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    Advice for Low Test Takers

    By Will Geiger

    Will Geiger is the co-founder of Scholarships360 and has a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. He is a former Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College where he personally reviewed 10,000 admissions applications and essays. Will also managed the Kenyon College merit scholarship program and served on the financial aid appeals committee. He has also worked as an Associate Director of College Counseling at a high school in New Haven, Connecticut. Will earned his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania and received his undergraduate degree in history from Wake Forest University.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: March 26th, 2024
    Advice for Low Test Takers

    In 2018, the University of Chicago made waves when they announced that they would no longer require the SAT. This was remarkable because they were one of the first “elite” colleges to eliminate this requirement. Then came the Covid-19 Pandemic, and many schools eliminated or paused standardized test requirements. More recently, however, many elite schools are going back to testing requirements, with Yale University one of the first to do so.

    Where we are in 2024 regarding standardized tests for college admissions 

    Yale’s model allows students to submit ACT, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), or SAT test results  As most of us know, the SAT (or ACT) is one of the most terrifying parts of the admissions process for students. With that in mind, we decided to write this guide to help you tackle the admissions process if your test scores don’t accurately reflect you! We are going to focus on the ACT and SAT in this article, but most of the advice covers all testing you might come across. Let’s get started!

    Step 1:

    Retake the SAT or ACT. This is the best option to start with. Most students see a nice jump after retaking the tests (after all, you are able to become more comfortable with the format). You might be able to improve your score if you find the right tutor.

    Related: SAT test dates

    Step 2:

    It is important to understand that test scores are used differently by each college: some colleges count them more, some count them less. For most schools, the primary parts of the application review process are the high school transcript and the test scores. Tools like Naviance and Cappex Scattergrams can help you understand how your grades and test scores will stack up in a specific college’s applicant pool.

    Don’t miss: How to reduce test taking anxiety

    Step 3:

    In your college application essays, focus on your strengths. Many students who struggle with standardized tests excel in other fields. Are you involved in extracurriculars, or have you achieved something you’re especially proud of? If you can center this information in your application, colleges will not be deterred by your test scores.

    When focusing on your strengths, it’s important to make sure that you are putting them front-and-center, and that you are reflecting on them. Make sure to write clearly and concisely. And don’t just tell the colleges about your achievements. Tell them how you have grown as a result, and how they indicate that you will be successful in the future.

    Also see: How to write an essay about yourself

    Related: Complete guide to test-optional schools

    Test optional schools

    Test-optional schools do not require students to send in standardized test scores in order to apply. Rather, the combination of essays, grades, and extracurriculars take the place of the test scores. Usually, this is a positive for students who are hesitant to submit their test scores. However, “test optional” means that students with high scores most likely submit them, so depending on who applies, admission can still be competitive if all things are equal other than scores. Test-blind schools might be the best option for students who want to apply to a true test-free colleges.

    Are my test scores worth submitting?

    Perhaps you are wondering whether you are helping or hurting your application by submitting test scores. The answer is, it depends. Although many schools do not require these tests, it’s hard to tell how an admissions office will react to an application without them. To some extent, this reaction varies school to school and admissions officer to admissions officer.

    One good way to figure out whether your scores are worth submitting is to compare them to the average admitted scores of the school. If your scores are close to or higher than the average, it’s a good idea to submit them. If they are lower than the average score, it may be a tough call.

    You can also compare it to the other facets of your application. If your GPA is extremely strong and your scores are mediocre or poor, consider withholding your scores. However, if your GPA is poor and your test scores paint a better picture, you should submit them.

    Also see: To send or not to send: Should I send my test scores to test-optional colleges?

    Test-blind schools

    Test-blind schools don’t allow test submissions from any student. This is a significant difference from test-optional schools. At a test-optional school, whether you like it or not, you are making a statement by withholding your test scores. At a test-blind school, test scores are not accepted.

    For an updated list of colleges and universities that are either test optional or test-blind, check out

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • If you don’t test well, don’t fret. You have options!
    • You can work towards getting a better test score. That includes getting a tutor and choosing between the SAT and ACT to be your primary goal
    • You can also devote more time and energy into your college essays and extracurricular achievements. There are plenty of colleges that are flexible about test scores, and as a result, highlighting your other prospects is very wise
    • You can apply to test-optional or test-blind schools. Test-optional schools may consider your application differently due to its lack of scores. However, test-blind schools do not collect scores from any student
    • If your test score does not bring your application down, it’s a good idea to submit it at a test-optional school
    Key Takeaways

    Additional resources

    You probably have additional questions about writing for the college admissions process, and Scholarships360 has answers! Read our informative resources on how long your college essays should be and how to end an admissions essay. Learn how to best respond to the “why this college” prompt (example essay included!) and the Common App essay prompts.  Before you start writing  supplemental essays, check out our guide for some tips. Happy writing, and best of luck on your college journey!  Make sure that you apply for all the scholarships you qualify for while you are eligible!

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