THIRD TIME (OR SECOND) IS THE CHARM: WHY YOU SHOULD TAKE THE SAT/ACT MORE THAN ONCE

All students want to present their best self on their college applications. They’ve worked hard to achieve the best grades possible, been involved in extracurricular activities, and secured glowing recommendations. These pieces of the application puzzle are relatively straightforward. But many students are confused by standardized testing. Should you take the SAT or the ACT? Should you take the test more than once? More than twice? What is super scoring and how can it help your application? What is Score Choice and how is it different from super scoring?

WHAT IS SUPER SCORING?

Super scoring can be super confusing. Colleges have differing policies, and sometimes even departments within a college can vary in their handling of standardized tests.

Super scoring means that a college will consider your highest composite score by taking your highest section scores from multiple tests. For example, let’s say that you take the SAT in October and score a 610 on the Reading & Writing sections and a 620 on the Math sections for a total score of 1230. You then take the SAT again in December and score a 660 on the Reading & Writing sections and a 600 on the Math sections for a total score of 1260. To super score, a college will take the 660 Reading & Writing score from the October test and the 620 Math score from the December test to create a new composite score of 1280 and will use that overall “super score” for the admissions process – and will not typically look at the subsection scores.

There is a variation of the super score that we’ll call ‘super score lite’. Some school policies say that they super score but do not create a new composite score, or that that they do not super score but that they will consider the highest subsection scores from multiple dates. These policies mean that a college will use the subsection scores in the admissions evaluation. Schools could use this additional level of detail to decide between two similar students if the decision is close. Sometimes, students apply for admission to specific colleges within a university, and either the EBRW (Evidence Based Reading & Writing) or Math score is most relevant to that department.

Not all colleges super score, and it is important that you research the policies of the schools in which you’re interested. For information about super scoring policies of popular colleges and universities, see Figure 1.

WHAT IS SCORE CHOICE?

Many schools will permit applicants to submit only the score reports that they wish for the school to see. Consider a student who has taken the ACT three times and achieved the following scores:

Test 1 – Composite score 32 (English 34, Math 34, Reading 35, Science 25)
Test 2 – Composite score 31 (English 30, Math 29, Reading 33, Science 33)
Test 3 – Composite score 31 (English 32, Math 31, Reading 32, Science 29)

If a school allows score choice, the student may decide to only send the scores from Test 1, as it is their highest overall score from a single sitting. If, on the other hand, the school super scores, the student would likely decide to send the reports from Test 1 and Test 2, since super scoring would allow them to use their Science score from Test 2, boosting their Composite to 34. When applying to the most elite schools, the difference between a 32 and a 34 is huge. Again, it is important to understand the policies of your chosen schools in order to make the best decisions about which scores to send. For more information about the score choice policies of popular colleges and universities, see Figure 1.

RETAKING THE SAT AND ACT

You should consider a number of factors when deciding whether to retake the SAT or ACT. Do you feel that your recent scores accurately reflect your abilities? What score will you need to be seriously considered at the colleges of your choice? How much preparation/study did you do before the recent tests? Were there other factors, such as anxiety or sickness, that you feel affected your other results?

Because of the obvious benefits of super scoring and score choice, it is in a student’s best interest to take the SAT/ACT at least twice. It’s all too easy for a student to simply have a single bad test day due to lack of sleep, stress, or other factors. Having a second official score ensures that one bad day or even one bad section of the test will not have undue influence on one’s college application. Research shows that students’ scores tend to increase when they take the test a second time, especially if the students receive specialized test prep tutoring. And those scores often continue to increase with a third sitting. Higher scores can turn a “reach” school into a “target” school. You may also find that you qualify for additional scholarship opportunities with a higher test score.

Though the data clearly indicates the benefits of taking the test more than once, it’s important to know when to stop. Most students see the biggest gains between their first and second tests with additional but less significant gains on a third attempt. Also, while many colleges allow you to send just the score reports you wish for them to see, some schools do require that you send in all score reports. In that situation, more than three sittings could potentially concern admissions officers. It is critical that you research the policies of your selected schools to understand their policies on super scoring and score choice. Students who undertake a guided study plan that focuses on content, strategy, and time management will be in the best position to achieve their highest possible score and should not need more than three sittings.

