White hand holding red pencil filling in standardized testing bubble sheet

What Should You Do if You Have a Low SAT or ACT Score?

So you got your SAT or ACT scores back and they weren't what you were hoping for. It's not the end of the world! Here's how to get the high scores you want.

So you took the SAT or ACT and got your scores back…and they were lower than what you were hoping for. It's frustrating, especially since you paid to take the test, invested time in studying, and woke up early to spend a whole Saturday morning taking it. The good thing is that you can retake the test in hopes of a better outcome. Here’s how you can work on getting the high score you were originally hoping for.

Set a goal

First things first: set a realistic goal for what you want to score when you retest. Think of the colleges you want to attend and assess how much you’ll need to improve from your previous score. If you got a 1200 and your dream school’s average SAT score for admitted students is 1210, you have a pretty good chance of meeting or even passing that score. However, it will be much more difficult if you’re off by a few hundred points. Remember, a low SAT or ACT score isn’t the end of the world, and it won’t prevent you from getting into college altogether.

Also, think about how long it will take you to be able to reach your goal: will you be able to retest at the next session, or will it take a few months before you’re ready? Don’t be afraid to take the tests several times to get closer to achieving your goal! Most colleges will look at the best score from each section of the test. The College Board also offers a detailed breakdown of your SAT score with your score range for each section. For example, if you got a 570 on the Math section, your score range would likely be about 540–600. This means that College Board predicts you could score within that range if you were to retest. This is a great way to set a goal as well. So how exactly can you reach your new goal?

Related: Pros and Cons of Retaking the SAT or ACT

Practice

The best way to ensure that you’ll improve your SAT or ACT score is practice. That’s why many schools offer students the chance to take the PSAT to better prepare them for what the actual SAT will be like. There are a plethora of practice tests online and in SAT and ACT prep books that are great for improving your score. For the SAT, I recommend the Official SAT Study Guide. There’s a collection of real SAT tests inside as well as test-taking tips. If you want to study for the SAT online, Khan Academy has some of the best prep for the SAT.

A great ACT prep book is The Official ACT Prep Guide, which comes with practice tests as well as over 400 practice questions available online. The Official ACT website also gives you access to practice questions for each subject on the test. Spend a few nights a week studying, and don’t be afraid to ask for help! In addition, your friends, peers, and teachers are some of your best tools for prepping for the SAT and ACT. Let them help you work through practice tests and answer any questions you may have.

The night before the test

You’ve probably heard all the “test night rituals” a thousand times before, and that’s because they work. The day before the test, you can study a little bit, but don’t cram or overdo it. This is a great time to just chill out, watch a movie, binge-watch Scandal (again), or read a book. You’ve worked hard! Just make sure to get a good night's sleep and get everything ready for the morning. That includes making sure you have at least two #2 pencils, your testing ticket, your ID, and some water. I recommend doing this before you go to sleep so you’re definitely prepared in the morning. Also, make sure to eat breakfast!

Related: Short-Term SAT Prep (or What to Do If Your Test Is This Week)

When you’re taking the test, remember that it’s just that: a test. It does not define your intelligence or what you will be capable of accomplishing in college and beyond. SAT and ACT testing can be intimidating, especially after you’ve already taken them. Just remember that there’s no shame in retaking them! In fact, many students retake the SAT and ACT because they weren’t satisfied with their original scores. Good luck with all of your testing!

For more tips on taking the ACT and SAT, check out our Test Prep section.

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About Tayler Butters

Tayler Butters

Tayler Butters is a high school student with a passion for music, photography, and writing. She loves spending her time in church and with her golden retriever, Lilly.

 

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