Advice for Low Test Takers
In 2018, the University of Chicago made waves when they announced that they would not longer be requiring the SAT. This was remarkable because they were one of the first “elite” colleges to eliminate this requirement. Now, during the COVID pandemic, more schools than ever have switched to a “test-optional” model.
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!
Even though testing is important, there are a number of things you can do to have a successful college admissions process:
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
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.
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
As mentioned at the top of the post, there are some FANTASTIC schools that do not require the SAT or ACT. Since the COVID pandemic began, the list of “test-optional” schools grew dramatically. These now include Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale, and a host of state schools, liberal arts schools, and institutions of all types. In fact, 65% of colleges and universities are currently test-optional. You won’t have to look far to find some world-class colleges that won’t ask for test scores.
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. Admissions officers may view your withholding as a sign that you perform poorly. However, at a test-blind school, without the option to submit, no-one is making a statement. If you are a low test-taker, consider applying to test-blind schools.
Wondering which college options are test-blind? Many California Public Schools are currently test-blind, including San Diego State, San Francisco State, Caltech, and the CSU universities. Even UC Berkeley is test-blind for in-state students. In other states, Loyola University New Orleans, Northern Illinois University, The Catholic University of America, University of New England, and Dickinson College are all test-blind. These are all great options for low test-takers.
Here is a full list of test-optional schools in 2021:
- Cal State Fullerton
- Cal Maritime
- California Institute of Technology
- California Polytechnic State University
- Cal State East Bay
- Cal State LA
- Cal State Long Beach
- Cal Poly Pomona
- Cal State San Bernardino
- The Catholic University of America
- Chico State
- CSU Bakersfield
- CSU Channel Islands
- CSU Dominguez Hills
- CSU Monterey Bay
- CSU Northridge
- CSU San Marcos
- CSU Sacramento
- Dickinson College
- Fresno State
- Hampshire College
- Humboldt State
- Loyola University New Orleans
- Northern Illinois University
- San Diego State
- San Francisco State
- San Jose State
- Sonoma State
- Stanislaus State
- UC—Berkeley (for in-state applicants)
- University of New England
Are my test scores worth submitting?
Now that test scores are optional at many schools, you may be wondering whether you are helping or hurting your application by submitting them. 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. Because the test-optional phenomenon is so new, it’s hard to tell how negatively an admissions officer might take an application without scores. They may assume that you got a poor score, or they may think nothing of it at all.
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.
- 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. Colleges are becoming increasingly 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.