This is an interesting article (it’s a few years old , but still relevant).
*“Generally speaking, the SAT is not very important,” said Marilyn McGrath, director of undergraduate admissions at Harvard College. “It helps us calibrate a student’s grades.”
“We are fully aware that [standardized tests] are not a perfect measure,” McGrath said. “Some people perform very well on exams and others don’t and we understand that.”
McGrath said Harvard looks for a record of excellent performance over time, a requirement a standardized test can’t satisfy.
“You have to have done well in all of the things you put your mind to doing,” McGrath said. “The application should show a record over time of academic success. Without that, it doesn’t make sense to bring a student to Harvard.”
Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions at Duke University also called the SAT “not terribly important.” Duke’s admissions office uses the SAT and grades as one of three pieces in rating a student’s academic credentials, he said.
“We look at the academic credentials (the scores and the grades), what’s in the school profile (what courses the school offers) and what a student takes,” Guttentag said.
Duke then assesses whether the student’s overall academic credentials are competitive within the overall applicant pool.
After a student is deemed academically competitive, the two most important pieces of a student’s application at Duke are the letters of recommendation from the school and the extracurricular activities, Guttentag said.
“We’re looking for evidence of engagement and impact, whether it’s intellectual, social, in the community or in the classroom, those two qualities become very important,” he said.*
I remember reading somewhere that standardized test scores are more important than selective colleges typically admit, but they are less important than applicants think. This supports the idea that once a threshold is passed (which can differ from school to school), a higher score doesn’t really add much to the strength of a candidate’s application.