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3 Benefits of ACT and SAT Scaled Scores

I’ve had a fair number of my students and their parents ask why the ACT and SAT use scaled scoring systems instead of simply providing raw numbers or percentages. While the reasoning behind the ACT’s choice of a 1 to 36 score and the SAT’s choice of a 400 to 1600 score is actually somewhat complex, the use of a scaled score system itself has direct benefits for students.  In this lesson, we’re going to look at three of the most important ones.



The ACT and SAT, like all tests, are ultimately designed by human beings. In spite of the numerous design rules and guidelines that test designers must follow, minor differences between different versions of the same test inevitably creep in. Scaled scores control for these minor fluctuations in difficulty, ensuring a consistent measure of student proficiency across test dates.


For example, the Reading section of an ACT administered in June might be slightly more difficult than the Reading section of an ACT administered in September of the same year. Without scaling, students taking the September test would probably earn slightly higher raw Reading scores than students taking the June test. With scaling, a student who earns a 25 in Reading on one of these test dates is guaranteed to be at the same skill level as a student who earns a 25 on the other date.



Superscoring is the process of taking the highest score from each test that a student submits to a college. If a student earns a 25 in Math on one ACT but a 28 in Math on another, any college that superscores will “count” the 28 when considering the student’s application for admission. Superscoring is done at the college level: neither the College Board nor ACT, Inc. is involved in the process. However, scaled scores are what make superscoring possible. Colleges know that a higher number represents a greater level of understanding in a given subject than a lower number, regardless of when a test is taken.


Ease of Interpretation

Each section of the ACT and SAT has a different number of questions. This means that the margin for error in some sections is much greater than in others. Getting 35 questions correct in ACT English is not analogous to getting 35 correct in ACT Reading. In other words, some form of conversion needs to be performed to measure relative strengths and weaknesses across the sections of each test. Simply providing raw scores would create extra work for students and parents while scaled scores provide immediate, useful feedback. A student who received an 18 in English, a 30 in Math, a 20 in Reading, and a 28 in Science would know right away that he or she needs to prioritize boosting his or her English score first, with his or her Reading score being a close second.

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