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Boosting Your SAT Score: The Latest SAT Strategy

I was in Minneapolis yesterday giving a couple of speeches about college strategies when I received a text message from my son. Ben was trying to obtain his latest SAT scores from the College Board website and he couldn't remember his password or user name.

I didn't know his sign-on information either so I just paid College Board $12.50 and received his scores over the phone. The fee seemed ridiculous, but Ben and I were eager to get his new scores since he plans to start sending out his college applications this weekend.

This is going to seem silly, but I swear my hand was shaking a bit as a woman recited Ben's scores over the phone. His reading and writing scores had both improved by 10 points, which was nice, but they still weren't great. (Thank goodness that Ben doesn't aspire to be a writer.)

What I was hoping for was a huge score in math, which is my son's strongest subject. Ben had done very well on the math section the first time he took the SAT back in May, but after his second try earlier this month he suspected that he had fared even better. When I heard his latest math score over the phone, I was ecstatic.

I am relieved that my own kids will never have to take that damn SAT again. I am done forever! Good riddance.

I figured this would be a good time, however, to share a strategy to handle SAT scores for the poor souls who still have to deal with this nuisance test.

Teenagers who do better on one SAT than another can now use an option called Score Choice. Earlier this year, the College Board rolled out Score Choice, which allows a student to pick which scores, by test date, to submit to colleges. Ben is going to use this option to turn in his October scores and not his May scores.

Until this year, the College Board forced students to submit all their scores to the colleges where they had applied. This was a drag for kids like my son. Frankly, I never understood why families who pay for the SAT didn't have the power to dictate the scores they wanted sent to schools. Families, after all, enjoy this freedom with the ACT test.

Believe it or not, Score Choice created a huge backlash particularly from high school counselors who argued that giving families score flexibility would hurt low-income kids who are more likely to take the test only once. Critics argue that Score Choice helps affluent families who can pay for their teenagers to take multiple tests.

Here's what I have to say to that argument: The whole standardized testing system is already rigged in favor of affluent students! Study after study suggests that well-off students fare better on theses tests than middle- and low-income teens. And teens whose parents are millionaires earn even higher scores than the merely well off. Is this right? I don't think so, but denying kids the ability to dictate what scores they send to colleges is hardly going to make the system fair.

Affluent students are more likely to enroll in expensive test-prep classes. They also tend to have access to more rigorous high school courses that can better prepare them for the SAT and ACT and more importantly college-level work. Ben did take a test-prep class and he had already finished his first calculus course before he started his senior year in high school.

Penalizing students who can afford to take the test more than once is not the answer. Low-income kids can receive fee waivers when taking the SAT. I know plenty of teens at Ben's school who have gotten waivers so the cost shouldn't even be an issue.

A far better approach would be to lean on colleges and universities to deemphasize these tests for lower income and first-generation teenagers. Now that would make sense.

Further Reading:

How to Survive a Bad SAT Score
How Does Your Teen's SAT Scores Compare?
SAT and ACT Tests: The Dirty Secret
Why Millionaires' Kids Earn Better SAT Scores
SAT Test image by Pink Lemonade.
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