13 June 2011

Some thoughts on senior year testing

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who actually looked forward to retaking the SAT or the ACT their senior year of high school. You’re sick of studying, sick of standardized testing, want to actually enjoy your vacation, and never want to hear anyone utter the words “College Board” or “ACT” again. Burnout is real, I’m not going to argue. Junior year can be unbelievably hard, and it’s normal to need some time to recover.??That said, however, you may be doing yourself a major disservice by not retaking your senior year.

First, unless you’ve truly aced it the first time around (say 2300+ SAT or 34+ ACT), colleges do want to see what you’re capable of doing around the time you apply. Many people’s scores go up naturally between the spring of their junior year and the fall of their senior year, even without huge amounts of studying, and you don’t want to sell yourself short.

Second, regardless of how sick you are of studying, you need to be realistic about your chances at the colleges you’re seriously considering applying to. If your scores don’t already fall at or above the 50th percentile for those schools, your chances of getting in are significantly reduced; if you’re looking at very competitive schools and are not a recruited athlete, an under-represented minority, or national Intel winner, you should ideally be closer to the 75th percentile.

Admissions officers won’t cut you any slack if they have eight applicants that look very similar to you, and you have the lowest scores of the group.??That doesn’t mean you should drop everything over the summer and spend your entire life trying to pull up your test scores. If you’ve got great scores but nothing else, you won’t get very far at most top schools either.

What it does mean, though, is that even if the thought of even looking at another prep book is enough to push you close to a nervous breakdown, you should take a few weeks or a month off and then reassess. If you do decide to retake, focus on the sections that are most manageable. If you’ve done everything you can with Reading, focus on Writing; if you just need to work on Math, forget everything else (colleges will only take your top scores, even ones that require you to submit everything). Just don’t assume that there’s nothing else you can do.

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