Your performance on Standardized Tests are an important aspect of your Application, therefore it is an important element of being an Eligible College Student.

Before registering for Standardized Tests, read Important Tip When Registering for Standardized Tests.


All four-year Colleges accept both the SAT or the ACT, which means you have to decide whether you will take the ACT or the SAT, or possibly both, and when you will take the tests. See SAT Prep, ACT PrepSAT vs. ACTWhen Do I Take Which Test? and Deadlines & Timelines to help you make those decisions.

In addition to the SAT, you have to decide whether to take the PSAT and Subject Tests, sometimes called SAT II. See PSAT, SAT I & II, ACT for more information on these tests.


Why do you need to devote time to the PSAT, SAT I, SAT II Subject Tests and/or ACT?

Does money motivate you?

Strong Standardized Test Scores May Lead to Scholarships

It might be the factor that gets you admitted into a school, or it might be the factor that earns you a scholarship. Some Colleges award an automatic full scholarship to National Merit Finalists (NMF), for example.

Your standardized test scores are an important variable in your academic resume for most Colleges. The National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) states that nearly 60% of Colleges rate Admission Test Scores as having Considerable Importance.


It’s important to remember that many highly selective Colleges do not offer Merit Scholarships. If a college is highly selective and offers Merit Scholarships, the competition for those scholarships is so fierce, that unless you are extraordinary in ways beyond grades and test scores, it is unlikely you will be offered a Merit Scholarship.

Does money motivate you?

Merit Scholarships Are Not Available At All Colleges

However, there are many excellent colleges that offer Merit Scholarships, it just might not be the prestigious ivy league college you imagined as your dream school. That doesn’t mean you will receive a lesser education by choosing to attend an excellent College that is offering you a Merit Scholarship, over paying full-ride (minus any financial aid) at a highly selective College that offered you no merit money. To determine whether a College offers merit money, go to their undergraduate admissions webpage and look up the types of aid they offer.

Read Choosing Where to Apply Based on Your Financial Situation to help you understand the nuances of what types of Colleges are most generous with Financial and Merit Aid.


If you do not want to take the SAT or the ACT, there are hundreds of great Colleges that do not require them.  Likewise, if you did not do well on the SAT or ACT, this is a good list of Colleges to consider. The above link also provides information on the benefits to Colleges (diverse student body, for example) who choose to be test-optional. You may decide you prefer the College atmosphere that results from these school’s philosophy, regardless of your test scores.

Fair Test states that more than a quarter of all four-year, accredited institutions are now test optional. This 2015 US News article discusses the ins and outs of applying to test-optional Colleges. It includes advice on how to decide whether to submit your test scores and reminds us that most colleges will require test scores to be considered for merit aid. Some Colleges are test-flexible, requiring a test score (AP, for example), but not necessarily the SAT or ACT.

This Bates College’s 2014 report analyzed student performance data from 33 test-optional schools. There was virtually no difference in either GPA or graduation rates between students who did vs. did not submit test scores.


Most Colleges, however, require the SAT or the ACT. An easy way to estimate how highly a College considers your test scores is to check Type in the name of a school, choose the Admission tab and scroll down to Selection of Students. Many factors that can impact admission are listed, including Standardized Tests. Factors are categorized as either Very Important, Important, Considered or Not Considered. Generally speaking, selective Colleges that take a holistic approach to admissions still heavily weight Standardized Tests.

Why would a holistic admissions College heavily weight GPA and test scores? My theory is what I like to call College Admission’s Publisher Rankings Anxiety.  Simply put, even though the College chooses to take a holistic approach to admissions, they are still worried about how they will be ranked by publications such as the US News & World Report.


There are many websites and books that lists Colleges’ SAT and ACT score range, broken down by test section for each academic year’s incoming Freshman.   For websites that list that information, see Data Mining Resources.  A few list the average score.  Most prefer to list the range of the scores for the middle of the class, meaning those who were in the 25th to 75th percentile for that incoming class.  Keep in mind that if the score range is for a test-optional College, these scores won’t be an accurate reflection of the entire Freshman class, just those who chose to submit their scores.  When you are deciding whether your test score matches you to a particular College, you might decide that if your score is within the 25th-75th percentile, your score is typical of incoming Freshman for that College, sometimes referred to as a “target” school. 

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Don’t oversimplify deciding whether a College is a Safety, Target or Reach College based on test scores and GPA alone.

If your test score is below that range, you might decide that particular College is a “reach” school; if your test score is above that range, you might decide that particular College is a “safety” school. This is a simplistic approach to a complex admissions process. While I think it’s important to compare your test scores to the typical admitted student, your test score is only one of many variables, so it should not be the primary variable in your assessment of a College’s selectivity or your chances for entering that College. Furthermore, you don’t know the background for what might be skewing those scores. Does a particular College emphasize admitting students who are first in their family to attend College, or admitting student athletes? Are they less than straightforward, listing international students’ Math scores but omitting their English scores? Those and many other admissions policies can skew the average test score, as reported to the public. Setting Realistic Goals with Limited Knowledge – The Early Search helps with your initial assessment of your qualifications, when starting to look at Colleges. 

Some Colleges are formulaic in their scholarships, stating if your test score is X, then you automatically qualify for $X scholarship.  If you are curious, type in “X SAT (or ACT) score scholarships” into your internet search engine to get information about which Colleges automatically offer money for that score.  Why would a College do that? To bring up their average test score, which will help rank them higher in publications such as US News & World Report.


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Superscoring benefits some test-takers more than others

Superscoring the SAT and the ACT is now a standard practice for most Colleges. In order to Superscore your test, you submit all of your test scores to a College, and they will take your best score from each section of a particular test (SAT vs. ACT – you can’t combine your scores from each of those tests, say taking your Math score from SAT and your English score from the ACT). So if your Spring Junior Year SAT was 600 Math, 550 Critical Reading and 500 Writing, your total score was 1650. If your Fall Senior Year SAT was 550 Math, 600 Critical Reading and 500 Writing, your total score was also 1650. Colleges that superscore would combine the tests to show your best scores, which would be 600 Math (Junior year) 600 Critical Reading (Senior Year) and 500 Writing (the same for both tests).  You now have a Superscore of 1700. You might be thinking, great, my score went up, but remember, EVERYONE’s Superscore is often higher than their best single test. But a Superscore can be particularly helpful if you did very well or very badly in one section of the test on one of the occasions you sat for the test.

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