Preparing for College

Mixing Old SAT and Revised SAT

Question: I'm confused. My son, a 9th grader, will eventually take the revised SAT. If he takes the PSAT or the old SAT as a warm-up next year, how will colleges use these scores?

It’s not surprising that you’re confused, and if your son is just a freshman and hasn’t begun the college admission process in earnest, steel yourself for far more confusion to come!

In general, colleges pay little or no attention to PSAT results nor to sophomore SAT scores. (More on the latter in a minute.) Thus, even though his “mix and match” testing schedule (i.e., old version followed by the new one) may seem to complicate matters even more, the bottom line is that his target schools will most likely only evaluate his junior and senior tests, regardless of what version is administered and how it differs from previous tests he’s taken. In fact, admission officials typically never even see PSAT scores. The only time they do is if they are printed on a student’s permanent high school transcript, and, even then, they are largely disregarded.

Colleges select the SAT scores they “count” in varying ways. That is, the majority of admission committees take the highest score a student has attained in each area tested, even if those scores come from different test administrations. Some, however, use the highest score from the same test administration. In other words, they take the highest combined score, even if one of the sub-scores (verbal, math, orâ€"on the new testâ€"writing) isn’t the best one achieved overall. A small handful of colleges use only the most recent scores. Sometimes a student actually does better on a sophomore test than on one taken in subsequent years, and colleges may thus count those 10th-grade results when they evaluate that student, but that doesn’t happen very often.

Therefore, it is unlikely that colleges will end up paying attention to your son’s early tests. Keep in mind, too, that thousands of high school students will be making that transitionâ€"from old test version to new oneâ€"along with him, and colleges will be prepared for the change and will look for any inconsistencies this change might engender.

One other reminder: although colleges don’t often use freshman and sophomore SAT I results, for the SAT II, it may be a different story. Are you familiar with these “Subject Tests?” They can be a very important part of a student’s application. If your son is completing any subjects this year or next (i.e., he’s taking a class, like biology, that he won’t take again at a higher level later on), it may be wise for him to take the SAT II in that subject now (or next spring, if that’s when the class will be completed), rather than waiting for junior or senior year. In general, if a student has done well in a class and feels confident in his abilities, he should tackle the SAT II. Not all colleges require the SAT II but most of the elite ones do, and they usually look at the top three SAT II scores. If your son takes a SAT II now, and he doesn’t do very well, he’ll have plenty of opportunity to rack up three better scores in the years ahead.