There are a lot of myths about college admission testing. Perhaps the biggest one is that a your SAT scores will get you into a selective university. Trust us, they won't.
If you think a perfect SAT or ACT score is your ticket to admission, you are wrong. A highly selective university will reject literally hundreds of students with perfect SAT scores. Obviously they want students with great scores and great grades, but more importantly, they want to students who are passionate, involved, and contributing. A quick look at the Family Connection scattergrams will show plenty of examples where students with good but not great scores were admitted over those with higher scores. Those students with lower scores spent less time obsessed with SATs and more time having a full high school experience. There are now over 850 four-year colleges in the US where the SAT is completely optional. The list of test optional schools includes well known places like New York University. Colleges have gone test optional because they have found that high school performance is the best predictor for college success - not how a student did on a three hour test on a Saturday.
POSTPONE TAKING THE TESTS
The SAT and ACT are designed for students who are in the second half of grade 11. As more math, English and writing coursework is completed, the vast majority of students will earn higher scores. Waiting to take the tests until the second semester of the junior year is the best strategy. Popular opinion is that scores go up each time you take the ACT or SAT, but research has not found that to be true for many students.
Taking the SAT too many times is counterproductive for a lot of reasons. For some universities, all exams completed in high school must be submitted when you apply. Stanford is one of several colleges which require applicants to self-report and submit all SAT scores and all ACT scores. Dartmouth says, “It is important to keep in mind that how many times you take an exam does reflect in part, your overall allocation of time. How much time are you spending studying for the SAT vs. engaging in academic or intellectual endeavors, or extracurriculars?” Harvard says, “We consider a student's best test scores, but it is generally our experience that taking tests more than twice offers diminishing returns.” In addition to postponing the SAT and ACT, students should only take SAT Subject Tests if they are completing the highest level of a subject and the subject is one of their two or three best academic areas. For students taking SAT Subject Test in both the sophomore and junior year, the sophomore scores are almost always lower. For math, the highest score on the Math II Subject Test is typically early in the senior year. Both the ACT and SAT are designed for students at the end of grade 11 or beginning of grade 12. By waiting until the second half of the junior year to take these tests, students are better prepared and almost always earn a higher score. The PSAT is a practice version of the SAT, but PSAT scores are never reported to a college. Use the PSAT as it was designed - as a free test that can give you a sense of how you will do on the SAT. While a for-profit SAT prep company may encourage you to get started on test prep early, remember, they have a financial incentive to encourage you to take the SAT early and often.