When opening the results of their SAT or ACT, some students find themselves in the unfortunate situation where they scored lower than expected. This can come as a shock and feelings of frustration and panic can start to set in. This is perfectly normal – the SAT and ACT are big parts of your college application, which can greatly influence the trajectory of your life. It’s easy to feel lost and overwhelmed after receiving this score, so we’ve put together a straightforward guide on steps you can take if you didn’t do as well on the SAT or ACT as you thought.

Step-By-Step Guide If You Get An Unexpectedly Low SAT/ACT Score

Here are six steps you should follow if you received a lower-than-expected SAT or ACT score.

Step 1: Don’t Panic

Receiving a score that you didn’t expect can trigger a range of emotions. You may feel frustration because all the hours you studied seemingly went to waste, or you might feel alarmed that a bad test score could potentially completely ruin your chances of getting into college. Though it’s normal to feel these emotions at first, try to remain calm and levelheaded. Remind yourself that a single test score does not define you as a person or as a student, nor does it mean your chances of going to college are completely done. Once you’ve gotten past the initial shock, and maybe sadness, of opening your score, you can move forward and create a plan to rebound and recover from it.

Step 2: Double-Check Application Requirements

The next important step is to double-check the application requirements of each college you are applying to. It is becoming more and more popular for colleges to turn test-optional, meaning that submitting a SAT or ACT score is no longer required. This will not only help you plan moving forward, but can also help you feel a bit better and more realistic about the situation.

At the end of the day, colleges consider all components of an application to make the decision on whether or not to admit a student. The SAT or ACT is just one part of many factors, which includes your grades and extracurriculars. Some have even begun to argue that the SAT and ACT are starting to have less weight in college applications, hence why a lot of schools are going test-optional. This claim, though, is not for certain, but one thing is for sure – one score will not make or break your application. College admission committees are likely to look kindly on straight-A students who maybe didn’t perform their best on one standardized test.

If all the colleges you’re applying to are test-optional, start thinking about whether or not you should submit your score. This will depend, again, on the other factors of your application (if they are strong enough to hold on their own), as well as your application timeline, which we will discuss in the next step.

Note that you should also consider if you are applying to any scholarship programs, as many of them have a minimum SAT or ACT score requirement, or require you to submit your scores in your application.

Step 3: Review Your Application Timeline

Is there enough time for you to retake the SAT? Review your application timelines, as well as dates that the SAT and ACT are offered, to figure out if there is a chance for you to take the test again and hopefully improve your score. For most colleges, the last SAT or ACT you can take that will submit your scores in time is usually in December (note that this situation is not as ideal because you won’t be able to review your score before it gets delivered to colleges).

Consider your school schedule, as well as how far you are in completing other application requirements. You should be able to spend ample time on your essays and introducing another SAT or ACT study plan at the same time can easily overwhelm your schedule.

Step 4: Re-Evaluate Your College List

If you decide not to retake the SAT or ACT, or your score was significantly lower than what you expected, it might be necessary to re-evaluate your college list. One important metric to look at is the college’s average SAT and ACT scores for their recently admitted students. This information is usually published on the college’s website and can be accessed by the public.

If your current score is significantly lower than that average score, it is worth reconsidering if it is worth spending the time to apply to the school. You should ensure that you have several colleges where your score is at or exceeds the average testing score, just for safety. 

While some students have been able to bridge massive score disparities, this requires a lot of hard work. Consider if you’re willing to put in that work and also be realistic with how much improvement you can see over a certain amount of time. A 500-point score increase can be possible within the span of 6+ months, but certainly is not very realistic if you only have one month.

Step 5: Retake The SAT/ACT

Once you consider your application timeline, schedule, and feasibility of improving your score, decide whether you should retake the SAT or ACT. The good news is that there are no maximum amount of times you can take the test! One thing to keep in mind, though, is that some schools require you to submit all of your test scores and taking the test five times may not reflect as well on your application.

Once you’ve made the decision to retake the test at another date, start making your study plan so that you can come into it better prepared and hopefully on track to improve your score. If you need help creating a study plan, check out SoFlo’s template study plans based on how much time you have. They are tailored towards the ACT, but the general schedule can be applied to the SAT, as well.

