Everyone seems into life hacks these days. When looking at college admissions, test prep has always been one of the best ways to hack the system. But the same innate gamesmanship that allows someone to see the dramatic impact of improving scores also breeds an instinct to further optimize that process. Such a person might question what the rest of the world takes for granted. For example, is a perfect SAT or ACT score really the best score for admissions purposes?
On Quora, someone asked the question, “What is the most ridiculous thing a top student has ever said to you?” Kay Aull, an insightful MIT grad, shared his memory of this truly ridiculous rumor:
In high school, there was a rumor going around that it was better to get a 1590 on the SATs, rather than the full 1600, for college admissions. The theory was, someone with a 1590 probably had to work for it, while the 1600 might be smart but lazy.
I knew someone who (claimed to have) deliberately missed a few questions, got the 1590, then sent this score to colleges and then promptly retook (as 1600 looks better for scholarships). I also knew someone else who tried this, but they underestimated the curve, so they got 1600 anyway.
After decades helping students and families navigate the complexities of the SAT and ACT, I’m rarely surprised by how profoundly some people are willing to over-complicate their test strategies. But I want to join the chorus in disavowing the myth that just short of perfect is better than perfect. Even if it was, those hypothetical testing savants, capable of earning EXACTLY the scores they want on test day, should have far more effective and meaningful ways of setting themselves apart in college admissions, don’t you think? If you want to impress, aim for your very best SAT or ACT score on test day.