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Decoding Score Choice: What It Is and What You Should Do About It

Posted in Test Prep on June 24, 2010 by

Cailey Hall is a Content Developer at Knewton

If you’ve spent any time lately trying to sort out the intricacies of the College Board’s SAT Score Choice option, you might have concluded that walking to Russia seems simple in comparison. Although the College Board says it will make your life easier, Score Choice can seem awfully puzzling. Fear not! Knewton is here to explain it and help you sort it all out.

So what, exactly, is Score Choice? It is, most simply, a free option you can select or decline when registering for the SAT. If you choose to say yes to Score Choice, you’ll have control over which SAT scores you want to release to colleges (and scholarship programs). If you say no to Score Choice, the College Board will send all your scores from all the SAT Reasoning and Subject tests you have taken.

“Swell!” you might exclaim (if you’re anachronistic). “What’s wrong with having control over releasing my scores?” Nothing, inherently. The complicating factor is how colleges deal with your SAT scores. Check out this link from the College Board detailing how various colleges evaluate students’ SAT scores. Please keep in mind that the College Board — and Knewton — have the added caveat that a college might have changed its preferences (or might have a slightly more complicated way of evaluating your scores) since the publication of the list and that you should definitely check with the individual college’s admissions office to confirm how they treat SAT scores.

Ignoring subtle nuances, how do colleges treat SAT scores? The options, as presented, are a little convoluted, but generally fall into one of 3 categories:

1) Colleges will consider your highest section scores across all SAT test dates
2) Colleges will consider your highest score from a single sitting
3) Colleges want all your scores

As far as options 1 and 2 go, an extra consideration is that some colleges will only look at your highest section scores across all SAT test dates, or only at your highest single test date score. Other colleges say they will ultimately use your highest section scores or highest single test date score, but that they will also look at all your scores.

And then there are the colleges that require all scores. While there doesn’t seem to be a way for them to definitively know whether or not you are releasing all your scores (if you’re using Score Choice), there are the minor issues of good faith and academic honesty. You never know when being dishonest during the college admissions process might come back to haunt you.

Even amidst the illustrious Ivy League schools, there isn’t much consensus about how they evaluate your scores. Yale, UPenn, Columbia and Cornell want all your scores. Brown and Harvard will consider your highest section scores from across a range of test dates but want to see all your scores. Princeton and Dartmouth will consider only your highest section scores from across a range of test dates, although they still encourage you to send in all your scores.

Now seems an appropriate time to dispel a common myth about Score Choice: it does not allow you to pick and choose your best section scores (ie: critical reading, writing and math) from across a range of test dates to send to colleges. With Score Choice, you have to send all section scores from a single sitting. So don’t plan to go into a test and ace your Math but bomb your Critical Reading. Even if you’re using Score Choice, if you send that test date’s score, colleges will see the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good news is that colleges want you to have the best SAT score possible. It helps them in the all-important rankings, because then their incoming class looks extra smart. So if, for example, you take the SAT and score a 650 Math, 600 Verbal, and 610 Writing (for a total of 1860), and then take it again and score a 620 Math, 660 Verbal and 620 Writing (for a total of 1900), you might be tempted to only release the second score. But that would hurt you with the colleges that evaluate best section scores across a range of test dates, because you did better on the math the first time around. Your “super-score” — resulting from sending in the scores from both test dates — would be 1930. And for the schools that take your best single sitting, you’d have the still very respectable 1900.

The bottom line is: unless you perform with uncharacteristic awfulness on an SAT (and aren’t applying to a college that requires you to send in all your test scores regardless), you are better off not fretting too much about Score Choice and sending in all your scores, allowing colleges evaluate you holistically. Even the colleges that require you to send in all your scores want you to be the strongest candidate possible. What’s good for them is good for you!