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Articles / Preparing for College / Dealing with Disappointing SAT Scores

Feb. 7, 2021

Dealing with Disappointing SAT Scores

I used to coach the SAT. One of the things that bothered me most about dealing with my students was seeing the urgency, if not desperation, in their demeanors as they struggled with that (especially back then) slippery, sometimes seemingly arbitrary exam. I think I've mentioned before having read a revealing magazine article about a gathering of societal luminaries who were discussing their college experiences and the SAT. The upshot of the article was that none of these highly accomplished, successful, and even wealthy people would agree to take the SAT again, to see how their life's experience had made them smarter. None would even reveal the scores they got when they took the test as high schoolers. Such is the sometimes irrational stranglehold the SAT wields.

So, what's a struggling high school student to do? The Educational Testing Service would like you to believe that taking the SAT is the only way to climb those Ivy walls. Talk about strangleholds. The ETS has reaped countless millions from this monopolistic exam and dismissed numerous charges that the test is flawed and does not measure what it claims to measure. One telling reaction they made was changing the name of the test from the Scholastic Aptitude Test to the Scholastic Assessment Test, which, in my view, was a tacit admission that the SAT has little to do with aptitude. But I digress.

I found an interesting article that speaks to the issue of SAT-score angst. There are definite, specific approaches that you can incorporate to overcome low scores or, perhaps more sensibly, sidestep the SAT entirely. Here are some excerpts from Cristiana Quinn's article:

... Ways to Overcome Low SAT Scores

May and June SAT results are out, and many students feel a sense of disappointment and anxiety over low scores. Standardized tests are a part of the admissions process, but there are many effective strategies that can help applicants navigate the stormy waters of the SAT. Here are 5 things to consider.

The SAT is coachable

Studies have proven that SAT prep does raise scores. So, if you took a prep class in the winter or spring when you were deluged with class work and sports, consider some private tutoring sessions or self-study this summer when you have less going on. Baron's, Princeton Review and The Collegeboard all publish great books with lots of strategies and practice tests ...

Try the ACT

Although it is less popular on the east coast, the ACT is accepted at ALL 4-year colleges in the US, and it is just as respected as the SAT. It is based more on your coursework in school, and can often be a better test for students who do well academically but have difficulty with standardized tests ...

Consider “Test Optional" colleges

There are more than 800 colleges in the US that do not require you to submit SAT (or ACT) scores. From Bowdoin and Middlebury in New England to DePaul in the Midwest and Pitzer in California, an array of top-notch colleges exist where your scores don't have to affect your admission chances ... For a list of SAT optional colleges, go to www.fairtest.org.

Look for colleges with lower SAT ranges

Not every college requires stellar SAT or ACT scores for admission. If your scores are low and you can't find SAT optional colleges that you like, it's time to look at colleges with a reasonable “mid 50% SAT/ACT range" ...


Of the strategies above, my two favorites are finding test-optional schools and taking the ACT. The ACT is gaining in popularity on the SAT and accommodates the type of student who is more subject knowledgeable, rather than concept capable. Maybe you're that type of student.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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