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    Should I Take the SAT/ACT?

    By Zach Skillings

    Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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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 19th, 2024
    Should I Take the SAT/ACT?

    Is the SAT required? It’s a question many students are asking now that a large chunk of U.S. colleges have gone test-optional. At test-optional schools, applicants have the freedom to decide whether they want to include their SAT and/or ACT scores in their applications. As a result, standardized testing is no longer a mandatory part of the college admissions process. But even though exam scores aren’t required at many colleges, you should still consider taking either the SAT or ACT. There are several benefits of taking one or both of these tests, which we’ll cover in this guide. 

    Also see: How to choose a test prep tutor

    Will I be penalized if I don’t submit my test scores? 

    First of all, your application will not be penalized if you choose to exclude your test scores at a test optional school. You’ll receive just as much consideration as the rest of the applicant pool and you’ll still have a fair shot at admission. Without test scores, however, other parts of your application will be scrutinized more heavily. This includes your GPA, extracurriculars, letters of recommendation, awards and achievements, and essays and personal statements. If you choose to exclude your test scores, the rest of your application should be strong enough to demonstrate your potential as a candidate. 

    So, what are the benefits of taking the SAT or ACT?

    These days, standardized testing doesn’t hold nearly as much weight in the college admissions process. But despite the popularity of test-optional policies, there are still some compelling reasons to take the SAT and/or ACT: 

    Win scholarships

    Many colleges, including test-optional ones, rely on SAT and ACT scores to award merit-based scholarships. Additionally, test scores are sometimes required for admission to certain honors programs or majors. And if you plan to transfer colleges at some point in the future, test scores may be a necessary part of this process as well. Be sure to check all scholarship, financial aid, and transfer requirements before making a decision regarding the SAT and ACT. 

    Boost your application 

    Even at test-optional colleges, impressive exam results can go a long way in boosting your chances of admission. They can even help make up for parts of your application that may not be as strong, such as a low GPA. If you’re wondering whether your scores are good enough to report, check the average scores of the schools you’re applying to. If your score meets or exceeds the average score (50th percentile) of students from the previous class, conventional wisdom says that you should send in your results. But if your score falls in the 25th percentile or below, you should probably not report your results. 

    Related: What looks good on college applications?

    Graduate high school 

    Depending on where you live, you may be required to take either the SAT or ACT to graduate high school. Among the states that require the SAT or ACT, the test is sometimes offered for free. Consult your guidance counselor about your school’s testing policies. 

    To test, or not to test…

    Even if all the schools you’re applying to are test-optional, it doesn’t hurt to go ahead and take at least one of the exams. Aside from the cost of the exam(s) and the time you spend studying, there’s really no downside to taking the SAT or ACT. If you do well, you can submit your scores and help your application stand out. Not to mention, you can qualify for scholarships as well. But if you don’t get the score you wanted, there’s no pressure for you to include it in your application. Ultimately, taking the SAT/ACT is a high-reward, low-risk situation. 

    Related: Advice for low test takers

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    Frequently asked questions about whether the SAT/ACT is required

    Do I have to submit my SAT/ACT scores if I do poorly?

    Good news – a school will only see your SAT or ACT score if you submit it. So, although many schools require that you submit a score, you can retake the test if you do poorly and try to raise your score. This means that you shouldn’t have too much anxiety around taking the test; even if you do poorly, you’ve got more chances to improve

    Can I submit a combination of my best scores?

    At some schools, you can submit a combination of your best SAT scores. This is called an SAT Superscore and can lead to a significantly higher overall score. Make sure to research whether this is an option at your schools if you’ve taken the SAT multiple times.

    Do all schools accept SAT and ACT?

    Although a growing number of schools accept both SAT and ACT, some only accept one. Typically, the ACT is more universally accepted. The SAT is most common on the East Coast. Make sure to check the requirements of each school you apply to on the earlier side, so as to ensure that you don’t get caught in a schedule crunch to take a test before your application deadline.

    How many times can I retake the ACT/SAT?

    Typically, you won’t be limited by limits on the overall number of times you take the SAT or ACT. As long as you start taking it early, you will have ample opportunities to retake it. The ACT caps out at 12 times per student, while the SAT has no limit. It is very rare that students reach or even come close to the limit for taking the ACT. Don’t be deterred from taking it by a limit on the number of opportunities you have!

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