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“You can’t study for the SAT”

Since 1926, the SAT has been used by Universities to decide who gets in. Back then, it was designed to test intelligence. Students could get a good SAT score even if they dropped out of school. Because it was an intelligence test, the conventional wisdom was: “you can’t study for the SAT.”

That old chestnut about studying for the SAT is no longer true. The new SAT is an exam that students should prepare for. Students should also consider taking the exam more than just once.

It’s an achievement test

The SAT has been redesigned (most recently in 2016) to be an achievement test. This means it tests what you learn in school. The College Board even surveys American high school teachers to find out what teachers are teaching in their classes. SAT questions are based on what students are learning in school right now.

Because the SAT is an achievement test, students will get better scores depending on how long they have been in school. A student will score higher when they are a senior, and lower when they are a junior.

But students should not wait until the last minute. Instead of trying to get the best score possible, students should be focused on getting the score they need. If a student wants to go to Harvard, they should keep practicing until they get a 1500+. Starting early can help.

Even students who don’t prepare beforehand will usually score about 30 points higher the second time they take the exam. Deciding what universities to apply to is also simpler when a student has taken the SAT already.

There are a lot of reasons why a student can improve their score dramatically.

  • Timed practice helps: even a disorganized student can improve 40 points or more just by taking at least four timed practice tests.
  • Learning from missed questions helps: a well-organized student who spends time understanding their mistakes can increase their score 50 points or more.

Example schedule for student taking the SAT at least 2 times



Take 1st SAT exam


Get score from 1st SAT exam & choose university programs


Begin "safety" applications
Take 2nd SAT exam


Get score from 2nd SAT exam
Begin "reach" applications


Last chance to take SAT


Deadline for most US university applications

Score Choice and Superscoring

The College Board offers Score Choice to students. That is, when a University allows it and the student has taken the SAT more than once, the student can choose which score to send. The SAT makes this easy to do after your exam is scored. In some cases, students should send all their scores.

Some universities practice Superscoring. A superscore is when the university chooses only the best scores from each section. If a student gets a 700 on the Reading and Writing section in August, and a 690 in October, the university would take the 700 and combine it with their best Math score.

Ivy League Universities SAT score practices, 2021
UniversityScore ChoiceSuperscoring

*Colleges can’t stop you from using Score Choice, but they can require you to send all your scores (this is rare though)

Taking the SAT more than three times

Although policies vary between universities, there are limits many universities apply to multiple SAT scores.

  1. Most universities will not accept an SAT score more than 3 years old
  2. Most universities accept just the last three SAT exams a student takes
  3. Some universities will not accept new SAT scores after a student has taken the exam more than three times in a year

Some students think their SAT score depends on how smart they are. But in reality, every kind of student can improve their score a little. A student who is ambitious and organized can improve their score even further.

For any kind of student, the starting point is deciding what universities they want to apply to. Students can start this process as early as three years before graduating.

As Confucius says, “Plan long ahead if you do not want disappointment at your door.”

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