Several weeks ago in "SAT vs. ACT: Choose Wisely," I discussed the ACT's growing prominence as a premier college entrance exam. Until two years ago, one of the supposed advantages for students taking the ACT was the test's score reporting policy. Unlike the SAT, students had the option of sending only their best score, so a bad test day could be remedied by re-taking the exam. The College Board, which develops the SAT, took note of the shift and instituted a similar score reporting policy in 2009 branded, "Score Choice." The Board claims that the new feature is "designed to reduce student stress and improve the test-day experience." Score Choice does, in fact, reduce stress, but it also invites an increase in the number of times that students take the test, which, in turn, has invited a flood of critical commentary.
Since the College Board's policy change, the admission-conscious public has consistently cried foul play, claiming Score Choice allows the wealthy to pay for unlimited tests, giving their children an unfair advantage. The argument continues that more testing encourages more professionally guided test preparation -- another luxury of the wealthy. The paranoia and anger are understandable, but in reality, a little-understood fact is that the score reporting policy of the SAT or, for that matter, the ACT is of little consequence.
The College Board may have Score Choice and the ACT may offer a similar score-selection policy, but colleges and universities still dictate score use. Approximately one third require all scores be sent regardless of the SAT or ACT policies regarding score selection. Furthermore, there appears to be no correlation between an institution's prestige and its score-use policies. Some of the most selective colleges and universities require all scores be sent while others do not. Harvard applicants are free to use score selection, but students applying to Yale must send all of their scores. Schools that allow the use of score selection may, if applicants choose to submit all of their scores anyway, use a score selection of their own making; school policy may be to select the best score-set date or mix and match the best sections from tests taken on different dates, creating what is informally known as a "super score." Schools that require all scores may also use only the best score-set date or the "super score."
In any case, according to many college counselors, university and college admission officers are negatively inclined toward a student who takes the ACT or SAT more than twice: lots of tests can indicate lots of test prep. Adding to the discussion, Laura Clark, Director of College Counseling at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, said in en email: "Admission officers feel that students are better served by spending time on other more substantial activities like reading, extra curriculars and almost anything else."
So, the revelation of multiple score sets can work against a student. Conversely, score selection could provide an unfair advantage to privileged, excessively tutored students, but only if they were to take the SAT or ACT three or more times and apply only to those schools allowing score selection. In addition, their highest section scores would all have to occur on the same date since the school would not be able to create a "super score" for them. Students who follow this restricted path may, in fact, also be at a disadvantage.