How Many Times Should You Take the SAT?

I dealt with this question in my Sept. 13th post “The College Hunt.”  Before ScoreChoice was implemented, this was a much simpler question, yet I still heard/read all sorts of conflicting advice.  I hope that some common sense will help out.

First, let me get some history out of the way.  Before ScoreChoice, it was definitely NOT a good idea to take the SAT more than twice, except under special circumstances.  Plenty of college advisers gave advice to the contrary; you can still find some of that wrong advice on the web.  So how can I say so confidently that these experts were wrong?  Because I consulted some very knowledgeable experts whose opinions I trusted.  One was a college admissions expert who personally visited every major campus in the U.S.

Students in McClurg

Image by Sewanee: The University of the South via Flickr

After all, college admissions are decided by college admissions officers (duh!).  So, if you’re a guidance counselor and you want to be sure you have correct information about the admissions process, consult those officers, and not just fellow counselors, journals, etc.

But as I mentioned in my earlier post, ScoreChoice changes things.  If you get to choose which scores to send to a college, you can take the SAT as many times as you want and an admissions office won’t know it (or care).  But things can get dicey when you’re applying to several colleges, only some of which accept ScoreChoice.

I imagine that many schools that do reject ScoreChoice (i.e. require you to send all scores) are more forgiving of multiple-SAT-takers than they used to be.  After all, they know you might want to take the test 3 – 5 times to help yourself get into other schools that do allow ScoreChoice.  Notice that I used the words “I imagine.”  I DO NOT have sufficient information to make a definitive statement about this.  It just makes sense to me that some admissions officers will be more progressive in light of the new rules, while others cling to their old ways and penalize students who take the SAT more than twice.

So what’s a poor student to do?  I could present a load of links to web articles with conflicting information, but I’ll refrain (for one thing, over half of the articles I found have no dates, so one can’t even tell whether or not they were written before ScoreChoice was permitted).  Fortunately, there is a truly simple, logical solution:  Decide where you want to apply early on (sophomore year isn’t too soon), and contact the admissions offices about their policies (you can do this by phone, or in person if you visit a campus).  Surprise – almost all admissions officers will be happy to give you this information!

And then, when you have definitive information, you can formulate your best application strategy.  Suppose you plan to apply to 6 schools, and 4 of them accept ScoreChoice.  You call the admissions offices at the other 2 colleges, and are informed that one doesn’t mind if you take lots of SATS, but the other frowns on the practice.  But the college with the strictest policy is also your first choice!  Well, one possibility would be to take one SAT in the spring of your junior year, and another in October of your senior year.  Then you could apply Early Decision to your top choice, take the SAT again in November and/or December, and apply for standard admission at the other schools.

So get the facts, and get ‘em early.

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3 comments on “How Many Times Should You Take the SAT?

  1. Good article about ScoreChoice and a topic tutors are constantly asked about. As a tutor, I get asked the same question over and over again. Nice job summing up the topic.

    Do you think the true purpose behind ScoreChoice is to make the College Board more money?

  2. College Guru says:

    Students can leave Score Choice at the door by taking the SAT once in junior year and the ACT once in junior year. This will give the student an idea which test to take during senior year, and only send either the SAT or ACT without seeming obssessed with standardized testing.

  3. Thank you College Guru. While what you said is true, I would point out that most students can determine whether the SAT or the ACT is right for them by taking a practice version of each. Furthermore, many students will not optimize their chances of admission if they only take the SAT (or ACT) twice.

    While I agree that taking entrance exams many times is tantamount to “seeming obssessed with standardized testing,” the fact is that it’s in the best interests of many students to do just that. Painful, but practical.

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