Know When to Cancel Your SAT, ACT Scores

Avoid canceling your SAT or ACT score unless you are positive you underperformed on test day.

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Don’t risk throwing out a perfectly good SAT or ACT score just because you have short-term paranoia about your test day performance.

Taking the SAT or ACT can be a stressful experience. You study for several months, but you have little control over what will happen on test day. You may get sick, your car might break down or your mind could go blank.

Moreover, once you finish the test and go home, the stress still might not go away. What did that word mean? Did I really understand that reading passage? Did I use the right formula in that math problem? Did I write enough on my essay?

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You may even question your performance to the point where you're seriously considering canceling your scores. If so, there are some ins and outs regarding when and why to cancel your standardized test scores – and why it is usually better not to do so.

The short answer is you should only cancel your SAT or ACT score if you're absolutely sure you did terribly. To officially cancel your scores so that they will not be on any score reports you send to colleges, you must do so before you know how you did on the test itself. You will be doing it blindly.

This is not a decision to be taken lightly and it is probably not something you should decide to do in the stress of the immediate aftermath of the test. It is human nature to think only about the questions you believe you got wrong at the expense of everything you may have done correctly.

Don't risk throwing out a perfectly good score, not to mention the money you spent on the test, just because of short-term paranoia.

With that said, if something happened during the test that makes you 100 percent sure you performed far below your capabilities, you may want to cancel your score. Perhaps you were incredibly ill, had to leave without finishing the exam or filled out the answer sheet incorrectly.

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To truly cancel your scores, you need to act quickly. The SAT offers an option for students to cancel before they even leave the test center.

Both the SAT and the ACT offer options to cancel scores after the fact as well, but you do not have much time to think. To cancel your SAT scores, you must notify the College Board in writing by no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on the first Wednesday following your test day. The ACT allows you to wait until noon CST on the Thursday following your Saturday test date.

While this is the only option for canceling scores, the SAT does offer something called "Score Choice," which lets you limit the scores you send to particular colleges. The ACT will only release the reports from the test dates that you choose.

The short time frames emphasize the point that you should only cancel your scores if you are immediately sure that you did very poorly. Unless something truly out of the ordinary happens on test day, the best thing to do is simply wait for your scores and then go from there.

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If you did better than you thought you would, you have a score that may help you get into your preferred college instead of a hastily canceled score. If you really did as badly as you thought, it is not the end of the world.

Remember that you can always retake the test. Many colleges require you to send your full score reports, but even in this instance, most also say that they will only consider your highest scores.

If there is any chance that you may be wrong about how badly you did on the SAT or ACT, it is better not to cancel your scores right away. Think carefully before you make this decision.

Bradford Holmes is a professional SAT and Latin tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his B.A. from Harvard University and his master's degree from the University of Southern California.