Tag Archives: test scores

Grades and Test Scores – How Do I Fix This?

If you feel that your grades and/or test scores are not as good as you would like them to be, there are things you can do to help. Even if you think it’s too late, read on for advice on how to deal with this problem.


Underclassmen (Freshman, Sophomore years)

  • If for whatever reason your grades as an underclassmen are not great, it is not a deal-breaker for a lot of Colleges.
  • Some Colleges don’t even consider Freshman year grades, because they realize that students are adjusting to the rigor of High School.
  • If you can pull up your grades as an upperclassmen, you can compensate for a low GPA. It also make a good story, demonstrating how you overcame obstacles.
  • On the other hand, Freshman year is often the easiest academic High School year. Try to get the best grades you can at the time when it’s easiest to do so, because low grades will have a big impact on your GPA.

Upperclassmen (Junior, Senior years)

  • You should avoid having your grades take a major drop as an upperclassmen.

    C Please Come See Me

    Colleges want you to demonstrate that you can adjust to increased academic rigor with more effort, and hopefully with academic success.

  • Your academic rigor may increase as an upperclassmen, so Colleges won’t be shocked to see a slight drop in your GPA.  But they want to see that “As the going gets tough, the tough get going.” and that you are able to adapt to the challenge of added rigor.
  • Colleges also want to see you maintain your grades after you have applied and even been accepted into a College, so don’t think the last half of your senior year is time to let it all go.


Report Card

Explain any blemishes in your academic record, otherwise the Admissions Officer may incorrectly infer why those blemishes took place.

It’s important to create (not imagine) a narrative that describes your academic journey in High School, particularly if there are blemishes in your academic record.  Did your parents divorce your Sophomore year, making your 2nd semester grades tank?  Did you start working 20+ hours a week starting your Junior year? Did your parent take an evening job, which meant you became your younger siblings’ babysitter from 3-8 each day? If the only thing an Admissions Officer has to review your files is your transcripts, they imagine their own narrative for why your grades were less than stellar.  Even if you don’t have a great reason, be honest and hope they will understand. Try to demonstrate that you have grown from your High School experience.

Check out  Class Rank – Don’t Be Worried!  and Get Good Grades for more information.

Test Scores

Pixabay Test

Explain why your grades and test scores are disparate

The narrative is even more important if you have amazing test scores and weak grades. Most people will assume you didn’t apply yourself in school and/or were lazy about homework. But they will be wondering about your smarts, if you could still manage to pull off high test scores.

Colleges realize that some people are better at taking tests than others. Lots of students have test anxiety, for example. But if you have high grades and low test scores, they will wonder if your school handed out easy A’s, but lacked educational depth.  Don’t let these holes in your academic resume go unexplained.

See Standardized Tests for more information.

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College Admissions’ Publishers Rankings Anxiety

Rankings Publications such as the US News & World Report Best Colleges use primarily non-subjective criteria to rank the best Colleges and their selectivity. This is why holistic Colleges still need to be aware of the profile of the typical admitted student, including their GPA, class rank and test scores. I call this phenomenon Publisher Ranking Anxiety. Do you want evidence of Publisher Ranking Anxiety? Let’s look at Stanford University, which has a reputation for applying a holistic approach to their Admissions. Go to Collegedata.com and type in Stanford in the enter College name box. Choose the Admission tab and scroll down to Selection of Students. Many factors that can impact admission are listed, and factors are categorized as either Very ImportantImportantConsidered or Not Considered.

What factors does Stanford rank as Very Important?
  • Rigor
  • GPA
  • Standardized Tests
  • Class Rank
  • Recommendations
  • Essay
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Particular Talent/Ability
  • Character/Personal Qualities

Even Stanford heavily weights GPA, class rank and test scores.

Colleges that take a holistic approach to College admissions choose to look beyond grades and test scores to assess an applicant’s potential, taking into consideration factors that may have made academic success difficult. Colleges also assess a student’s drive and leadership abilities.

