Taking Advantage of Score Choice and Super Scoring

As juniors, you may be taking the SAT or ACT several times. Hopefully, you will prep well and get the score you need with just one test. Typically, students will hit their stride after about 2 or 3 real tests, so you will most likely have 2-3 test scores to deal with in your application. Should you send them all to your colleges, or pick the best one? Additionally, will colleges look down on the fact that you took the test multiple times?

General considerations

It’s important to take a step back and consider test scores from an admissions officer’s perspective. The number of applications an admissions office receives is on the increase, but the number of admissions officers for a certain college remains relatively flat. So how do colleges deal with this influx of applicants? Schools will essentially create two hurdles in the admission process- get past the first one, and you can attempt the second. The first hurdle is quantitative; the school takes your test scores and your GPA and converts them into a number that they can use to rank their applicants from high to low. The mid- to high-ranking students pass the first “hurdle” and move on to the second, where officers consider qualitative elements- essay, recommendations, demonstrated interest, etc.

In this light, test scores fit into a relatively hands-off part of the admissions process. Colleges design a computer program that either “cherry picks” the top scores for each section (called “super scoring”) or takes the highest test score. For most colleges, admissions officers only see one test score that the program spits out; only a few selective schools place higher emphasis on the number of tests a student takes and what his/her trends were for those tests.

Should I send all my scores, or just one?

When applying to most colleges and universities, sending all your scores can only help you. The majority of colleges are not interested in looking at multiple test scores and identifying trends in testing. They will consider one test score in your application. By sending all of your scores, you allow colleges to “super score” the SAT and ACT. Colleges take the best sections across multiple test dates and combine them together for a revised composite score. Keep in mind, though, that while most colleges “super score” the SAT, far fewer “super score” the ACT. Make sure to call your institution to see how they use your scores.

There are colleges that care about testing trends, and those institutions ask their applicants to send all their scores. Schools like Cornell and Yale consider trends in testing, so students who take the test multiple times and whose scores vary widely may take a lower place in the applicant pool than students who take the test one time and have a solid score.

How do I know if my college “super scores” the SAT or ACT tests?

Most colleges will super score the SAT, but only a few super score the ACT. For more information on your institutions’ policies, see the College Board’s SAT Score Use Practices List (from 2012) and College Admissions Counseling’s up-to-date list of colleges that super score the ACT.

Should I use the College Board’s 4 free score reports or wait until I receive my scores?

The College Board has several options not offered by the ACT. First of all, students can send up to 4 free score reports (a $45 value) with their registration of a test. You have up to 9 days after a test to update which schools you would like to receive your scores. In light of our previous discussion, if your institution “super scores” the SAT and does not consider testing trends, you’ll definitely want to send your test scores to that school. Take the $45 you saved and treat yourself to half a massage!

The College Board also offers Score Choice, a service whereby you can send only one or more of your tests to a school. If you took three tests, one of which you bombed, you can use Score Choice to send the two good scores to various colleges. Keep in mind, though, that you cannot use the third test for super scoring purposes.

How does ACT’s score sending policy differ from that of the College Board?

The ACT keeps things less complicated than the College Board by providing fewer options. They send one report per test date at a cost of $12. You will need to select each test that you wish to send to colleges. With most colleges that do not super score the ACT, you should send your highest test score. The cost to send scores is much higher for the ACT than the SAT. The ACT requires you to send a separate score for each test to each school. If you were applying to 5 schools and wanted to send 3 test scores (assuming those schools super scored the ACT), you would be paying for 15 different reports at $12 a pop.

Should I cancel a recent SAT/ACT I just took?

If you took an SAT/ACT test and have second thoughts about the results, you can cancel the scores. In light of our previous discussion, if your colleges super score your tests, I would sit tight and see how the scores come back. Many students feel that they did terribly on a test only to find out that their score was much higher than expected. Additionally, a score report from a poor test can give helpful feedback on areas to improve for the next test. If you cancel your scores, you forego the opportunity to see your score report.

The only time I would recommend canceling a test score is if you are applying to a school that requires you to submit all of your test scores, considers test trends, and does not super score. In that case, if you feel confident that your score will not help your application, you might consider canceling the test. In doing so, however, you would forfeit helpful feedback on where to improve.


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