The pleasure and peril of Score Choice

Score Choice is a free option you may choose when you register for the SAT or Subject Tests.  It gives you the option to later choose which scores you send to colleges.  If you take the SAT multiple times, you can select which dates to share.  For Subject Tests, you may choose which individual scores to share from each test date, regardless of how many Subject Tests you took on any given test day). If you don’t use Score Choice when you register, when you later ask the College Board to send your test scores to your chosen colleges, you won’t have the option of choosing what to share and what to keep hidden. 

Where Score Choice gets complicated is how colleges use scores.  Some schools look at only your highest SAT score from one test date.  Others will let you combine your highest Math, Critical Reading, and Writing Scores from different test dates.  Some schools require you to submit all of your scores regardless of whether they’ll use your single highest date or a cross section of your best scores.  Some schools apply the same policy to ACT testers, while others do not.  And some schools haven’t even committed to a policy yet.  For the intrepid college researcher, here’s a September 2011 research paper from The College Board explaining Score Choice and listing the current scoring policies of participating colleges and universities.   

So you could register with Score Choice, take the SAT seven times, and later find out that one of your chosen colleges requires you to share all of your scores.  Now Score Choice doesn’t feel so protective of you. 

Here’s some simple advice to make sure you don’t make a Score Choice or testing mistake that will hurt your chances of getting into college, regardless of where you apply.

1. Don’t take the real SAT or ACT just to see how you do.
With or without Score Choice, don’t use the real exams to practice.  This is what the PSAT, PLAN, or a good old-fashioned practice test is for.  It costs money to take the real exam, and it’s hard to predict which colleges will demand to see that score when you apply.  Don’t sit for the real thing unless you’re ready.

2. Prep smarter.
The ideal way to prepare for the SAT or ACT is to spend the least amount of time possible preparing while achieving the best possible results.  Effort is more important than dollars spent on a pricey tutor.  The Princeton Review sells SAT/ACT prep books that teach almost everything you would learn in a more expensive program.  Whether you take a class, get a tutor, take a weekend seminar, or buy a book and teach yourself, the effort has to be there for the prep to work.

3. Don’t take any exam more than three times.
Taking the SAT five or six or nine times is (A) not effective, and (b) crazy.  Take the exam twice, three times at most.  After that, stop and get on with your life.  The law of diminishing returns applies to standardized test prep, and it’s rare for a student to improve after the third try.