Republication permitted so long as there is attribution.

Far too many high school guidance counselors give bad SAT advice to seniors. Among the most pernicious is “don’t take the SAT again”. Some will cite a tendency for scores not to go higher on a 3rd or 4th SAT attempt. Nationwide statistics published years ago by the College Board do show only minimal average gains from 3rd time and 4th time testers. Here’s the problem with these statistics: the overall survey masks how the colleges view a “minimal gain”.

All but 20 colleges Super-score (i.e.”Cherry Pick”) the best Math and best Verbal SAT scores. To these colleges a score that’s fifty points improved on reading and forty points worse on math is not 10 points better, but 50 points better! For example:

October Math 630October Reading 530
December Math 590December Reading 580

The College Board reveals this student as a mere +10. Yet, the college admissions committees view this as +50! This student, by concentrating on SAT Verbal alone pulled herself from 1160 to 1210. The guidance counselor who instead talks someone like this out of taking another SAT on the grounds of “not likely to help” has left the student bereft of a score that would have made a difference in likely college offers.

The College Board survey accounts for all SAT testers. Had the statistic been limited to students who studied seriously for that 3rd SAT (as opposed to perfunctorily sitting through the test) it would surely show significant average gains. We say this because our third time testers almost always raise their scores 50 points or more.

The guidance counselor who talks someone out of taking another SAT on “unlikely to help” grounds is probably committing malpractice. There may be emotional reasons to not take a 4th or 5th SAT. There may be a conflict that SAT day falls on the day of a Band trip.  An extra SAT (or ACT) entails at most 10 hours of added prep and 5 hours of testing on another Saturday.  It can make a huge difference in college admission prospects and scholarship awards.  Short of a perfect 1600, there is ALWAYS a possible gain.

Now, let us give some stats from a narrower group than was surveyed by The College Board. Instead, view score increases of some of our students who studied for their third SAT. Our last fifteen students in 2012 showed the following increases on their super-scored SAT Math and Verbal sections:

+80
+20
+60
+50
+110
+60
+90
+60
+100
+50
+20
+60
+110
+90
+50

Only two of the fifteen did not see significant gains (50 points or more). And 20% gained 100 points or more! Even the two with minor gains didn’t hurt themselves. One of them chose to take a fourth test, and added seventy points on top of the twenty. A ninety point gain usually puts a whole new tier of colleges into the “likely admit” category.

Two testing opportunities do not permanently measure a student’s abilities. If the first test came with little prep, and the second test was taken under sub-optimal conditions (testing with a head cold, for example), there is every reason to believe the third test will be significantly better.

Finally those who counsel against senior year testing might not be giving weight to what we think is VERY weighty: saving money. Colleges that award scholarships typically allow the February ACT and even the March SAT to come into account. A student who can test 100 points higher during the winter of senior year is thus saving the family thousands, even tens-of-thousands at some universities. Remember, in a high tax bracket, saving $40,000 over 4 years is like earning $60,000. Too many counselors forget this in their advice.