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  • Writer's pictureLTC Brechin, USAF, Ret.

SAT & ACT: Test Early & Often!

Updated: Feb 25

U.S. service academies superscore so follow the advice, 'early & often'

Academy cadet candidates taking the SAT

Students and I often discuss a strategy around the timing and frequencies of taking one or two of the standardized tests that are required by the USAF Academy, US Military Academy, US Naval Academy, the Coast Guard Academy and Merchant Marine Academy. Although one may be preferred by a student over another, I always recommend take the test 'early and often!'

Why early and often? Simply stated, it is due to the fact that the service academies "superscore." That is, they collect each of your shared test scores and the separate components from each of your tests, and then select the highest component to create the best composite score, i.e., a superscore!

Here are two quick examples to clarify a superscore:

ACT 1 Math 24 Science 22 Reading 26 English 26

ACT 2 Math 26 Science 27 Reading 25 English 28

ACT 3 Math 25 Science 29 Reading 24 English 30

ACT SS Math 26 Science 29 Reading 26 English 30

Your composite superscore, in this example, is a 28

SAT 1 Math 610 English 690

SAT 2 Math 580 English 720

SAT 3 Math 640 English 550

SAT SS Math 640 English 720

Your composite superscore, in this example, is a 1360

The Air Force Academy makes one exception for the SAT using your EBRW (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing) scores, all based on a 40-point score basis. As noted by College Board, both Reading and Writing sections of the SAT are scored in one-point increments on a scale of 10 to 40 points. Math, however, is scored on a 200 to 800 point basis. AF then converts that score by dividing it by 20 points to a 40-point basis. Then, they superscore all three components, as this example will demonstrate:

SAT 1 Math 30.5 Reading 34 Writing 35

SAT 2 Math 29 Reading 35 Writing 37

SAT 3 Math 32 Reading 16 Writing 39

SAT SS Math 32 Reading 35 Writing 39

Your composite superscore, in this example, is a 1380

Note that the AFA Candidate Kit will display the three numbers noted above, 32, 35 and 39 ... converting to a 1600 basis ... 32 x 20 = 640 for Math and (35 + 39) x 10 = 740 for English provides perspective on the benefits of this method for a candidate.

The Air Force Academy seems to be the only service academy to use this type of superscoring. Using the same SAT results noted above, our candidate gained a 20 point 'addition' by superscoring the EBRW individual components. I've written a separate blog on this topic too for some additional details.

Often students ask about low components, and I assume, the feeling that you have created an 'imposter score' -- something that might be considered illegitimate. My response is don't worry about the low components. In fact, West Point specifically recommends (on their admissions website) that students use a strategy where they focus on individual components on separate tests. In the example above, the candidate scored a "22" on science with the first ACT. Don't sweat it! USAFA (and the other service academies) will ignore that component and take the "29" that was scored in the science section of the third ACT.

ACT test taking for the US Air Force Academy

Early testing allows a student to start the process and become familiar with either one or both tests. USNA (and the other services academies) do not care which test you take. Some students will find the ACT or SAT easier, or simply find one is the 'best fit' for them. One interesting point for USMA candidates to consider is that you must take the ACT writing test if they take this particular test. You avoid this additional exam if you simply take the SAT!

Take both and then you can decide. Send all scores to the service academies and use the 'free' delivery to the schools of your choice. When you start testing early, say at the start of your Junior year or late in your sophomore year, then you have plenty of time to try both tests, the SAT and the ACT.

Starting early also allows you to take multiple tests over time. Both ACT and SAT tests are typically scheduled seven times each year for a total of 14 opportunities annually. By going to the ACT website or SAT website, you can find both locations and dates along with the ability to register for a test.

Testing frequently over time offers a number of advantages. It allows a student to measure progress, and by taking multiple tests, a student avoids the stress and pressure to perform well on a single test. If you become sick or cannot make a test at the last moment, then this strategy provides additional opportunities to reach your goals. Taking four or five SATs (or ACTs) is quite common in order for students to achieve their best superscore. Year after year, I have students that work their way up from a 'pedestrian' score of say, a 25 or 1210, to a strong score of a 30 or 1330 composite superscore.

Routine preparation is also a key to achieving the best superscore. I suggest two tools, Kahn Academy and March2Success.com. Most students are familiar with Kahn Academy; however, few know the latter, which is a website sponsored by the US Army. The website is a good tool to practice ACT test questions as Kahn Academy does for the SAT. You must simply register with the site. Also, there are many other online tools along with courses that will allow students to practice and improve incrementally. With a commitment to prepare weekly, students will improve their scores significantly.

One other point for all test takers: you cannot submit an ACT or SAT score from a test where you were provided with additional testing time, or often called, "with accommodations." You must take a standard test with standard timing.

By the way, you may be interested in my new blog about the digital SAT, which will start in March 2024.

Clearly, a good ACT/SAT score is an important part of your application; however, working to expand your résumé, seeking leadership engagements, playing a sport or two, and scoring well on the Candidate Fitness Assessment will allow you to earn a U.S. service academy appointment.

Today is the day to start preparing! And, with the SAT/ACT, testing 'early and often' is key to scoring well on these tests. Best of luck to you!

[I would welcome a chance to discuss details with you. I offer coaching services to pace and prepare you (and your parents!) for the entire Academy application process . . . along with the some advice around taking the SAT and the ACT! Contact me at chris@cbbrechin.com, 503.515.7406 or complete my contact form on the home page.]

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