Many college-bound sophomores and juniors will be taking a standardized tests that counts for the first time. A few will score so well, they will not need to take that test again. Most others will likely need to take it at least once more. But how many times is enough?
The answer: it depends.
If you are aiming for anything that requires a minimum score, and you have the grades to qualify, you will need to attain or exceed that score.
In some cases, such as these below, there are usually no exceptions:
Visit the admissions Web pages at the most selective colleges. You will likely see that they do not have “minimum cut-off” standardized test scores for admissions. Speak to their admissions officers. They will not discourage your application. But they will also tell you the scores for the middle 50 percent of the last freshman class. Unless you are being highly recruited for a special talent, diversity or economic status, your chances of being admitted to a school are low if you do not score in that middle range. Low test scores alone will not get you denied. But low scores and a second weakness might.
The flagship public university in your state will likely have a wide range for the middle 50 percent of a freshman class. Rutgers-New Brunswick, for example, had a range between 1190 and 1410 for the class that arrived on campus last year. Rutgers also reports these ranges for each undergraduate school within the university. The 1190 SAT that helped get a student into the Mason Gross School of the Arts is not likely to be high enough to be admitted into the engineering school or the pharmacy school. The Mason Gross applicant was also considered for their artistic talents. Applicants to the business, engineering and pharmacy schools needed to have high math scores. A low score and a second weakness might get you denied at one school within a larger university, but not hurt your application to another.
A school such as Rutgers will not penalize you if you take the ACT or SAT several times to attain the score that you need, as long as your academic record meets their expectations. Your extracurricular resume could put the odds in your favor if it supports your academic interests or has nurtured a very special talent. The most selective schools will not necessary penalize you for taking several tests. But you could compare unfavorably versus your peers who needed to take the standardized test only once or twice. A special talent may help if you have turned out to be very special.
What should you do if you don’t score well on a standardized test the first time?
Again, it depends on where you want to go to college as well as your intended major, and if you are aiming for admissions to a school or program that requires a minimum score.
Athletes who want to compete in college have no choice. The NCAA and the NAIA set minimum scores and GPA requirements. The schools of business, engineering, health professions at many colleges will expect a higher math score than they would for other majors. In these cases it would be wise to work with a tutor. Make sure that you login to the portal for the ACT or the College Board and show the tutor the sections where you struggled on the test. Learn to do better to conquer your weaknesses. Most important, take practice tests under simulated testing conditions.
Is it possible to find schools that are test-optional that will consider you for admissions?
Yes, but you need to make sure that you have the academic record to qualify for admission. Opt to go test optional and you need to show strengths that offset the lack of test scores. You might need to submit graded papers or answer optional essay questions. Artistic applicants might need to audition or submit a portfolio.
Talk to any college admissions director about the ACT or SAT. You will hear doubts about the validity of a standardized test as an indicator for future success in college. But there’s no doubt that many schools use these scores. They use them not only to make admissions decisions, but also to place incoming freshmen into English and Math courses. Otherwise no college would ever require them.
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