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How much does the ACT and SAT really count?
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Okay so now that I'm a senior this year, I'm kind of freaking out. I have almost a 3.9 unweighted GPA, but I did less than desirable on the ACT(24 whereas the average for my dream school is a 30). With that comes my main question: How much do these tests really affect your admission? I have a decent-sized amount of extracurricular under my belt, but with the pandemic, I don't know when I'm going to retake the ACT or take the SAT for the first time. I would like to know your experiences!

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Many top schools now test-optional so you should check to see if your dream school has changed it's test policies. With a high GPA like that, you should consider alternative colleges that might have been out of reach before because many of those colleges are now test-optional or test blind. If your dream college is not test-optional, you need to hunker down and hit the books for either the AUG, SEPT test dates and take 10+ practice ACT tests and study and review every question you got wrong. Getting from a 24 to a 30 is many times easier than getting from a 30 to a 36. You don't need to be perfect, you just need to know how to take the test better with more precision and accuracy with extra time to review your answers.

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How much does the ACT and SAT really count?

I would definitely consider retaking the ACT to get a higher score, but if you still don’t score a 30 or higher, just know that colleges accept students with a range of scores and 30 is just an average. While scores are important to the admissions process, they aren’t everything. As long as you have a score close to 30, and you can compensate with an above-average GPA, you shouldn’t worry too much.

P.S. Maybe try taking the SAT? Some people do better on it than the ACT.

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Personally, I did much better on the SAT than on the ACT, but that's different for everyone. If you take the ACT again, they are starting to offer superscoring options this fall, meaning you can pick the highest score from each section both times you've taken it and combine them to help give you a higher overall score. If you decide to take the SAT for the first time, I highly recommend using Khan Academy for both math and reading practice, as it uses real test questions (through their partnership with CollegeBoard) and help you figure out what you need to improve using personalized practice. It's also completely free. You also might want to see if the school you want to go to has a test-optional policy for this fall because that could benefit you if you choose not to take either test again.

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I am applying to schools just like you right now. If the school you want to get into has an average ACT of 30 you need to get your score just as high or higher because the school sounds like it is competitive. I recommend looking on the official ACT website and signing up now for the upcoming exam that I believe is in July even with the coronavirus affecting things. If you really want to get into that school then you need to make sure that you fit as many of the requirements as possible plus make sure that you have solid recommendations along with a strong application essay even if the school does not require it. A good essay can sometimes be a deciding factor even if your scores do not match up with the average student.

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They matter significantly. The way academic marks work in admissions—that is to say GPA, course rigor, and test scores—is that schools will have a minimum mark that you need to hit to be considered later on in the admissions process. Some schools will even use algorithms to filter out applications that don't hit those thresholds.

Now these thresholds depend on demographics and location, but if the average for your dream school is 30 and you're at a 24, you're likely at or below it. I would seriously consider taking advantage of test optional admissions policies if this school has instituted them. If not, do your best to either retake the ACT and raise your score or, if you're getting better practice test scores on the SAT, take the SAT for the first time.