As much as people like to view the SAT and ACT as grueling rites of passage or proxy IQ tests, these exams serve one primary purpose: college admissions. Most colleges rely on the SAT and ACT to add context to high school grades, which are themselves far more influential in admissions than test scores. As our nation’s ultimate standardized tests, the SAT and ACT (usually) provide valid, reliable, and fair data that allow comparison of students across the country and the world.
However, the admissions landscape seems to become more complex every year. Some schools have been exploring test-optional, test-flexible, or even test-blind policies. Even the schools that require test scores from all applicants chart individual paths to evaluation. Luckily, while you may feel like there are as many score policies as colleges out there, they all tend to follow three big trends:
SINGLE HIGHEST TEST DATE
Some schools want to see your single highest total SAT or ACT score, regardless of how many times you took either test. Your single highest score is determined by date, which means a student may send, for example, her October test score while hiding her scores from June and December. Students who have tested more than once can take advantage of Score Choice to send only their best test administrations.
More and more schools seem to eschew the single highest test date policy in favor of a more generous commitment to superscoring. Students who want to take advantage of superscoring from multiple test administrations so that admissions staff can construct a superscore, derived from the best scores from each section across multiple tests:
SAT Superscore = best Evidence-based Reading & Writing + best Math (+ best Essay)
ACT Superscore = best English + best Math + best Reading + best Science (+ best Writing)
Some schools will superscore only the SAT or ACT, while others superscore both. Some insane schools will piece together a hybrid superscore from both SAT and ACT scores!
ALL SCORES REQUIRED FOR REVIEW
The trend may surely be leading towards more and more individualized presentation of test scores, but some schools are staying old school. It wasn’t that long ago that colleges would automatically receive every SAT score in a student’s testing record. Even though the College Board finally caught up to ACT in establishing Score Choice, a handful of colleges require applicants to submit scores from every SAT and ACT they’ve taken. While this sounds scary, College Board asserts that these schools take into consideration the highest section scores and pay attention to any improvements made between sections. The truth of that assertion or the consequence for not sending in all official test scores remains a mystery.
While any given student surely has a preferred policy, applicants don’t get to choose how colleges evaluate SAT and ACT scores. The colleges themselves decide how they evaluate test scores, which means that every school sets its own policy. Not only that, but policies can change every year, which means that every applicant needs to do the research or work with someone who does that for them. How do you find learn a school’s SAT and ACT policies?
Whatever your path, do your research early to ensure that your testing plan is informed by the test score policies of your target schools. For example, students targeting schools with Single Highest Test Date policies may choose to stop testing once they hit certain scores, while those going for Superscore schools may continue to test to improve specific SAT or ACT sections. High schoolers considering colleges that want to see all test scores will favor quality over quantity in testing rather than pursuing lots of official tests. The more you know in advance, the smarter your strategy for taking the SAT and ACT will be.