Tips for your Standardized Testing Plan

Posted on May 6th, 2021 by acsrochester

Throw your standardized testing plan out the window. COVID-19 has impacted all of our lives, and it has also shed some light on the importance of standardized testing in college admissions. While most universities went “test optional” this year, meaning students were not required to submit SAT or ACT scores with their college applications, the majority of admitted students at highly selective colleges still submitted test scores: 63% of admitted students at Amherst submitted test scores, as did 58% at Boston University and 66% at Davidson. How can you determine whether to submit test scores with your application?

Tip #1: Understand what “test-optional” means

Test optional means exactly what you think: test scores are optional. If you are not happy with your SAT or ACT scores, you do not need to send them. Instead, colleges will focus on the other aspects of your application: grades, curriculum, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and essays. However, it’s important that these other factors paint a compelling picture of your preparedness and fit with the college. If you’re vying for admission to some of the most competitive colleges, your application and supporting materials need to be tremendously strong.

Tip #2: Take the SAT or ACT

Even if standardized tests aren’t your thing, it’s still wise to take the SAT or ACT. This gives you the power to either opt in or out of test-optional admissions. Remember, only 30-40% of admitted students to some of the most selective colleges were successful without test scores! Having those SAT or ACT scores and being strategic about where to send them should be part of your college application plan. But you can’t submit standardized test scores you don’t have!

Sidenote: Unsure whether to take the SAT or ACT — check out this AC College Consulting presentation (College Admission Testing 101) that provides insight on the type of student who does best on the SAT or ACT.

Tip #3: Don’t submit test scores if they fall below the middle-50% range

Every admissions counselor with whom I spoke gave this advice: “your students should not send test scores unless they fall into our middle-50% ranges.” The middle-50% ranges are published test score ranges that give prospective students data on admitted students for a particular college. 25% of students admitted to the college score above the range, and 25% fall below; 50% of admitted students’ scores fall into that range. For example, the University of Rochester’s middle-50% range for the ACT is 30-34. If your ACT score is 30 or higher, you should send your score to the University of Rochester.

Tip #4: Be strategic

As you build your college application list, make sure you have the right mix of colleges: 2-3 “reach” schools, 3-4 “likelies”, and 2-3 “sure things” based on your academic profile and the colleges’ published middle-50% ranges. You’ll probably go test-optional for your reach schools (unless your scores fall into/above their middle-50% ranges), while you will submit SAT or ACT scores for likelies and sure things. Have a plan and be strategic when it comes to your college applications.


Interested in chatting with a former Associate Dean of Admission and Director of Selection?

With degrees from Duke, Miami, and Rice, as well as 15 years of selective college admissions experience, please consider Emily Nevinger a resource as you approach the college admissions process. Emily can set up virtual appointments to discuss what is important about your college search and offer strategic, personalized advice about your application process. Contact Emily for details.


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Thursday, May 13th @ 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Drop-In Office Hours via Zoom 

Navigating the college admissions process can be daunting, especially if this is your first time, or even if it has been a few years. Join Emily Nevinger, Allendale Columbia School’s College Advising Consultant, for a virtual, informal chat about AC’s student-centered approach to the college search process. Emily will answer your questions about timelines, college applications, financial aid, and more. Zoom Registration Link 

Tuesday, June 8th @ 6:30 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.

Planning Ahead: Standardized Tests, Financial Aid, and Scholarships

Join Emily Nevinger, AC’s College Advising Consultant, in this interactive workshop ideal for all students and families nearing the college application process. Emily will offer suggestions on testing strategies that work best for your student, the ideal time to take the SAT or ACT, and whether “test optional” schools should be on your radar. Additionally, Emily will provide tips for navigating the financial aid and scholarship processes, a topic all families should consider as they build their college lists.  Attendees will leave with an understanding of how to best position themselves for success based on their particular needs. Zoom Registration Link

3-Day Workshop: August 18, 19, 20 @ 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Common Application Bootcamp

Get a headstart on your college application process and finish your Common Application (including the essay!) before senior year. Your instructors — Emily Nevinger and Kristin Cocquyt — have over 30 years of admissions experience with highly selective colleges and will work with you to prepare a comprehensive and compelling Common Application that can be used to apply to nearly 1,000 colleges and universities. Registration through AC Summer Programs

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