Imagine you take the SAT in the fall of junior year and get an awesome Reading score. Your math, unfortunately, is not so great. To bring it up, you study for the next few months and retake the SAT in the spring. Your math score shoots way up, but your Reading actually decreases from what you got in the fall. What do you do?!
Luckily, most colleges have a policy of "superscoring" the SAT, or taking your highest section scores across all dates you took the SAT. Let's break down exactly what superscoring is, why schools do it, and what this means for your SAT game plan.
What is SAT Superscoring?
Superscoring is the policy by which admissions officers consider your highest section scores from any test date you took the SAT. If you take the SAT more than once, then schools that SAT superscore will take your highest Critical Reading score, highest Math score, and highest Writing score. Added together, these scores could potentially add up to a much higher total than what you get on any one sitting.
Consider this example, where you took the SAT three times. On Test 1, you score highly on Reading. You get a strong Math score on Test 2 and a strong Writing score on Test 3. On each individual setting, your composite score is a 1500. But when you superscore? That composite jumps up 600 points to an impressive 2100!
While this is a somewhat extreme example, you can see how this policy could definitely work in your favor, as well as take some of the pressure off any one test. So if you know your colleges will superscore your SAT scores, how can you use this policy to your advantage?
Why Superscoring Matters to You
If your colleges superscore your SAT results, then you don't have to worry about one section score decreasing while another one goes up. Instead, your highest section scores will be valid and will be used when admissions officers consider your application. This can take off pressure and stress when you take the SAT, plus it's another reason why taking the SAT more than once is a good idea.
Students almost always improve their scores when they retake the SAT, especially if they take the time between tests to do serious, focused test prep. If you know that your colleges will superscore your results, then you could potentially "superscore" your own test. In other words, you could focus intensively on one section at a time.
You could devote most of your energies to scoring a great math score on one test date, to Reading on another, and to Writing on the third, for example. This could help space out your studying over time and build up a strong SAT superscore across all the dates you choose to take the test. Not all students have the time or means to take this approach, and it's definitely not the only way to be strategic about taking the SAT.
This policy can be helpful, especially for students who benefit from focusing on one section at a time, but you also want to proceed with caution. I still recommend taking every test seriously. You wouldn't want to completely skip a section, as huge fluctuations could still look strange to admissions officers, not to mention raise red flags to College Board scorers. Plus it would just throw off your whole pacing while taking the test.
Building up your composite score section by section can be a useful, strategic approach to gaining strong SAT scores for your college applications. Just make sure you're going about it in a thoughtful and advantageous way. Of course, you also have to make sure your colleges have this policy of superscoring the SAT.
Which Colleges Superscore the SAT?
Many schools offer SAT superscore, but not all of them. Some schools will look at your highest sitting, while others don't publicize their policies and simply encourage you to send all your scores. Make sure to research your schools' policies before incorporating superscoring into your SAT strategy.
Some popular colleges that SAT superscore are Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Georgetown, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Princeton, University of Chicago, and the University of Connecticut. Cornell and Stanford, on the other hand, are two schools that are vague about their policies, but want you to send all your SAT scores.
If schools don't superscore and don't state a "send all scores" policy, then you might want to consider using Score Choice. This option allows you to choose which score reports to send to your colleges, allowing you to leave one or more out if it has low scores.
Ideally, your schools will superscore your results, as this makes sending your score reports easier and works in your favor. So why do schools look at your SAT scores in this way? Are they just doing it to be nice?
Why Do Schools Superscore the SAT?
Why do colleges have this helpful policy in place? According to Columbia admissions, they're doing their part to reduce test-taking stress. They say, "We are always seeking to give students the greatest opportunity to showcase their academic talents and hoping to make the testing experience as stress-free as possible."
MIT's reasoning is along similar lines: "We do this in order to consider all applicants in their best light." This policy certainly accomplishes these goals, but it likely also benefits the colleges along with the students. By showing that their accepted students have higher SAT scores, colleges can improve their rankings.
Thus superscoring the SAT is beneficial all around. It helps a lot of students show higher SAT scores to schools, and it helps schools show that their students are highly achieving on the SAT. Win-win.
Takeaways About SAT Superscoring
If you're planning to take the SAT more than once, then superscoring is a beneficial policy. If your scores have ups and downs across different dates, then your schools will just look at your highest section scores. Even if they don't, knowing that your schools superscore can take the pressure off of each test date.
You may incorporate this policy into your test prep strategy, if you have the time and means to do so. By studying intensively for one section at a time, you can build up your overall SAT scores over time. Make sure you research the standardized test policies of your colleges well in advance of applications.
If they superscore, then you can take the SAT on various dates throughout high school with a very specific section target score in mind each time. In this way, you can use SAT superscoring to maximize your composite score and present a stellar SAT score on your college applications.
Did you know that schools are increasingly adapting test flexible and test optional policies? Some will accept AP or SAT Subject Tests in lieu of the SAT, while others don't require standardized testing at all. Check out the full list of schools who have eliminated the SAT/ACT completely in the application process.
Are you planning to take the redesigned SAT in 2016? Read our full guide that details the changes and how you can adjust your prep to get ready for the redesign.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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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.