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Q: Should he take the SAT I again? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Should he take the SAT I again?
Category: Reference, Education and News > Education
Asked by: runningpainter-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 15 Sep 2003 12:31 PDT
Expires: 15 Oct 2003 12:31 PDT
Question ID: 257018
My son has taken the SATs once and received a 1470.  He would like to
go to a most competitive school like Swarthmore or Carlton.  His GPA
is in the A- range, taking all honors and AP courses, the hardest
courses arts and sciences in his school.  My question is should he
take the SAT I again?  If he scores much higher won't he be viewed as
an underachiever in his High School course work because he doesn't
have straight A's?  There is also a chance his score could go down. 
His SAT IIs are 770 Writing, 740 Eng lit and 730 US History.  The
reason I ask is that his HS Guidance counseling says yes take it
again,only upside benefit. His application package coach says no, stay
right where you are the risk of too high or lower scores is a problem.
 Use your time to get good grades this most important semester, the
last big one before he applies.
Subject: Re: Should he take the SAT I again?
Answered By: ephraim-ga on 16 Sep 2003 09:21 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Running Painter,

I'm going to begin this answer by mentioning that I hate standardized
tests with a passion. I can't believe that we as a society have
decided to summarize years of education and training with a test of
just a few hours in length, and which dehumanizes the individual test
taker and applicant. That being said, the fact is that these schools
need some standard of measurement beyond very subjective high school
grades in order to make decisions between the thousands of applicants
that schools get.

Also, based on what you've said in your question, I suspect that
you've already done a good amount of research into how schools view
SAT scores. There's a decent chance that you will have heard most of
this before, but I hope that by providing you with links to facts and
opinions on this subject, that I can at least give you peace of mind.

First, let's look at some published statistical facts.

If your son already has a 1470 on the SAT I, then he's already a
serious contender for all of these schools. According to a chart of
percentiles on the SAT I for yeaar 2000 at [ ], your
son has scored in the top percentiles on the test. Assuming that his
verbal/math scores break down evenly, he's scored in the 97-98% range
on both scores. If his scores are lopsided, there's still no way for
the lower score to be below 90%.

Now, let's compare Swarthmore's published "Average SAT" score to 2 Ivy
League colleges and 2 other top liberal arts colleges:


Swarthmore: Average SAT: 1433


Williams: Average SAT: 1395


Amherst: Average SAT: 1417


Columbia University: Average SAT: 1394


University of Pennsylvania: Average SAT: 1404

(Carleton's information is not available on the Princeton Review site,
and I couldn't find it on a cursory review of Carleton's admissions
web site.)

Now, here's US News and World Report's page on liberal arts college
rankings: [
]. Unfortunately, only the full data for the top two schools (Williams
and Amherst) is posted for free. But, Swarthmore and Carleton are
listed as #3 and #4, which means that they're probably similar.
Williams and Amherst's SAT range for the 25th - 75th percentiles is
1320 - 1510 and 1310 - 1540 respectively. This means that the middle
50% of SAT takers who enrolled at these two schools had scores within
those ranges for 2002. We can take an educated guess that Swarthmore
and Carleton's 25th - 75th percentile ranges are similar to Williams
and Amherst. If we combine this information with the data from the
Princeton Review's site (which claims that Swarthmore's average SAT is
slightly higher than Williams or Amherst), then I'll take an educated
guess that your son has already scored higher than 60% - 70% of the
students enrolled at Swarthmore. (If you want to pay US News and World
Report to see the actual information, you should do so. You can
probably also get the information for free by walking into a library
or bookstore and pulling the book or magazine where they publish this

Note that this 25th - 75th percentile statistic applies to students
who *enrolled* as Freshmen. *not* to all applicants. If we assume that
most rejected applicants had lower SAT scores than the given range,
your son's score moves up further in comparison. (Source: [
] : "SAT/ACT scores. Average test scores on the SAT or ACT of all
enrolled students for the fall 2002 entering class, converted to
percentile scores by using the distribution of all test takers.")

Another short opinionated rant from me: US News and World Report
attempts to rank schools based on a specific (and biased) weighting of
numerical criteria. See their web page if you want details on their
methodology. Despite any claim that these rankings are objective, the
fact is that somebody had to make a very *subjective* decision about
which statistics to include and how to weight them.

A site that provides advice about college admissions, [ ], has the following
to say about taking the SAT for a second time:

"Should I take the SAT more than once?
Many students have been able to improve their SAT scores, especially
if--before re-testing--they take a specialized course that provides
instructions about SAT test-taking strategies. Of course, it is best
to try to learn special SAT test-taking techniques before you take
your first SAT exam. If you receive scores you are not happy with,
consider taking the SAT again. But most likely, taking it again will
only make a positive difference if you study diligently before
re-testing. Explore the possibility of taking an SAT test-preparation
course if you did not take one before your first SAT exam. Or purchase
books that provide you with SAT test-taking strategies. Practice
practice practice! That is the key."

OK, with all that data behind me, now let me summarize and give my
opinion of what all this means for you. Please keep in mind that I'm
not a professional college advisor. I'm just an individual who has
been through this process himself, is currently going through it again
for graduate school, and whose sister was recently admitted to college
after a stressful year of tests and applications.

