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How does SAT Superscoring Affect your Test Strategy?


Lots of colleges "superscore" your SAT scores, or take your highest section scores across all your test dates. Besides making your application stronger, this policy can also be valuable for how you approach the SAT. How does it accomplish all this?

Read on to learn how SAT superscoring affects your overall testing strategy. First, what are the major benefits of SAT superscore?


Why Superscoring Really is Super

If the college you're applying to has a policy of superscoring your SAT results, then it will take your highest section scores across all test dates. This means you have nothing to worry about if you have some ups and downs in your scores. It also could help maximize your scores to your highest composite score.

This example illustrates just how much superscoring can affect your composite score across different test dates. This student scored highly on Critical Reading on Test 1, on Math on Test 2, and on Writing on Test 3. This student scored a total of 1500 on each of her test dates, but superscoring allowed her composite score to jump up to an impressive 2100!







Test 1





Test 2





Test 3












This is a somewhat exaggerated example, as hopefully you won't drop 300 points in any section when you retake the SAT. But it shows just how much of an impact superscoring can have. 

It's clear that viewing score reports across different test dates in this way is helpful when you apply to colleges. But stepping back a year or more before your application deadlines, can this policy affect your strategy for taking the SAT in the first place?



Let's get strategic, like a game of human chess!


How SAT Superscoring Affects Your Test Strategy

In general, students who do best on the SAT are the ones who have a plan. They plan how to study for the SAT, when to take it, and how many times to take it. Rather than stumbling onto high scores randomly, they are intentional about all aspects of preparing for and taking the SAT.

As part of this strategic planning, you could use this superscoring policy to your advantage. The first step is researching your colleges' policies towards SAT scores. If the schools you're applying to do superscoring, as many schools do, then you might consider incorporating this into your test plan.

Like your colleges, you could "superscore" your own test by building up your composite scores gradually across different test dates. You might study intensively for math for your first test date to achieve a strong math score. For your next test, you could prep especially for Reading, and then ramp up your Writing prep for the third.

This approach could help focus your studying, as well as take the pressure off of each test. You'd only be aiming for a strong score in one section each time, rather than worrying about performing well in all three sections. In this way, this strategy could help relieve stress, break up the test into manageable chunks, and prevent it from becoming overwhelming.

This plan of building up your composite score across different test sittings means you would take the SAT two, three, or more times. This would involve starting early, at least a year or so ahead of your college deadlines. You could take the SAT first in the fall of junior year, again in the spring, and then for a third time in the fall of junior year.

If you want to leave yourself even more opportunities to test, in case of a fluke testing day or unsatisfactory scores, then you could push this schedule back even further. If you're using superscoring to your advantage, you can see how you'd want to understand your colleges' policies a year or more before you're actually applying to those schools.

If you're reading this and thinking this strategy sounds like something you want to try, you should also be aware of the potential pitfalls of this approach. Before jumping into it, consider this word of caution.



Caution: this strategy could get slippery when peeled.


Word of Caution About This Strategy

Using each SAT test date to focus on scoring highly in one section at a time does not mean ignoring or skipping the other sections completely. This would be an unnecessary risk for several reasons. It could look strange to admissions officers if you have huge fluctuations in your scores from one SAT to the next, for one thing.

Significant ups and downs could also look suspicious to College Board, who are on the lookout for odd activity on score reports. An unexplained decrease or increase of several hundred points between test administrations, especially taken in the same year, could potentially result in your scores being audited, withheld, or even cancelled.

Some change is normal, even expected if you take the time to prep between tests, but you wouldn't want to completely ignore one or two out of the three sections while using this SAT superscoring strategy. Plus it could just throw off your whole pacing of the test, and managing your time is a big part of mastering the SAT.

Building up your section scores can be a useful and effective strategy. Just be careful that you don't take it to the extreme. You could perhaps devote about half your time prepping for one section, while still taking 1/4 of your remaining prep time for the other two sections. I would recommend putting the majority of your study time toward one section of the test when using this strategy, but not all of it.

My other word of caution involves being mindful of the number of times you take the SAT. While you can technically take it as many times as you want, I wouldn't suggest exceeding 6 test administrations. The time and money put toward taking the SAT any more than this would probably be better spent on prepping to achieve the scores you desire in less time. 

By starting early, you should have enough test dates within this range to meet your goals, especially if you have a clear understanding of your colleges' stance on test scores and why superscoring is so helpful. Let's quickly review the most important ways it can work to your advantage.




Major Takeaways for Your Testing Strategy

These are the most important points to remember for your SAT testing strategy:

  • Research your colleges' policies towards SAT scores well in advance of your applications, so you can consider incorporating them into your study plan and testing schedule.
  • If your schools SAT superscore, then you can maximize your composite scores by studying for and gaining a strong score in one section at a time.
  • Avoid taking the SAT more than 6 times, as this time and money could probably be better spent on test prep.
  • Unless your schools require that you send all your scores, then consider using College Board's Score Choice to just send the reports that will give you the highest superscore (Math + Critical Reading + Writing).

By knowing your schools' application requirements, you can take the pressure off of each SAT and prep in a focused way, one section at a time, to gain your strongest SAT scores. Knowledge really is power.


What's Next?

Regardless of whether or not you're building up your SAT scores one section at a time, you want to be mindful about when and how many times you take the test. Read about how to choose the best test dates for your schedule here.

Some colleges no longer require SAT scores, while others let you send Subject Tests or AP scores in lieu of the SAT. See the full list of test optional and test flexible schools here.

Are you wondering how students achieve the elusive 1600 on the SAT? This full scorer explains the strategies and study plan he used to achieve a perfect score.



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Rebecca Safier
About the Author

Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.

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