RankSchoolSuper Score SATSuper Score ACTScore Choice
1Princeton UniversityYESNORECOMMEND ALL
2Harvard UniversityYES (no new composite)NOYES
3Columbia UniversityYESYESYES
4Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyYESYESYES
5Yale UniversityYESYESREQUIRES ALL SCORES
6Stanford UniversityYES (with essay vs without essay)NO (reviews highest subscores)YES
7University of Chicago – ChicagoYESYESRECOMMEND ALL
8University of PennsylvaniaYESYESYES
9Northwestern UniversityYESNOYES
10Duke UniversityYES (reviews highest subscores)YES (reviews highest subscores)YES
11Johns Hopkins UniversityYESYESREQUIRES ALL SCORES
12California Institute of TechnologyYESNO (reviews highest subscores)YES
13Dartmouth CollegeYESNO YES
14Brown UniversityYESYES (reviews highest subscores)YES
15University of Notre DameYESYESYES
16Vanderbilt UniversityYESYESRECOMMEND ALL
17Cornell UniversityYES (reviews highest subscores)YESYES SAT/ REQUIRES ALL ACT
18Rice UniversityYESYES (reviews highest subscores)RECOMMEND ALL
19Washington University in St. LouisYESYESYES
20University of California – Los AngelesNONORECOMMEND ALL
21Emory UniversityYESNORECOMMEND ALL
22University of California – BerkeleyNONOREQUIRES ALL SCORES
23University of Southern CaliforniaYESNO YES
24Georgetown UniversityYESNOREQUIRES ALL SCORES
25Carnegie Mellon UniversityYESNOREQUIRES ALL SCORES
26University of Michigan – Ann ArborYES (reviews highest subscores)YES (reviews highest subscores)YES
27Wake Forest UniversityYESYES (reviews highest subscores)YES
28University of VirginiaYES (reviews highest subscores)YES (reviews highest subscores)YES
29Georgia Institute of TechnologyYESYESRECOMMEND ALL
30New York UniversityYESYESYES
31Tufts UniversityYESYESRECOMMEND ALL
32University of North Carolina at Chapel HillYESYESYES
33University of RochesterYESYESYES
34Univeristy of California – Santa BarbaraNONO RECOMMEND ALL
35University of FloridaYESNOYES
36University of California – IrvineNONO RECOMMEND ALL
37Boston CollegeYESYESYES
38University of California – San DiegoNONO RECOMMEND ALL
39University of California – DavisNONO RECOMMEND ALL
40Boston UniversityYESYESRECOMMEND ALL
41Brandeis UniversityYESNO YES
42Case Western Reserve UniversityYESYESYES
43College of William and MaryYESNO YES
44Northeastern UniversityYESYESYES
45Tulane UniversityYESNO YES
46University of Wisconsin – MadisonNONO RECOMMEND ALL
47Villanova UniversityYESYESRECOMMEND ALL
48University of Illinois – Urbana-ChampaignYES (reviews highest subscores)YES (reviews highest subscores)YES
49University of Texas – AustinNONO RECOMMEND ALL
50Lehigh UniversityYESYESYES
51Pepperdine UniversityYESNOYES
52Rensselaer Polytechnic InstituteYESNOYES
53University of GeorgiaYESYESYES
54Ohio State University – ColumbusNONO YES
55Santa Clara UniversityYESYESYES
56Syracuse UniversityYESYESREQUIRES ALL SCORES
57Florida State UniversityYESYESRECOMMEND ALL
58Pennsylvania State University – University ParkNONO RECOMMEND ALL
59Purdue University – West LafayetteYESYESYES
60University of MiamiYESYESRECOMMEND ALL
61University of PittsburghYESNO RECOMMEND ALL
62Rutgers University – New BrunswickYESNORECOMMEND ALL
63University of Washington – SeattleYESYESYES
64Loyola Marymount UniversityYESNO YES
65Southern Methodist UniversityYESYESYES
66University of ConnecticutYESYESYES
67University of Maryland – College ParkYESYESYES
68University of Massachusetts – AmherstYESYESYES
69Worcester Polytechnic InstituteNONOYES
70Clemson UniversityYESNOYES
71George Washington UniversityYESNORECOMMEND ALL
72Texas A&M University – College StationNONOYES
73University of Minnesota – Twin CitiesNONORECOMMEND ALL
74Fordham UniversityYESYESYES
75Stevens Institute of TechnologyYESYESYES
76Virginia TechYESYESYES
77American UniversityYESNOYES
78Brigham Young University – ProvoNONOYES
79Baylor UniversityYESYESYES
80Binghamton University – SUNYYESYESYES
81Gonzaga UniversityYESYESREQUIRES ALL SCORES
82Indiana University – BloomingtonYESYESYES
83University at Buffalo – SUNYYESNOYES
84Colorado School of MinesNONOYES
85Elon UniversityYESYESREQUIRES ALL SCORES
86Marquette UniversityNONOYES
87Michigan State UniversityNONOYES
88North Carolina State University – RaleighYESYESRECOMMEND ALL
89University of California – Santa CruzNONO RECOMMEND ALL
90University of IowaNONOYES
91Clark UniversityYESYESRECOMMEND ALL
92Miami University – OxfordYESYESRECOMMEND ALL
93Stony Brook University – SUNYYESNORECOMMEND ALL
94University of California – RiversideNONO RECOMMEND ALL
95University of DelawareYESYESRECOMMEND ALL
96University of San DiegoYESNOYES
97Drexel UniversityYESNORECOMMEND ALL
98New Jersey Institute of TechnologyYESNORECOMMEND ALL
99Saint Louis UniversityNONOREQUIRES ALL SCORES?
100Texas Christian UniversityYESYESRECOMMEND ALL