To hear the College Board tell it, the SAT score choice makes the SAT less stressful and more balanced. While there’s a grain of truth there, its far from the whole story. In reality, score choice isn’t actually helpful. In fact, colleges don’t want to you use it!
Choosing your highest SAT scores is irrelevant or worse for most schools
Most schools don’t look at every score you send. In fact, the vast majority of them only look at your highest scores on each section across all test dates. The College Board has a list of what colleges’ policies are, so find your schools on that and see for yourself.
Because there are computers sorting through the information, no human being will even see your lower scores at most of those schools. There is no good reason to keep any of your scores from those schools labeled as “highest section” in that list.
In fact, since score choice only effects which dates of the test you send—not which sections—you might actually lower your total score by choosing not to send the results of one test date. Take me, for example. The first time I took the SAT, I got a 700 on the math and a 710 on the verbal (this was right before they changed the format of the test to include writing). So I had a 1410 out of 1600 altogether. The second time I took the test, I got a 720 on the math and a 700 on the verbal. That was my higher overall score, at 1420.
How the SAT Superscore comes into play
What if I’d chosen to only send that score? Well, it would have been lower than the “superscore” from the highest sections that most colleges look at, which was 720 + 710 = 1430. It wasn’t a big gap for me, but it could make a real difference if your scores are a little more varied.
While colleges see all of the SAT scores that you submit, most colleges will look only at your top scores in each section – creating a high score or “superscore”. Taking the SAT twice can help you boost your superscore (especially if you’re stronger in math one day and stronger in verbal another.)
The schools that the SAT score choice would be relevant for specifically ask you not to use it
Look at that list of college policies one more time. You’ll notice that almost every school that doesn’t calculate by highest section score asks for all scores.
There isn’t a single school on there that says “We’ll consider every score you send, but you don’t have to send them all.”
To be fair, you can choose the less honorable path and only send in the scores you want to schools that ask for all of them, and supposedly there’s no way for them to tell. But, personally, if the school says that their admissions “require you to submit all SAT scores,” I’d follow the rules.
Everybody has bad test days
Although it’s supposed to take some of the test stress away, score choice doesn’t really do anything. Yes, if you’re sick on the day of the test, then that score won’t affect your college applications—as long as you take it again and get a better score next time. But that’s always been true. Does anybody believe college admissions offices are so heartless? There have been systems for rooting out the “bad days” all along. Score choice is one more unnecessary source of confusion, so make things easier on yourself. Just send all of your scores to all of your schools. They’ll know what to do with them. And if the SAT has really got you shaking in your boots, then maybe do some serious pondering of SAT vs ACT, as that test may play to your strengths a bit more. Rest assured that all the schools you’ll be applying to have a good grasp of ACT-SAT score conversion. 🙂
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About Lucas Fink
Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.
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