SAT Tip of the Week: How to Best Approach the Superscore

SAT Tip of the Week - FullThe SAT test is the best way to back up your academic aptitude in the current college admissions process. While the SAT may not be reflective of your intelligence level or intellectual prowess, the fact remains that college admission officers use the test as a barometer of candidates’ academic strengths. The reason for this is simple – it’s the one standardized measure that colleges are able to use when comparing candidates. It’s impossible to compare GPA’s across the board when there are a variety of variables at play.

At some schools, honors and Advanced Placement classes are weighted differently. The level of rigor and substance of material can vary widely depending on teachers, schedules, and other intangibles. That is why the SAT is still such an essential part of most college admissions’ committees. There has long been talk of de-emphasizing the SAT, but that remains mostly wishful thinking. For the near future and probably beyond, scoring highly on the SAT plays an essential role in guaranteeing admission into the top Universities. With this knowledge in hand, many students are rightfully concerned about presenting themselves in the most impressive manner possible. This brings up two very important questions:

1. Do colleges look at student’s best performance in one sitting or their “superscore” – a combination of their best scores on individual sections on different dates?
2. If colleges do look at the superscore, how many times should students take the SAT?

Below are answers to these two essential questions:

1. Superscoring, which again is picking your best scores from each section regardless of whether or not they came from the same sitting, is gaining in popularity. This is twofold, colleges want to report a higher SAT average for each incoming class and superscoring allows them to do this. Additionally, the admissions officers who review incoming applications are advocates for each of their applicants. When they go to committee to speak about each student, they are representing and trying to sell that candidate to the university. Having a higher SAT score via superscoring makes college admissions officers’ lives easier. As mentioned, most colleges are moving in this direction so there is a good chance the school you are applying to has a superscoring policy. However, there is a good minority of schools who don’t superscore. These include many large public colleges like the University of California and those in the Texas University System. Additional institutions include Louisiana State, Ohio State, and Pennsylvania State. The best bet for you is to check each individual school’s policy in this regard.

2. If you can superscore, you would reason that taking the test multiple times would help your case. However, this is wrong on many fronts. First, while it is true some schools’ application systems don’t even tell admission officers how many times students take the test, this is not a universal truth. Secondly, your score on certain sections can only go up a certain amount no matter how many times you take the test. The law of diminishing returns begins to take effect after the third or fourth attempt. Score choice is something that is often confused with superscoring. However, they are different. Score choice is the ability to send colleges only select full SAT scores in case one sitting didn’t go well. Most schools accept this, except for a handful of elite universities like Yale, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania. Although this is an option, score choice should not be a justification for taking the test four or five times. This leads to unnecessary anxiety and stress while not having any quantitative rewards. Taking the test two or three times is the recommended amount: it is sufficient to achieve your highest score without taking over your life. Additionally, if a college is able to see how many times you took the test, it will inevitably reflect poorly if they see a student who has taken the SAT five different times.

In summation, take the SAT a couple times (recommended two or three sittings) to present your best profile to colleges. This gives you the chance for a high superscore and to really master the test. Superscoring is a great feature that can only help you in the college admissions process. Take advantage by giving yourself multiple opportunities to ace each section.

Still need to take the SAT? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Jake Davidson is a Mork Family Scholar at USC and enjoys writing for the school paper as well as participating in various clubs. He has been tutoring privately since the age of 15 and is incredibly excited to help students succeed on the SAT.