In the fall of my junior year, we were sent to homeroom to collect our PSAT scores, and it was impossible to keep the results private. “What did you get?” everyone wanted to know, already comparing themselves to friends, classmates, famous people, and the “average student profile” on the websites of their prospective colleges.
The questions didn’t stop when I got home from school. My extended family, friends’ parents, and neighbors were eager to know my scores. It started to seem like my PSAT scores would determine my SAT scores, which would determine the college I went to, which would determine my GRE scores, which would determine my entire life. Spoiler alert: They didn’t, at least not to that degree. But back then, I didn’t know that.
Once the PSAT was said and done, the only natural thing to do was to look ahead to the next tests. Would I do well? What if I didn’t? Would I get into college? The stress about my test scores consumed me. In 2007, I took the ACT, twice sat for the SAT, took two SAT Subject Tests, and prepared for the AP tests I’d take the following May. Not to brag, but that year was the least rewarding, most stressful year of my life.
Don’t get me wrong: Doing your best on standardized tests is important, but it’s not everything. No one gets into college based solely on their test scores. Admissions committees want to see that you challenge yourself in difficult classes, have improved your grades over time, contribute to the school community, and care about something outside of the classroom. They are looking for volunteer work, extracurricular interests, athletic and musical talent—anything that shows you are a real person, not a test-taking robot.
That’s great news, folks.
For students who don’t feel like their test scores accurately represent who they are as a student:
You aren’t alone. Your test score is actually one of the least interesting things about you, and many admissions committees are willing to tip the scales in your favor if you can prove you’d contribute to academic and campus life in other ways.
Let’s say you’ve taken the SAT two or three times and your score is still lower than you’d like it to be. If you want to take the test again, talk to your guidance counselor. He or she might be able to recommend study materials that better suit your learning style. If you’re over it, however, focus on what you can better control and other ways you can stand out as a competitive college applicant, like these:
- Introduce yourself to your guidance counselor
- Take an after-school job
- Get involved in a youth group at your community center or church
- Switch into an advanced class in your best subject
- Take a course at your local college over the summer
- Read for fun
- Join a school club
- Give your résumé a makeover
- Practice an instrument
- Train for a race
- Go out for the school play
- Play a sport
- Ask your teachers for recommendation letters early
- Join the book club at your local library
- Submit an article or poem to your school newspaper or magazine
- Brainstorm ideas for your college essay
For students who still feel anxious about their test scores:
I’m here now, standing nine years on the other side of standardized tests. I don’t remember which of my friends scored highest on the test. Heck, I don’t even remember my own score. In fact, I don’t remember my College Board account info, so I can’t access my score if I wanted to. Not one person has asked me how I did on the SAT or ACT since I was a senior in high school. No employer, friend, partner, or college classmate has ever cared to know.
Sure, it’s important to take the tests seriously and do your best. But more than anything, it’s just important to have a score so that you can apply to some of the many colleges that require it. After you apply, you’ll never think about the SAT or ACT again. I promise.
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