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Do you ever wonder whether colleges can actually see how many times you've taken the SAT? Maybe you imagine admissions officers as the SAT Police, running extensive academic background checks or calling up the College Board to ask about your test-taking history. (Don’t worry, they’re not).
The competitive nature of college admissions has left many students curious about how their test-taking history impacts their chances of getting accepted into an Ivy League university. In this article, we’ll break down SAT scoring policies and discuss how they impact your college applications. We'll examine the pros and cons of multiple test attempts and empower you with the knowledge you need to strategically approach the SAT.
The SAT is a standardized test widely used by colleges and universities in the United States as part of their admissions process. It is designed to assess a student's readiness for college-level academics and provide colleges with a standardized measure to compare applicants.
Fun fact: The acronym SAT was once short for Scholastic Aptitude Test, and later, Scholastic Assessment Test. Now, it stands for nothing at all!
Many colleges consider the SAT scores alongside other factors, such as high school GPA, extracurricular activities, essays, and recommendation letters, to make admissions decisions. While the SAT is just one piece of the puzzle, it can greatly influence the outcome of your college applications.
The SAT provides a standardized metric that helps admissions officers compare students on an equal footing, regardless of the variations in high school curricula and grading scales. A strong SAT score can also enhance your chances of receiving scholarships and other forms of financial aid.
Because of COVID-19, many schools went “test-optional.” This means they don’t require you to send your SAT scores as part of your admissions application. It also means that NOT submitting SAT scores will not hurt your chances of getting in. Many schools are still test-optional as of the 2023-2024 school year. Check your target schools’ websites for their admission requirements.
Given the importance of the SAT in the admissions process, it's natural to wonder whether colleges can see your SAT test history. Let's look into the SAT score reporting policies of colleges and uncover how they handle multiple test attempts.
Colleges have different policies when it comes to SAT score reporting. Some schools require students to submit all their SAT scores. Others allow students to choose which scores to send. It’s crucial to understand the policies of your target colleges to determine how your test-taking history will be considered.
The College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, offers score-reporting options to students. These options include:
1. Score Choice: With Score Choice, students can select which SAT scores they want to send to colleges. This allows you to strategically choose the scores that best represent your abilities and improve your chances of getting admitted.
2. All Scores: Some colleges require students to send all their SAT scores. This means that the colleges will have access to your entire test record, including scores from all the times you have taken the SAT. However, it's important to note that even if a college requires all scores, they may still consider your highest scores or use a process called "superscoring", which we'll discuss in just a moment.
3. Single Highest Sitting: A few colleges only consider your highest SAT scores from a single test sitting. This means that even if you have taken the SAT multiple times, they will only consider the scores from your best performance on a single test day.
Now that we know about the score reporting policies, let's answer the burning question: Does your college actually know how many times you've taken the SAT?
The answer to this question depends on the score reporting policy of the college you’re applying to. If a college requires all scores (or if you choose to send all scores), they will have access to your entire SAT test record — including the number of times you've taken the test.
Before you stress about your test-taking history, remember: colleges evaluate applications holistically. The number of SAT attempts is not a determining factor for admission.
Colleges understand that students may take the SAT multiple times to improve their scores. They typically focus on your highest scores or use a process called superscoring to make admissions decisions.
Colleges use various methods to consider multiple SAT scores during the admissions process. One common approach is superscoring.
Superscoring involves considering the highest section scores across multiple SAT test dates. For example, say you scored higher in the Math section on your second attempt but performed better in the Reading and Writing section on your first attempt. A college that practices superscoring would consider the higher scores from each section, resulting in a higher composite score.
By using superscoring, colleges acknowledge that students have strengths in different areas. They aim to evaluate applicants based on their best performances. This method gives students a fair chance to showcase their abilities even if they didn't achieve their desired scores in a single test sitting.
Note that not all colleges practice superscoring. Some colleges consider your highest scores from a single test sitting. Others take a holistic approach, evaluating all your scores but placing more emphasis on your highest scores.
Pro Tip: Research the SAT score policies of the colleges you are applying to. You can do this by searching “[University Name] Standardized Testing Policy.”
Below is a summary of some of the top universities that require you to submit ALL test scores.
Quote from Georgetown’s website:
“Georgetown does not participate in Score Choice and requires submission of each applicant’s complete testing record, including all SAT, ACT, and/or SAT Subject test scores. We remain firmly committed to a comprehensive and holistic review of all applications, and test scores are considered in their appropriate context.”
Stanford University remains test-optional. If you do choose to submit your SAT scores, you must submit all of them and they will be superscored. Visit Stanford’s website for more information.
Quote from UPenn’s website:
“Score Choice: Although we permit Score Choice, we encourage students to submit their entire testing history for both ACT and SAT exams.”
If you do choose to submit all your scores to UPenn, they use superscoring to evaluate them. They combine your highest score from the Reading and Writing section with your highest Math score to calculate a superscore.
Four of the colleges at Cornell are test-free. The others are test-optional. If you opt to submit your scores, you must submit all of them. Cornell practices superscoring to evaluate standardized test scores.
For specifics on which of Cornell’s colleges are test-free and test-optional, visit their website.
Carnegie Mellon remains test-optional since April 2020. If you do choose to submit your scores, you must submit all of them. They allow superscoring of SAT results but not ACT results. For more information, visit their website.
For a complete list of all colleges that require all SAT scores and how they evaluate your scores, check out this official PDF from College Board.
SAT vs. ACT: How Different Are the Questions?
Retaking the SAT can have both advantages and disadvantages. Let’s weigh these factors before deciding whether to take the test again.
1. Improvement potential: Retaking the SAT gives you an opportunity to improve your scores. With additional preparation and targeted studying, you can work on areas where you didn’t perform as well previously and aim for a higher score.
2. Demonstrating growth: Retaking the SAT and achieving higher scores can showcase your dedication to self-improvement. Colleges appreciate students who strive for excellence and show improvement over time.
3. Superscoring: If your target colleges practice superscoring, retaking the SAT can potentially lead to a higher superscore.
1. Diminishing returns: There may come a point where retaking the SAT does not yield significant score improvements. Before retaking, determine whether further attempts will increase your score enough to benefit your application.
2. Time and effort: Preparing for the SAT requires a significant investment of time and effort. Retaking the SAT means dedicating more hours to studying, taking practice tests, and test preparation courses. Consider whether the time spent on retaking the SAT could be better used on other aspects of your college application.
3. Test anxiety: For some students, the pressure of retaking the SAT can lead to increased test anxiety. If you find that the stress of retaking the test negatively affects your performance or overall well-being, consider whether the potential benefits outweigh the emotional toll.
So, can colleges see how many times you’ve taken the SAT? The answer, like most things in the college admissions process, is: “it depends.”
Some schools remain test-optional. If you choose not to submit your scores, they can’t see how many times you’ve taken the test.
Some test-optional schools require you to submit all your SAT scores — IF you choose to submit scores at all. Many of these schools practice superscoring, where they combine your highest scores from different sections across multiple test attempts.
Other schools allow you to choose the scores you would like to submit, meaning they won’t know how many times you’ve taken the test unless you tell them.
Though great SAT scores can boost your chances of getting into a top university, they are not the be-all-end-all of your application. Colleges evaluate applications holistically, so they won’t depend on any one score or grade to determine whether you get in.