Previously, we showed how the SAT and ACT are not the deciding factor of whether or not Princeton or the University of Michigan accepts you. Low scores can keep you out of your dream university, but high (even perfect) scores in and of themselves won’t get you in.
That said, we know you still care about standardized tests and given that it’s still a part of the college application, here we’re going to help you take care of business and make it one fewer thing you have to worry about.
Since good test scores are “necessary but not sufficient,” your goal should be to get scores that are “strong enough” and quickly move on to bigger and better things with your time.
Repetition, not intelligence
One proven way to improve your score on the SAT is repetition. As it’s not a test that measures raw intelligence, the more you are familiar with the ins and outs of the test and its structure, the better your performance on it will be (even if you don’t become smarter or more knowledgeable about the world). Often times, especially in the math section, students know all the right answers, but they run out of time.
It’s like how the same golfer playing at Pebble Beach for the tenth time will perform much better than his first time there. Of course, he can make a 10-foot putt on any flat, indoor surface. But he’ll have a much higher chance of making that same putt on a real course if he’s familiar with how the wind and slope influence that part of the course, and that comes with experience.
With all of the test prep resources that are available today (many of them free), get your practice repetitions in. There are no more excuses.
Spend your time on the real battleground areas instead
What’s “strong enough?” Obviously, look into whatever schools you are targeting and see what the averages are. Get within that range so it becomes irrelevant in college admissions officers’ evaluations of you and other applicants.
Why do you think presidential candidates don’t campaign in California but they do in Florida (even though California is worth more electoral votes)? Because California was going to vote Democrat no matter what, whereas Florida was a battleground or “swing” state so it could have gone either way. The same thing applies to the college admissions process. By getting “strong enough” test scores and grades, we eliminate them from being the “swing” states for admission into the most competitive universities.
Now that we’ve made other criteria the battleground, all your efforts should be put into developing your strengths in those areas that matter to colleges and promoting that. In other words, focus your energy on the things that will make a difference for your college acceptance chances while everyone else is still wasting their time and money on SAT prep and worrying about things like “Can I get into Harvard with a 1520 and 4.0 GPA?” or “Will my 5 AP courses look good to Columbia?”