How to Develop a Strategy for Taking the SATs

Let's recap the good news—you now have more flexibility when it comes to your SAT scores and what colleges will actually use to evaluate your application. Ideally, this takes some of the anxiety out of the test-day experience and helps ensure you get a chance to showcase your best performance to the admissions committee.

But with this new set of choices, many students are reporting anxiety over how to think through this decision—should they send one score? All scores? Some scores? Which scores?

The first thing to keep in mind is that most colleges genuinely want to use your highest test score. In fact, most colleges have adopted the College Board's Score Choice policy, which allows students to selectively submit their score(s). Even many schools that have "opted out" of Score Choice have suggested that they will continue to "super score" students' test scores (i.e., take the highest sectional score from each test and combine them). This means that if you're applying to a school that requires all scores to be sent, or if you decide to send multiple test scores on your own, most colleges will not penalize you if one of the test scores in your score history report is below average.

The second thing to remember is that you don't want to spend your entire junior and senior year solely focused on acing admissions tests. Just because you now can choose which score is sent to which school doesn't mean you should treat test day as a practice run. There's a good chance that at least one of the colleges you apply to will ask you to send your entire score history, and more important, you have better things to do during high school than spend your Saturdays taking the SAT over and over and over again.

Rather than focusing on how many times you can perfect your SAT score, we recommend that you select a test date in the winter or spring of your junior year that's at least three months away. Most students take the March or May exams. Register for a date and dedicate time over the following three months to prepare for it. Your goal should be to prepare once, take the test once, get the score you need, and be able to focus on the rest of the application process and the rest of your high-school experience. Many students will take the test a second time in the fall of their senior year and find that the second attempt results in a higher score.

Last, don't forget that admissions tests like the SAT are only one factor in the college-admissions process. While the test scores do play an important role and are something you should take seriously and prepare for, there are also other components that you'll need to make time for during the application process.

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