACT, students also took the Writing section, but they can ignore that score – hardly any colleges consider students’ Writing scores, and they do not factor into the Composite score whatsoever.


For students who have taken more than one exam, the ACT will also provide a superscore. The superscore takes students’ best section scores from individual exams and averages them, which usually results in a higher Composite score (or, the same Composite score, if scores across tests are similar). Although some colleges (such as UW-Madison) do not accept superscores, many do; students should check with their counselors regarding different schools’ requirements. When a student logs into their ACT account, the superscore is the first score they’ll see – they will need to scroll down to see their performance on individual test dates.

Score Reports

In addition to their Composite and section scores, students received a score report for the March exam, but it is pretty minimal – it just shows the number of items missed on each section as a whole and by question type. However, on three exams per year, students can receive their full test booklet, along with the exact answers they missed. This is called a Test Information Release (TIR), and it can be requested for the April, June, and September exams. As tutors, we find that reviewing the problems from actual administered exams is more useful than looking at the score reports, so exams with TIRs should factor into students’ consideration of next steps. 

Making a Plan

How many times should a student take the ACT/SAT?

First, students need to decide if they even need to take any additional exams at all! 

  • Students should check with their counselors to see if their scores are strong enough for the colleges they are considering. 
  • Students can search college websites for the range of scores from the 25th to the 75th percentile, which is a good barometer of the threshold they will need to hit. Remember that superscores are accepted at many colleges and universities. 
  • While some colleges have begun requiring test scores again, many colleges remain test-optional, meaning they will look at standardized test scores if students submit them but won’t penalize students if they don’t. Our view is that taking more exams can only help students by giving them flexibility: if their score is competitive, they can submit it, and if it remains lower than they’d like, they don’t have to. 

If students do want or need to improve their scores, we recommend taking a total of three official exams, for a few reasons:

  • Scores tend to improve as students become more familiar with the test and the proctored, timed testing environment. 
  • Even if Composite scores on individual exams remain the same, higher section scores can lead to higher superscores. For instance, if a student’s lowest score in March was Reading, focusing on that section going forward could improve their superscore, even if none of the other sections improve (or only improve slightly).
  • After the third exam, scores tend to level off a bit as students hit their “ceiling.”

What is the difference between the ACT and the SAT?

Students may also be wondering if the ACT is right for them or if the SAT is better for their skill set. Taking an SAT in May or June, and comparing the result to the March ACT score, could be a useful way to make that determination. (The ACT has a “Concordance” table that allows for direct comparison of ACT and SAT scores.) 

One important consideration: as of this spring, the SAT has changed to a fully digital, adaptive exam, so its structure is now quite different from that of the ACT. We are also not entirely sure what scores are going to look like, since the test is so new. Check out our recent blog post on the digital SAT for more information.

Dates and Deadlines

As part of any plan, students can continue to test into their senior year, even if they plan to apply Early Decision or Early Action. The remaining exam dates and regular registration deadlines for the Class of 2025 are as follows; the fall SAT dates are “anticipated” but not yet confirmed by the College Board. Each exam also has a late registration deadline that requires an additional fee. I have starred the test dates for which the ACT releases its full exams; as I mentioned above, we often recommend targeting those exams so that students can get their booklets back and review the individual problems they missed. (Because of the SAT’s new structure, it is unclear how its item releases will work, or if College Board will release SAT items at all.)

ACT Test Dates

Exam Date
Regular Registration Deadline

April 13*

March 8

June 8*

May 3

July 13

June 7

September 14*

August 9

October 26

September 20

* = Questions released

SAT Test Dates

Exam Date
Regular Registration Deadline

May 4

April 19

June 1

May 16

August 24


October 5


Impact on Admissions

October is typically the latest administration in which students can test and still submit scores for Early Decision and Early Action. Note that this is a general guideline; for some schools, even those exams might fall too late in the calendar. It’s a good idea for students to check with a counselor and/or the schools they are interested in to confirm the latest exam the schools will accept.

Final Thoughts

Overall, we know how busy this time of year is for juniors – AP exams, spring sports and activities, final grades, college visits, and college applications on the horizon. Taking the ACT again might seem like just one thing too many. But by using their March ACT scores to make a plan for the next several months, students can maximize the chances of getting a score that will get them where they want to go!

Close Menu