9 Testing Tips for College Applicants

Learn how to manage your test results as you apply to college.

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As the college application process picks up steam, no credential sparks more consternation among applicants than standardized testing. The following are tips for managing your test results as you apply for admission.

1. Consider your options: Review your testing experience to determine which scores (SAT, ACT, or both) you want to send to each school. Every college in the country now uses the SAT and the ACT interchangeably. Submit the set of results that puts you in the most competitive light.

2. Decide which tests you will take this fall: If you have already taken the SAT two times and are disappointed by the results, you might be facing a point of diminishing returns. Consider turning your attention to the ACT. Achieving a respectable score on the ACT means that admissions officers have options with regard to the test results they can use to rationalize offering you a place in their respective classes.

[Get 6 tips for ACT success.]

3. Consider waiting to see the results first: For tests taken this fall, you may want to wait until you have seen the results before deciding to have official score reports sent to colleges. This is an option afforded you through Score Choice by both testing agencies (College Board and ACT) in acknowledgement of the fact that you own the results and can control where they are sent. With Score Choice, you can choose, for a fee, the test results that are to be submitted to each college.

4. Keep the "superscore" in mind: At most colleges, admissions officers will look at the best combination of scores. If you have taken the SAT two to three times, your best Critical Reading score might have come on your third test while your best math score might have come on your second test. In order for colleges to pull results from different test administrations for a "superscore," you will need to submit scores from each. The prevalence of "superscoring" makes Score Choice an unnecessary consideration at most colleges.

[Explore the U.S. News college test prep guide.]

5. Arrange for test results to be sent directly to schools: Colleges strongly prefer to receive SAT and ACT test results directly from the testing services. Make arrangements with the appropriate testing service to have your results sent directly to the colleges to which you are applying. If you are electing the Score Choice option, you will need to designate the date(s) of the test administration(s) for which you want scores submitted.

6. Find out which colleges require SAT Subject Tests: Some will require specific tests while others simply indicate that you must submit a certain number of test results for subjects that you may choose.

[Learn 9 tips for SAT success.]

7. Submit your college applications: Don't hold off on submitting your applications for admission until you have all of the results from tests to be taken this fall or winter. You shouldn't have to report actual scores on your applications. As long as you register with the testing service to have your scores sent to the colleges in question, the results of fall testing will be forwarded automatically to those colleges within two to three weeks.

8. Consider test-optional opportunities: Compare your results with the range of scores reported for each test-optional college. If your scores fall in the bottom 50 percent of the score ranges, logic would suggest that you elect not to submit your scores, as they will do nothing to enhance your application. A complete list of test-optional colleges can be found online at The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest).

9. Choose colleges at which your testing profile is a good fit: Remember, colleges are fond of reporting high scores for their entering classes. Target schools where your scores are in the top 25 percent of those reported for enrolled students—they will establish you as a viable candidate. The further your scores fall below the midpoint of the reported range of scores at a college, the less likely you will be admitted at that college.


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