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Articles / Applying to College / Why Take the SAT in High School If Middle-School Scores Were Strong?

Why Take the SAT in High School If Middle-School Scores Were Strong?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Oct. 24, 2019
Why Take the SAT in High School If Middle-School Scores Were Strong?


I have read multiple threads about middle school SAT scores, and I have also read the more recent article on this topic. Despite this, I cannot find consistent answers regarding middle school SAT scores. My question is this: If a middle school student scores at or above the SAT 75th percentile for desired schools, then what is the point of taking the exam again in high school? I know universities are a mixed bag in terms of when they want to see scores (Carnegie and Wash U prefer scores from high school), but most schools I've contacted will accept scores within five years of application (not matriculation). My child has a sufficient score from middle school for most of the most competitive schools. I am just wondering whether it is necessary to check the box of taking the exam again in high school. Just a naïve parent here.

Although a student's scores from tests taken within five years will be technically valid at the majority of colleges, you will be doing your child a disservice by submitting only these middle-school results. Why?

For starters, admission officials want to see a picture of who the applicant is now ... not four years ago. In the vast majority of cases, scores achieved by 12- and 13-year-olds will improve when tests are retaken in high school. But puberty can bring the onset of physical and emotional challenges that may derail academic focus and performance. So, by including new test scores with an application, you will assure colleges that your student remains on an upward (or at least even) trajectory.

Similarly, if your child's scores were roughly in the 75th percentile at the colleges you're considering, yet not perfect, the college folks will definitely be interested in seeing what gains he or she has made after several more years of schooling, and it could work against a candidate if this information isn't provided.

In addition, college applicant pools are full of contenders who look very similar on paper (same classes, test scores, even activities). Thus, just because a student's scores are at the high end of a median range, it doesn't guarantee acceptance (even when coupled with top grades). Thus, students should give themselves every possible plus -- including test scores that exceed the median ranges -- when possible.

Moreover, if you are interested in merit scholarships, test results are often the tie-breakers when the dough is doled out, and a few extra points can mean many extra dollars! And, while "The Dean" feels that too much fuss is made over the National Merit Scholarship competition, you do need to be aware that National Merit winners must take the PSAT as juniors along with a confirming recent SAT or ACT.

Of course, if there are extenuating circumstances that make test registration difficult (e.g., your child will be attending school in a place that would require extensive travel to a test site — perhaps out of the country), then a note in the "Additional Information" section of applications could explain why the old scores are being used.

Otherwise, in today's hyper-competitive college climate, relying on middle-school test results could disadvantage an applicant. Sure, it's fine to send the middle school scores as an add-on that would show a history of academic success. But current scores will do a better job of proving that this success has continued.


If you'd like to submit a question to College Confidential, please send it along here.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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