- You didn’t prepare enough (and will now).
- You underperformed (meaning you scored 100 points or more lower than you did on practice tests).
- You’ve only taken it once so far; your score is likely to go up most significantly the second time you take it. If you’ve taken it three or more times, your score is not likely to go up much more.
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Got a Low SAT Score? Here’s What You Should Do
If your SAT scores aren’t as high as you hoped they’d be after taking the test for the first time, don’t panic. Many students are disappointed with their initial scores. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to improve them. Here are four tips for what to do if you’re not happy with your SAT scores.
1. Retake the SAT
The most obvious solution is to retake the test. Many colleges superscore, meaning they’ll take a combination of your highest scores. For example, if you got a 750 on Reading on one test and a 670 on Math on another, and retook the test and got a 710 on Reading and a 740 on Math on that test, then colleges that superscore will combine your 750 (Reading) and 740 (Math) for a combined score of 1490.
However, some colleges don’t superscore—they might consider only your best overall score or take into account all iterations. So be sure to look into the policies of the colleges on your list, so you know what you’re up against. You don’t want to go into the test thinking you don’t have to try hard on one section, since you’re already happy with your score, and then realize that your dream college doesn’t superscore.
If you do decide to retake the SAT, make sure you have reason to believe you’ll do better the next time. Reasons to retake it might include:
Check out Should You Retake the SAT? for more tips.
2. Take the ACT Instead
Many students choose to take both the SAT and the ACT. While these tests measure similar skills, there are some differences that might make your score better on one versus the other. For example, the ACT has a Science section based on data analysis, critical thinking, and reading comprehension, so if these are strong skills for you, you might perform better on the ACT than you did on the SAT. Additionally, you’re allowed to use a calculator on all Math portions of the ACT, as opposed to the SAT, where a calculator is prohibited on some tests.
The essays are the most divergent aspect of the two tests. If you’re adept at thinking on your feet and have strong analytical skills, ACT Writing may be a better choice next to the SAT Essay. Check out Choosing Between the SAT Essay and ACT Writing: How to Decide for more tips on deciding between the two writing components.
3. Figure Out Why You Did Poorly
Did you not practice enough? Did you spend too little time working on weak areas? Did you take too long on a particular section? Figuring out which areas tripped you up will guide your practicing and help you do better next time.
When you prepare for your next sitting, make sure you spend time honing these areas. Take plenty of practice tests, and use more resources, such as phone apps, prep books, Khan Academy, flashcards, and other tools. For more tips on how to prepare, read 6 Things You Can Do Today to Improve Your SAT Score.
You may have just had an off day, but you’ll probably know that when you’re taking the test itself. If something happens while you’re taking the test, such as getting sick or having an emergency, you can always cancel your scores, but you’ll need to decide to do so immediately after the test.
4. Strengthen Other Areas
If you’ve taken the SAT several times and can’t get your scores up, make sure the other aspects of your application of your application are very strong. (This is, of course, true even if you have a great SAT score.) You’ll need to have a stellar GPA and recommendation letters. Your extracurricular shouldn’t just be run-of-the-mill activities like captain of the field hockey team. While there’s nothing wrong with this type of activity, in order to really wow colleges, you’ll need to think outside the box. Start a club or secure an internship in your dream field. Check out Why Colleges Want to See More Than Class President on Your Applications for more tips.
You’ll also need to write a great essay. While you may think your essay doesn’t matter, it could actually make or break your admission decision. And since you need to bolster other aspects of your application to account for weaker SAT scores, your essay should be truly excellent. You can also use it as an opportunity to explain why some aspects of your application may not be as strong—if, for instance, your family circumstances got in the way of schoolwork or you had an illness.
Some schools are testing-optional, but keep in mind that many of these schools still consider scores in their admissions decisions. If you decide not to submit your scores, and another candidate sends high SAT scores, with all other factors being equal, that applicant will be the stronger candidate.
If you didn’t do as well as you wanted or expected, your first step is to figure out what went wrong. Once you’ve spent some time figuring it out, practice (a lot), and retake the test no more than two times (three times total). Try the ACT as well.
If your scores still don’t improve, focus on making sure the other aspects of your application are very strong. Remember: While scores do matter in the admissions process, they aren’t everything. You can still be a strong candidate, even with weaker SAT scores, so don’t throw in the towel!
Check out our SAT guides for more tips.
Looking for some more help for acing the SAT? The CollegeVine SAT Tutoring Program will help you achieve top scores on your test. We’ll pair you with two private tutors, one for English and writing, and one for math and science. All of our tutors have scored in the 99th percentile on the section they are teaching and are chosen based on teaching skills and ability to relate to their students.