Do Standardized Test Scores Matter?

(Part One of a Three-Part Mini-Series on Standardized Testing for College Admission)
Over the past couple of years, this question has become one of the first asked by students and families. How deeply do standardized test scores affect an application strategy, especially with so many schools going test score optional? My answer is, it depends on:

  1. The College
  2. The Test
  3. The Student

Here’s the first of three aspects to consider when navigating the standardized testing leg of the college application journey:

The College

Even if a college says it’s a student’s choice whether or not to submit SAT or ACT stats, double-check the acceptance numbers. In other words, if a school reports that 70% of admits submitted scores and 30% didn’t, I’d encourage a student to submit unless their standardized test scores were very much below a school’s median. What this data — 70% of the students who applied submitted test scores — tells me is that that particular college does like to see scores as part of a student’s dossier.

This past season I had a strong academic student who’d shown “demonstrated interest,” could pay full-freight for tuition and who exhibited more extracurricular depth and breadth than I think I’d ever seen. Her Achilles’ heel was test-taking. I suggested she aim for “One and Done.” I’m not a fan of multiple test sittings or super-scoring. Personally, and I know this sounds Big Brotherly, but I don’t love the fact that multiple test dates and multiple score groupings are stored online linked to a student’s profile. Also, some colleges ask students to submit all test sittings and all scores, which if there are many, doesn’t look good.

I prefer students to prep diligently and strategically, take the test of their choice ONCE and nail their personal best. One suggestion is to visualize a score that the student and their tutor feel is attainable, and, on test day, go and get the job done! Now, I know that doesn’t always happen. But when a student perseverates on a magical score and then repeatedly sits the test, I worry. Number one: testing is exhausting. Number two: I’ve seen GPAs tank.

Assume a student will be submitting scores to all the schools on their college list, prepare to get the desired score in one sitting and remember that most admissions committees regard GPAs as more important criteria than standardized test scores.

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