Several schools are going test-optional for applications this fall—here’s why you should still do your best to get a high score

Over 400 colleges and universities have decided to make the SAT and ACT test scores optional for their application, some permanently and others just for the 2020/2021 application cycle. On the list are many of the nation’s top institutions, including all Ivy League universities and several of the best liberal arts colleges. These schools have promised that students will not be penalized in any way if they do not submit test scores, though most will take scores into account if provided. Students that don’t provide scores will be judged on other aspects of their application packet, such as grades and course rigor, and the essay portion will have greater weight. For some institutions, this year represents an opportunity to reevaluate their admissions process and develop a more holistic way to evaluate prospective students, with the hoped-for outcome being increased equity in admissions.

Though the SAT and ACT may be less important for college admissions this year, that doesn’t mean students should disregard tests entirely. There are dozens of scholarships that are either entirely based on ACT/SAT scores or require a minimum score to be eligible. Many schools offer guaranteed scholarships for students scoring above a certain threshold and meeting a GPA requirement. Additionally, many private and merit scholarships also expect high test scores as constitutive of a strong application. High test scores provide students the opportunity to substantially offset the cost of their education.

So, how can you ace the SAT/ACT?

A major part of performing well on standardized tests is to simply be familiar with the format and the set of questions in the different sections. Students should take practice tests and time themselves to accurately simulate the test day experience. Regular practice leading up to the exam will reduce stress and help students develop strategies to complete the test in time and make accurate guesses whenever necessary.

Some important tips to remember:

1. Skip over the hard parts and go back to them at the end

Within each of the timed sections on both the SAT and ACT, there is no obligation to complete the questions in order. Students should pass over questions—or even whole passages—that stump them to ensure that they have time to accumulate points on the easier questions. Neither the SAT or ACT penalizes students for wrong answers, so it’s a good idea to put in a temporary guess when you skip a question. Just be sure to mark the question or page number so you remember to return to it later!

2. Eliminate obviously false answers

Usually, two of the options on multiple choice questions can be eliminated right away. The other two will be more difficult to choose between and will require a closer examination of the questions and any supporting information. Eliminating answers is especially important when students are unable to solve a question completely, either because of time constraints or because they don’t know the right strategy; it allows them to guess with a higher chance of choosing the correct answer.

3. Take notes in the reading section

Jotting down a few quick notes that help make sense of characters, relationships, arguments and counterarguments, or other critical information can prevent a lot of mistakes in the reading section. Notes can also save time by reducing the need to reread large portions of the passage. For example, if students mark down the characters’ names and relationships to each other in a fiction passage, they will be much less likely to get confused when they see a name in a question.

  1. If you are not a quick reader, learn to effectively skim

Skimming and strategic reading take practice to master. The key is to identify the most relevant information in the passage and ignore the rest unless it comes up in a question. For a well structured informative piece of writing topic sentences are a useful guide for the main points and where to find them. For literature pay careful attention to dialogue, mood, and tone. Always annotate as you read so that if you have to refer back to the passage you can spend less time looking for the relevant parts.

Of course, this is far from a complete list. And even with these tips, practice is what is most important. During your time testing your skills make mental notes of what works and what does not. This way, you will be sure to improve. Finally, do reach out and hire expert tutors to make sure you maximize your opportunity to improve your score on test day.

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