There's no way that I or anybody else can guarantee that a particular
method of preparing a college application will work for every college.
Admissions staff are human beings also, and they have a difficult task
in sorting through the mile-high pile of applications on their desks.
When I say that they're human beings, what I mean is that they each
bring their own biases and desires to the table when they make those
decisions. If an application reader has a stomach ache when she looks
at your son's application, she may reject his application for no
reason other than the fact that she's in pain. If the application
reader finds out that she's gotten a promotion immediately before she
reads your son's application, she may be inclined to accept him simply
because she's in a good mood. I'm not saying that this is professional
behavior, but it's just something to keep in mind. Luck plays a
certain part in the college admissions game, and trying to "guess" the
frame of mind of the reader is probably a bad idea.

In your question, you do this when you ask "If he scores much higher
won't he be viewed as an underachiever in his High School course work
because he doesn't have straight A's?" I have NOT seen a SINGLE shred
of evidence that an SAT score must EXACTLY correlate with a specific
high school GPA in order for the student to be admitted to prestigious
colleges. The difference between an A and an A- average is almost
meaningless. In high school, I had a teacher who assigned me an A- for
a course instead of an A because my average in the class was 92.9%
instead of 93.0% which was his cut-off! In addition, students who go
to a more competitive high school and who challenge themselves with
difficult courses may have slightly lower averages than somebody who
got straight-As at a less competitive school with easier courses. Most
college admissions readers know this, and they're not expecting a
one-to-one correlation between SAT and GPA. Mind you, they're
expecting them to be close...but if you're already in the 90th
percentile or higher in everything you do, the admissions committee
would have to be composed of complete jerks to call somebody an
"underachiever" because their scores didn't EXACTLY correlate the way
they were expected to. (If the scores are VERY different -- like
somebody who scores a 1500 on the SAT I but has only a C+ high school
average, they might be curious....but in that case, you'd want to send
a written explanation.)

(In case you are wondering -- YES, on first glance an admissions
reader will probably prefer an A over an A-. But if the scores are
generally "in the ballpark" then they'll probably begin taking a
closer look at courses, essays, and recommendations.)

Schools also look at the data differently. Chance does play a factor.
My sister and her friend both applied to the same 2 schools. My sister
had better grades than her friend, but a lower SAT I score. She got
accepted to school #1, but rejected by school #2. Her friend was
rejected by school #1 and accepted at school #2.

A 1470 on the SAT I is a phenomenal score overall, and appears to
place your son in the top half of all enrolled students at the schools
he is considering. Yes, if he can improve his score and get a 1600,
then admissions readers may look at him differently than they do now.
But, what's the chance of that happening?

I recently took a standardized test for graduate school. I practiced
on about 20 "older" tests under real testing conditions. My score on
those 20 practice tests ranged from 80% to 99%. The reason I'm telling
you this is that when your score is already at the very top of the
range, it is much more difficult to consistently score higher. Ask
your son if he really wants to go through the stress of taking the
test again. If he does, give him a few practice exams under real
testing conditions. Is his score noticeably higher? Will he be able to
score similarly under the more stressful conditions of the actual
test? Keep in mind that in the range your son has scored in, 10-20
points probably won't make that much of a difference. What reason do
you have for believing that his score will go up by enough to make the
stress worth it? How will the stress impact his performance on his
grades this semester?

Based on everything above, I would recommend that you allow your son
to focus on other projects this semester, such as his essays,
recommendations, grades, and other things that matter to him. If he
can show consistently that he would score *much* better on the SAT
were he to take it again, it might be worth trying, but only in that

I hope this has been helpful. Please ask for clarification if needed.


Search Strategy:

Statistics taken from well-known college data sites, plus a few
individual searches for information which I did not know the exact URL
runningpainter-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Well thought through and convincing.

Subject: Re: Should he take the SAT I again?
From: nautico-ga on 16 Sep 2003 04:49 PDT
I'm a Carleton grad, class of '61. I've also served as the college's
alumni admissions rep for Florida. I say your son's application
package coach has it right. Forget the second shot at the SAT and
focus now on classroom performance. Given your son's already stellar
scores, I see no compelling need to retake the test in the hopes of
gaining a few points.

Subject: Re: Should he take the SAT I again?
From: nautico-ga on 16 Sep 2003 11:41 PDT
One final comment from one who's taken a wide range of standardized
tests and interviewed numerous candidates for admission to Carleton.
College admissions officers look for tie breakers. In the most
competitive of schools, application readers and admissions decision
makers are presented with so many highly qualified applicants, their
relative desirability separated by the tiniest differences, that they
are happy to have any quantitative data that has at least the
appearance of objective measurement. Although high SAT scores are just
one element of what goes into the admissions decision, it remains one
of the most operative tie breakers, and it means little that some
deplore this fact. When I was a student at Carleton (1957-61), our
president used to say "I want bright well rounded students, but with
some sharp points, so they don't roll off the table." Your son should
emphasize those "sharp points" in his application, those unique
qualities and achievements that he believes make him different and
would, therefore, constitute a distinctive contribution to the
learning environment.

Carleton, BA, '61
Harvard, MPA,'89

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