Pixabay Human Head in WirePublisher Ranking Anxiety is my term for why Colleges that choose to take a holistic approach to admissions still focus on factors like test scores and GPA, because they are still worried how they will be ranked by publications such as the US News & World Report.

There was an interesting article in August of 2013 in the NY Times on holistic admissions. The author became an “external reader” for Berkeley, helping rate College applicants on a scale of 1-5. This article confirms what we already know – Admissions is complicated.

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Setting Realistic Expectations with Limited Knowledge – The Early College Search

How do you set realistic expectations for your eligibility at selective Colleges before you have taken Standardized Tests or otherwise demonstrated your academic abilities?

The Early College Search Question You are on top of your College Search. You (or your child) aren’t yet well into your Junior year, but you want to make sure that you are doing all the right things (academics, extracurriculars, etc.) so that you are an Eligible College Student. Or maybe you want to take advantage of a family trip to see some potential Colleges. Excellent! Now what?

Starting Early is Immensely Helpful, but Requires Strategy

Starting Early is Immensely Helpful, but Requires Strategy

The Realistic Search – Many institutions state they use a holistic approach in their admissions process, which means they are looking beyond (not instead of) test scores and grades when considering your application. BUT that doesn’t mean they don’t heavily weigh your test scores and grades when considering your application. At highly selective Colleges, RARE exceptions may be made for a phenomenal athlete, a young Yo Yo Ma, a student who has overcome amazing obstacles or contributed in a spectacular way in their community (no, I don’t mean you went to the Humane Society every week to walk dogs).

If you don’t fit into one of the exceptional categories, you need to be aware that a student that doesn’t match a school’s academic (grades, test scores) profile is less likely to be accepted into that institution. Furthermore, these so-called “reach” schools are much less likely to offer you merit aid. Long story short, be realistic and compare your academic profile to that of a typical accepted student to know whether a particular school is a “safety” “match” or “reach” school. Remember that comparing your academic profile to the typical admitted student as your sole criteria for whether you are likely to be accepted into a College is oversimplifying the Admissions process.

PARENTS: Motivating Your Student by Exposing Them to a Great Institution A great way to motivate your child to do well in High School is to expose them to a great institution that motivates them. I don’t think too many kids would walk on Stanford’s campus and not think, “Wow, I’d like to go here!”. (When my kid said that, I said “I’d like to go here too!”) Downside: if there is no way their academic record or your wallet are going to make that school possible, you may be setting them up for disappointment. On the other hand, never say never when it comes to your child getting into a “reach” school. I think you need to make an educated decision about what schools to expose to your child, as motivation.

Report Card

There are ways you can use your limited knowledge and project some answers to help you target your search.

The Early College Search Answer – You may not be far enough in your high school education to know where you GPA is heading, especially as you might choose to add some more rigorous courses (Honors, AP) into your workload as an upper classmen. And at most, you have only taken the PSAT. But there are ways you can take your limited knowledge and project some answers to help you target your search. And there are many things you should be doing now to make sure you are an Eligible College Student.

Extending Limited Knowledge – This College Board webpage provides information to help analyze your PSAT scores, including a chart to convert Sophomore year PSAT scores to likely Junior year PSAT scores, and a chart to convert Junior year PSAT scores to likely SAT Scores (see Standardized Tests and  When Do I Take Which Tests? if you are thinking “huh?”).  This information is for 2014. If you are looking for the same information for a more current year, type psat to sat conversion chart (and the year) in your internet search engine. Think about how you handle the demands of a more rigorous class and how your extracurricular activities and personal life are impacting your ability to study and apply yourself in class. If you have not been applying yourself, now is a good time to make changes and set goals. A College will be impressed if you bring up your grades after a slow start, even if your overall GPA is not stellar. See Grades and Test Scores – How do I Fix This? if you feel your academic record doesn’t reflect your abilities.

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*** Elligiblecollegestudent.com is a division of Complete Systems, LLC ***