From thinking the SAT is the be-all-end-all metric of your college application to believing it’s your only admission option, here are a few common myths about that venerated (and feared) standardized test.
1. The SAT measures intelligence
If your SAT score is not where you want it to be, don’t get down on yourself. The SAT is only a measure of how well you take the SAT, not a measure of how smart you are. Sometimes geniuses get average SAT scores and average students get genius scores. It’s all up to how hard you work at preparing, not how smart you are.
2. Stellar grades yield a high SAT score
Perhaps the biggest mistake that students make when it comes to the SAT is that they let their ego interfere with their SAT score. I can’t tell you how many times a parent has told me that his/her child got a low initial SAT score because the student decided to take the exam without preparing. Both the parent and the child believed that because of the student’s excellent performance in school, he/she would not have a problem scoring well on the SAT. Unfortunately, there is not significant overlap between what you learn in high school and the subjects covered on the SAT.
3. The SAT is less important than your GPA in college admission
Though colleges and universities rank admission components like GPA and test scores differently, for students looking to attend a competitive university, their SAT (or ACT) score is much more important than their GPA. At prestigious universities, acceptance rates are dropping and average test scores are rising. Since almost every applicant already has a high GPA to these prestigious schools, admission officers need another measure to differentiate students’ academic abilities: test scores.
4. You should take the SAT in the spring of junior year
Perhaps the question that parents ask me the most is “When should my child take the SAT?” Well, if you asked this question to a high school counselor, he/she would tell you in the spring of junior year. But this is just “conventional wisdom” that has been passed on from counselor to counselor over the years. The problem with taking the SAT so late into the school year is that most students have AP exams and finals around that time as well. With so much on their plate, they have little time to prepare for the SAT (although, truly, that preparation should be a long-term process). A good strategy is to take the SAT earlier when students have more time and focus to devote to it.
5. The SAT is your only option
You probably already know that the SAT isn’t the only game in town. It’s often listed in conjunction with the ACT as a possible standardized test considered by most colleges. In fact, in recent years, the ACT has just eclipsed the SAT in terms of popularity. But, did you know that a growing number of schools—over 800—are test optional? This means they put a greater emphasis on the other facets of the application when considering students for admission, such as GPA, personal statement, recommendations, etc., not requiring them to send in standardized test scores. Some schools require a graded writing sample in lieu of scores; others will accept scores if students wish to send them, but they will be a supplemental part of the application. These policies vary widely, so be sure to check in on each of the schools you’re considering.