While you can aim for perfection, it’s important to keep things realistic. We recommend a composite score of at least 30 for the ACT or 1360 for the SAT. In order to be competitive, a composite score of 32 for the ACT and 1420 for the SAT.
Why do SAT and ACT Scores Matter?
SAT and ACT scores matter because they make up 40-45% of the rubric that determines whether you receive an appointment (assuming you meet requirements and have a nomination). Here is how admissions ranks candidates (this is from the Naval Academy):
Naval Academy Scoring
Math is Most Important
Math is weighted heavier than English for both the ACT and SAT, likely due to the fact that the curriculum is STEM-oriented. The admissions teams want to be confident that appointees will be academically successful at the Service Academies, as every graduate earns a Bachelors of Science degree regardless of academic major.
Superscore Policy – Keep Testing to Improve Your Score!
If you are not a good test taker when it comes to one sitting, this is great news for you. All three service academies “superscore” your scores. Which means they will take the score of the best section regardless of when that was taken. For example, they will take your October English score and February Math score and make a whole new composite score.
When Should You Start Taking the ACT or SAT?
This is one of the most common questions we get from applicants. While there is no definite answer to when you should start preparing and taking the tests, the sooner the better. The second semester of your sophomore year would be the best time to take your first ACT or SAT. The point here is to take your first test before your sophomore year ends. That way you can use the summer between your sophomore and junior years to work on the ACT or SAT.
But if you feel prepared or if you are smart enough, go ahead and take your first test as early as possible by all means. It is better to get a bad score during your freshman year and work on your weakness throughout sophomore year and ace the test your junior year than being unprepared until the start of your junior year.
I have seen applicants that don’t take their first ACT until their mid-Junior year. I would strongly advise you not to do that. Your first score will not be perfect with second or third attempts having significantly higher scores. Keep in mind you will be busy during summer between your junior and senior year actually working on your nomination and SA applications. You will have tons of essay writing to do for all that. Be smart and get your final test score before your junior year ends.
Another bonus tip is not to take the test more than 5 times. This could be 3 or 4 depending on an individual but generally if your score doesn’t improve after your third or fourth attempt, it is smarter to focus on other areas of your application. ACT and SAT don’t test you on knowledge. It mostly tests your test taking skills. Just because you take it more doesn’t mean you will definitely improve.
Keep the Deadlines in Mind
Yes unfortunately there is a fixed deadline for these test scores to be submitted. Usually, nominating sources will require your final scores by the end of either September or early October of your senior year since nominations happen between November and January of your senior year. For the academies, they also have deadlines around November to January.
Also keep in mind that test results take over 3 weeks at least to be reported so I would not take the ACT in December of your senior year since it will already be past the deadline for most academies and nominating sources by the time your scores come out. Bottom line, it’s better to start the entire journey early!
Personal Journey From a Class of 2025 USAFA Cadet
I personally never took the real SAT. After I got a 1050 on my PSAT score from the 1st semester of my sophomore year, I was absolutely devastated. I knew I wanted to become a cadet at one of the SAs but I thought my test score would hold me back forever. I simply thought I wasn’t smart enough.
Furthermore, SAT didn’t seem like the test I would excel due to its huge emphasis on advanced reading while ACT was more focused on speed and the texts were easier to comprehend and the questions were more straightforward.
So I started preparing for the ACT once sophomore year winter break started. I simply bought a Kaplan ACT prep book (by the way not the best resource out there in my opinion) and started working on the questions.
I took my first ACT in February of my sophomore year; just 2 months into prepping. I got a 26 on it (subscores: 20 English, 35 Math, 27 Reading, 23 Science). Though 26 would never get me into schools like Service Academies, I started to get more hopeful as most test takers increase their score in their second or third attempt.
After summer, I started studying for the ACT again, this time more organized. I hired a tutor and she recommended the ACT “Red Book” to me.
The “Red Book” questions were better than any other option since this used authentic ACT questions that were actually on the test. I took the questions to school and worked on it whenever I had free time. Also I spent the last 30 minutes right before bed going over the questions I got wrong. I had to balance school work and ACT prep very well since my junior year course load was by no means easy: that is why I would advise all of you to use the summer to study for standardized tests.
After about 2 months of studying, I took my second ACT in October of my junior year. I got a 29 on that (subscores: 28 English, 31 Math, 25 Reading, 31 Science). Focusing heavily on the weak sections helped a lot as my English went up from 20 to 28 and Science from 23 to 31.
At this point, I had exactly 30 superscore ACTs. It was good enough to get me in the game but not ideal to be “competitive”. So I decided to retake it.
My third and fourth attempts were in February 2020. The Feb 8 test was what I personally signed up for and the Feb 25 test was provided by the school as every Junior was required to take it.
From the Feb 8 test, I got 31 with subscores being 26 English, 35 Math, 33 Reading, and 29 Science. Now I have a superscore of 32.
The Feb 25 test didn’t go as well as the score dropped down to 29 again. I decided it was time for me to stop taking the ACT.
And a year later I had a USAFA appointment in hand. Hard work had paid off.
Ways to Improve Your SAT and ACT Scores
There are a variety of ways to improve your SAT and ACT scores for your Service Academy application. We recommend finding a method that works best for you. This could be self-study with a text book (the ACT “Red Book“) or it could be with a tutor online or in-person. There are many programs that help students immensely.
Magoosh or Princeton Review are both excellent options, depending on how much you are willing to spend.
Wishing you luck in your quest for Service Academy admissions!