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College Admissions: Test Scores

Welcome to Part Two of our college admissions Q&A series!

If you haven’t read Part One yet (which dealt with transcripts, course rigor, and grades), feel free to go check it out.

Test scores are a popular topic in our monthly webinars. As a panelist for our Q&A sessions, I see tons of questions about SATs, ACTs, APs, and SAT Subject Tests. Here is a collection of the most commonly asked questions regarding college admissions and test scores.

Test Scores

When people hear the words “college admissions” and “test scores”, they almost always think, “SAT”. The SAT is one of several tests that high school students should be familiar with when it comes to college admissions. Students should also consider the ACT, SAT Subject Tests, and Advanced Placement (AP) exams.

  • What SAT or ACT score do I need to go to ___________ college?
    This is by far the most common question we receive. There is no specific cut off score to get into a specific college because colleges approach admissions decisions holistically, meaning that they evaluate the student as a whole. Your best bet is to visit the school’s website. Most schools will post a range of scores for the most recently admitted freshman class on their admissions page. Even if your scores fall somewhat below this range, you still have a chance to earn admission because these ranges usually represent the middle 50% of admitted students. A lot of students specifically ask about cut off scores for Ivy League schools or other incredibly selective schools. While there is no “cut off” score, it’s safe to assume that you would need to aim for a score above 2100 on the SAT (or above 32 on the ACT) to be competitive for admission at these schools.


  • Will a bad SAT or ACT score kill my dreams of going to college?
    No! While it’s true that students hoping to earn admission at the most selective colleges will absolutely need top tier SAT or ACT scores, test scores are not the only thing that colleges evaluate when reviewing your application. Can you get into Harvard with a 1700? Probably not (though I suppose it isn’t out of the realm of possibility). Can you get into a great college with a score under 1700? Absolutely — you’ll just have to do your research in order to find the school that best fits your needs, desires, abilities, and qualifications. And if you are scoring below where you need to be in order to get into the college of your dreams, don’t lose hope: These tests aren’t about innate skills – they’re about how well you prepared for the test. With the right test prep, you can probably get your SAT or ACT score up to where you need it to be.


  • Which test should I take: the SAT or the ACT?
    There is no easy answer because some students do better on one test than on the other. The best advice we can offer is to take a practice SAT and a practice ACT and compare your scores. This will give you insight into which test is best suited to your particular skills; then you can focus your test prep efforts on that test. Check out this past article about the tests or view our past webinar, “SAT or ACT: Which Test Is Better for You?”, available on demand in our webinar catalog.


  • How can I boost my SAT or ACT scores?
    These tests are all about preparation. A small handful of students score really well right out of the gate – but most students have to spend months preparing for these tests in order to get the best scores possible. The first thing you have to do is to remember that SAT prep and ACT prep are marathons, not sprints. You can’t cram for these tests because they require a lot of foundational knowledge and testing strategies. Some students do quite well preparing on their own with the aid of a good prep book (for the SAT, go right to the source and get the College Board’s version; for the ACT, use The Real ACT, which is ACT, Inc.’s version). Other students need a little more help, whether through formal prep classes like C2’s or through informal tutoring from a test-talented friend. The best two long-term test prep tips on earth: 1) Read a lot to improve your vocabulary, reading speed, critical reading skills, and writing skills; 2) Practice until you think your eyeballs will fall out if you read one more multiple choice question.


  • What are SAT Subject Tests, why should I bother taking them, and when should I take them?
    SAT Subject Tests are sort of the ugly stepchild of college admissions tests – no one seems to fully understand their purpose. SAT Subject Tests give colleges another way to compare students’ core knowledge; grades are subjective, but test scores aren’t. You can use SAT Subject Tests to show off (in subjects you’re really awesome at) or to make up for a less than perfect grade (if you really study hard for the test). Plus a lot of colleges (especially the most selective ones) require or “recommend” (which is a nice way of saying “require”) two or more SAT Subject Tests. If you choose to take SAT Subject Tests, the best time to do so is in May or June at the end of the year in which you took the class (i.e. you took Chemistry in 10th grade, so you take the test in May or June of 10th grade). For more info on SAT Subject Tests, check out this past post or view our past webinar, “Enhance Your Academic Profile: APs, IBs, and SAT Subject Tests”, available on demand on our webinar catalog.


  • How many AP exams should I take and what scores do I need?
    This is another one where the answer will differ from student to student. Some students choose to take AP exams for subjects that they haven’t taken the corresponding class for; if you’re one of those few students who can prepare for such a rigorous exam alone, go for it (but it’s really, really hard!). As a general rule, though, we suggest that you take the exam for each AP class that you enroll in; with the right preparation, you can do well on the exam even if you’ve struggled in the class. As for scores, in theory a 3 out of 5 is considered passing, but each college sets its own standards. Many colleges require at least a 4, if not a perfect 5, for college credit. Still other colleges, such as Dartmouth, don’t award college credit or have developed their own tests for determining college-level content mastery. To learn more about APs, check out our past webinar, “Enhance Your Academic Profile: APs, IBs, and SAT Subject Tests”, available on demand on our webinar catalog.


For information on webinars, please see the C2 national website, www.c2southlake.com.

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