Feb. 7, 2021
So here's the deal: You're applying to at least one college that superscores, and your superscore happens to be pretty great. But you aren't so happy about your individual test scores on the SAT or ACT. Does that mean you have to retake the test?
While some students may balk at taking the test yet again – due to lack of prep time or lack of funds – Betsy Morgan, MALS, CEP, an independent educational consultant with College Matters in Madison, Conn., believes that students should follow their instincts.
“If a student genuinely feels like one of their subscores is not in line with their transcript and academic ability, my advice is to take the test again. I don't want a student to have a nagging doubt or regret in case they are not admitted to the college of their choice," she says.
There are certainly advantages in retaking the test once or twice. The more you take the test, the more familiar you become with it, which means your score could improve simply because you have less test anxiety and a better test-taking strategy.
If you're hoping to win some merit-based scholarships that require a strong SAT or ACT score, “a higher score may help you financially, regardless of how many times it takes you to get there," points out Sarah Rickelman, MBA, an educational consultant at College Matters.
However, there are always some students who take the SAT or ACT four, five or even six times in hopes of attaining “the perfect score." If you are applying to a college that requires you to submit your entire testing history, the admissions committee will see the numbers of times you have taken the test, as well as every score on every test, Rickelman says. “As a result, taking the test excessively can leave doubts about a student's priorities and/or what is truly important to the student."
Even if your target college doesn't want to see every single test you've ever taken, they may still be able to see your individual scores, depending on how you report your test scores. When you send your official scores directly from the testing agency, your target schools will have access to the individual scores.
“Some colleges utilize software tools that automatically superscore, so they won't necessarily see the individual scores unless they decide to dig deeper. That being said, an admissions officer cannot 'unsee' a low score that appears to be an outlier. Because of this, we often advise our students to think carefully about what scores they decide to submit when score choice is an option," Rickelman explains.
If you choose score choice and select only one test date, all individual scores from that test date are sent to your target college. You cannot hide a low SAT math score and only send the higher SAT reading score.
However, many colleges have started to allow students to self-report test scores on their application, or allow the student's school to send in test scores with (or as a part of) the student transcript. When you self-report your scores, you can often send in just the highest subscore and indicate the date that the test was taken on the college application. The official score report, with all of your scores, won't need to be submitted unless you decide to enroll. If your high school will be sending in your test scores with your transcript, Morgan advises that you check with your school counselor to see how exactly the scores will be reported.
Don't think that you need to drop a school from your list just because of a low individual test score, especially if you've determined that the school is a "match" -- not a “reach" -- school.
“At most colleges, admission is holistic, and the test scores are only one component of the decision to admit or deny. That being said, we always reassess the college list once scores and grades are in to see if it needs further balancing, including additional 'most likely' and 'likely' schools as needed," Morgan explains.
Instead of putting together a strategy when you're already freaking out about colleges viewing your lower individual scores, the smartest move is to have a plan in place long before you have to take the SAT or ACT.
“Understand the testing policies of the colleges to which you are applying, and map out a plan before, or early in, junior year. You should be purposeful about every standardized test that you take. I've had students approach testing in this way: They know what test (SAT or ACT) they are taking, have prepared for that test, and ultimately performed exactly as they had hoped. In that case, they took the test once," she says.
But as always, never forget that you are much more than a single test score or a superscore. Don't waste your precious high school years obsessing over perfect scores or choosing schools based solely on their test policies. College policies can and do change all the time.