With the recent release of the results of last June 7th's SAT administration, I got this text from a client.
"Sir," he excitedly began, "I got a 2040 in my SAT!"
Wonderful, I thought to myself. He had been hoping to break 2000 on his SATs and he did. He had worked hard and deserved to get the reward of a good score. His total score rose almost 150 points from the last time he took the test.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that his achievement, as happy as he and I were about it, is probably not going to change his college prospects all that significantly. Don't get me wrong, a better score is better than a good one any day of the week but I sincerely doubt that his admission prospects to his favorite colleges changed all that much.
What most students (and parents) don't understand is that an SAT score--by itself--will not get a student into a college or university. A higher SAT score--by itself--will not get a student into a more competitive college than he or she would have otherwise been admitted to. I think this misconception is rooted in the admission practices of colleges here in the Philippines. At Philippine colleges, college entrance test results (UPCAT, ACET, etc.) weigh heavily in the admission decision. Therefore, it's sometimes difficult for people here to understand how the SAT can be viewed as anything but absolutely crucial.
The SAT is important but it only acts to support your academic achievement over your years in high school (i.e. you grades). US colleges weight your grades much more heavily than your test scores. If you think about it, it makes sense. Your grades are a (in my opinion, incomplete) reflection of the work you did in four years of high school. The SAT is a reflection of the work you did in four hours on a Saturday morning. Which do you think is a better reflection of what you can really do academically?
Put another way, if you have a B average in high school but did fantastically well on your SAT--let's say you scored a perfect 2400--don't start packing your bags for Harvard or Stanford quite yet. Impressive as your SAT scores are, you will still be judged primarily on your B average. Admission officers may even raise a red flag over this rather large disparity between your grades and your score. If you are so brilliant as to get a perfect score on the SAT, why don't your grades reflect that? Were you lazy or disinterested in class? Or was the school incredibly grade stingy? One or the other, the answer will usually come out in the profile your school will provide or in the recommendations your teachers will write. Closer to home, I know someone who did very well in his SATs (2250) but was still turned down by a couple of top flight US universities. I think it was primarily because of a less than absolutely stellar GPA (3.61).
Students sometimes take the SAT over and over in an attempt to get maybe another hundred points or so and maybe they can get into the next tier of competitive universities. For the reasons I just gave, I think these folks are just wasting their time and money. However, if you took and the test and feel you've underperformed relative to your abilities then by all means, take the test again. What I mean is let's say you have a very high GPA but you had a bad hair day on SAT Saturday and you did not do well at all. In this case, I'd say go ahead and take the test again. But be aware there's a point where the gains you might make in taking yet another time will begin to diminish and sometimes even regress. I would normally not recommend you take the SAT more than twice maybe three times. More than three times and it's a waste of time and money.
I think people get fixated on the SAT because it's in a way very sexy. It's a number. You can get yourself to believe that a high enough number will unlock doors for you. People also think it's the only thing they can do to compensate for any holes they perceive in their grades. High scores will deodorize less than great grades. Not so!
Don't overprepare for the SAT. By all means, know what the test is about and be familiar with the questions. Have a feel for how you will pace yourself over the course of this long exam (almost four hours). Hire a tutor, take a class, or simply buy a review book. I know of students who prepare hours and hours every Saturday of the summer before their senior year. Wow, what an absolute waste of time. I wish the student had spent his time more productively like watching movies with his friends, going outside and playing basketball, or reading a good book.
Or maybe even start writing the first drafts of their college application essay. Now there's something....