Step 6: Take Advantage Of Superscoring

One great feature about the SAT and ACT is superscoring. Superscoring means that, when you take the SAT or ACT multiple times, you can take your highest scores from each section to combine them to your new “superscore.” This means that you only report your best performances to colleges. Note that this doesn’t apply to schools that require you to submit your scores from all tests that you took.

For example, say you took the May SAT and scored a 700 in Reading and 500 in Math. You can take advantage of superscoring by signing up for the October SAT and solely focusing your studying efforts in Math. Because of this, say you ended up scoring a 650 in Reading and a 750 in Math. Even though you scored lower in Reading on your second try, it doesn’t matter. If you superscore, you can take the 700 in Reading from the May SAT and the 750 in Math from the October SAT. Your new “superscore” that you submit to colleges would be a 1450 in total.

Thus, you can adjust your study plan to take advantage of this feature! If one section in particular was dragging your score down, you can just completely focus on that section in the upcoming test and don’t have to waste your time reviewing other topics that you already know.

Quick Ways To Improve Your SAT/ACT Score

If you’re looking to retake the test in hopes to improve your score, here are several time-tested steps that you can take.

Review Your Strengths And Weaknesses

A big part of creating a study plan that is truly effective and seeing massive score improvement is not spending hundreds of hours on the material or finding some magic “hack” – it’s actually reflection. This is one of the most important steps you can take after receiving your previous score. Ask yourself why the previous SAT or ACT didn’t turn out how you expected. Did you face testing anxiety that you didn’t expect? Did you think that you were way more prepared on Math than you thought? Were you running out of time when reading all the passages in Reading or Science?

Reflecting on your experience will tailor your study plan to your strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, you will be able to study efficiently by targeting areas you can improve the most on and spending less time on areas that you already have a good grip on. Making a list of your strengths and weaknesses can be a helpful way to keep track of them and eventually brainstorm ways to address them.

Try Out Different Strategies

Once you’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses, you can start experimenting with different strategies to address them. For example, if you are running out of time in the Reading section, you can try different reading strategies to get through passages without getting bogged down by the details.

If you’ve already experimented with strategies before, reflect on whether they actually worked for you or if there are other ways you think would be more effective. If the strategy is working for you, focus on honing in on it so that you can use it to the greatest effect.

Manage Your Test Anxiety

One of the biggest reasons why students, especially those who have good academic grades, don’t perform as well on the SAT or ACT is because of testing anxiety. Freezing up or feeling like your mind is going blank happens to the best of us, and many students underestimate its effect because the SAT and ACT is unlike any other test taken before. The stakes are also much higher than other high school tests that you might take.

Make sure to integrate test anxiety mitigation strategies into your study plan. One way to do this is to take full-length practice tests in one sitting while mimicking testing conditions. Ask your friend or parent to act like a proctor and stick strictly to the time limits on each section. The more you get used to taking the test under pressure, the better you can perform on actual test day. Other strategies you can look into are mindfulness or meditation techniques, as well as creating a healthy and positive mindset, especially in the days leading up to the test.

Look Into Tutoring

If you tried self-studying in your previous test, it can be a good idea to look into outside resources to help you see score improvements. You can take advantage of people around you – such as friends or family members who’ve previously taken the test, as well as the plethora of free resources online. A lot of students, however, benefit most from hiring a tutor. A tutor can not only provide an objective perspective on your strengths and weaknesses, but can create a study plan for you and keep you accountable. Since they are experts in taking the SAT and ACT, they can answer your questions and help you learn the best strategies that they’ve seen the most success with.

Improve Your SAT/ACT Score With SoFlo

Make sure you reach your target score by working with SoFlo Tutors. All of our tutors attend top universities around the nation and scored in the 99th percentile on their SAT. They will work one-on-one on you to identify and improve your weak areas and increase your chances of getting your target score. Our tutors schedule to sessions to your availability and our costs start at $60/hour. Check out our tutoring services to book a session!

About The Author

Andie Pinga

Andie Pinga is an expert SoFlo tutor and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in Economics and a minor in Anthropology. She scored a 35 on her ACT and enjoys rock climbing and playing the guitar.

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