Most students know that in order to apply to college, they must take the SAT or ACT. Yet far fewer students know the policies for submitting these tests to colleges, and the guidelines colleges use when considering test scores. With the College Board’s relatively recent introduction of Score Choice for the SAT, in addition to disparate policies on superscoring at universities across the country, deciding what to do (or not do) with your SAT and ACT scores has become a complex process. This article will guide you through the concepts of Score Choice and superscoring, and will explain how and when you can use them to your advantage.
Taking a “superscore” is when a college considers a student’s best score from each SAT or ACT section, regardless of the date of the test. For example, suppose that John took the SAT twice with the following score breakdown.
A college that does not superscore would simply look for John’s single best test sitting. When considering his application, his best score of 1800 would be used. A college that does superscore would look at John’s best score in each section, regardless of date. It would take his 650 Math from October, 650 Reading from May, and 600 Writing from October, for a superscore total of 1900.
Score Choice is a program long used for the ACT and now available for the SAT as well. Before Score Choice, sending any single test score to a college would mean sending all of your test scores. With Score Choice, you can choose to send the scores from certain test dates while withholding scores from other dates.
Some students believe that Score Choice gives them free reign to take the SAT or ACT as many times as they want without any concerns about negative results. While this may sound appealing, it is not always true (some schools require you to send all scores) and there is absolutely no reason to take the test until you are fully prepared. Students who take the test repeatedly tend to see their scores stagnate, while students who focus their efforts on one or two test dates and prepare diligently often maximize their potential. If you want to see which test is better for you or how you would do on either test, take full-length official practice tests at home for the SAT or for the ACT.
SAT vs. ACT
The general rule is that most colleges do superscore the SAT but do not superscore the ACT. However, there are many exceptions. Here is a comprehensive list of SAT score use policies for U.S. colleges, accurate as of September 2011. An unofficial list of colleges that superscore the ACT can be found here.
The SAT and ACT are administered by independent agencies and have no connection to each other. If you take both the SAT and the ACT, consult an SAT-ACT concordance chart and feel free to only send the scores from your better test, except at schools that explicitly require you to submit all tests.
The Exception: SAT Subject Tests
For colleges that require applicants to submit all of their SAT and ACT scores, applicants sometimes can exercise the Score Choice option for SAT Subject Tests. For example, both Stanford and Yale require students to submit all SAT and ACT scores. However, Stanford allows students to use Score Choice for SAT Subject Tests; whereas Yale’s anti-score choice policy extends to SAT Subject Tests. Each school has its own specific policy, so check out the websites of colleges you are considering.
Our General Advice
At Cardinal Education, we generally recommend that students submit all test scores to every institution regardless of scoring policy. Our reasons are threefold:
- The vast majority of schools make their primary evaluation of standardized test scores by examining applicants’ top scores in each section of the SAT or ACT.
- Students can waste valuable time checking and double-checking Score Choice policies for each institution and also run the risk of making a mistake while trying to employ a strategy that will have negligible effects on their ultimate admissions decision.
- The Common Application only has one area for reporting SAT/ACT scores. If you are trying to send all of your scores to one college while simultaneously withholding some scores from another college, you will have to submit multiple Common Apps, which dramatically increases the chances of making an error.
When to Make Exceptions
There are certain situations where Score Choice can prove extremely valuable.
- Some students improve their SAT or ACT scores so significantly after receiving private tutoring that there are major discrepancies between testing dates.
- Similarly, many students take SAT Subject Tests for which they are ill-prepared and end up with disappointing results.
If you find yourself in either of those situations, a careful use of Score Choice could give your application a boost. However, most students will be best served by resisting the urge to tinker with Score Choice and simply submitting all of their scores. Regardless of what tack you take with submitting your scores, your best bet is to be well-prepared for the exams. If you are applying to highly competitive colleges and are interested in using Score Choice, you should consult a professional college counselor to help you with the decision and to verify that you have not made any errors.
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