Holy SAT! What to Do When Your Scores Surprise You


So you just got your SAT results. With certain numbers in mind, you scan your scores, and… Oh no. Is that right?! It can’t be. What if the numbers add up to less than you hoped?

Stop. Take a deep breath. Don’t get discouraged. And definitely don’t freak. January SAT scores, in particular, can be heartbreakers. Why? For many students, it’s their first official college entrance exam, and for even more it’s their first SAT. Three hours and forty minutes is MUCH longer than the PSAT (or any other test you’ve ever taken), so think of it as a baseline to compare to upcoming spring and fall tests. Also, the January test date tends to coincide with midterm and midyear exams, and there’s only so much study time and brain power to go around. Finally, almost no one’s first SAT or ACT ends up counting on a final Common Application. Seriously, take heart: be proud you stepped up to the plate in January–most students still wait till the spring of junior year (mistake)–and be glad you got your first at bat out of the way.

So with that in mind, let’s come up with a plan for what comes next. The good news AND the bad news is, it doesn’t end here. You’ve got more tests to take, and new tactics to try. Here’s how to get started.

  • Don’t panic. Remember, this is just one–maybe the first–college entrance exam of many. And thanks to Score Choice, this blip can just be our little secret.
  • Put it in perspective. Even though you are very likely to go up on subsequent exams, standardized tests are still only one piece of the college admissions puzzle. GRADES are still the most important criterion, and substantial activities, volunteer experience, application essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews carry weight, too.
  • Try to identify the problem. For most students, it’s a good idea to take advantage of the CollegeBoard’s Question-and-Answer Service (cost: $18) which not only gives you peace of mind that your test was scored properly, but also, and more importantly, a copy of your test booklet, your answers, and the correct answers. Going over an real, “live” exam will obviously prove highly valuable. (Click here for QAS order form). Also, try to identify what, specifically, accounted for subpar scores: Was it the Critical Section in particular? Math? Writing? Test Anxiety? Knowing where you fell short of your expectations will help you figure out the best ways to improve.
  • Get serious about stress. Even the most well-prepared student gets nervous and can freeze up from test anxiety. And why not? There’s a lot of pressure attached to these high-stakes exams. Breathing techniques, and CollegePrepExpress’s own Mindfulness-Based Test Anxiety Reduction (MBTAR) principles, can provide tools and techniques to help you un-torque yourself when you get wound up.
  • ACT out. Some students are simply better suited for the ACT exam than the SAT. Read about why you should take both here and about the specific differences here. Give this a try in the spring and compare your results. At a minimum, the practice of taking another college entrance exam will help with future SATs. You only have to report the test(s) with which you’re happiest. If you’re new to the ACT, you might want to investigate CollegePrepExpress’s 6-session prep class starting March 6.
  • Try a something new. Maybe you need to change up your test prep approach. First, be honest about how much time and energy you put into the recent SAT. Most students don’t give it their best effort the first time around. If you DID put in the requisite sweat equity, try some new prep strategies; for example, see some of our tips for studying SAT vocab without really studying SAT vocab, enter our SAT vocab building contest, and listen to one of our most popular “Prep Talk” shows, Having Fun with Standardized Test Prep.  If you’ve been studying alone or one-on-one, maybe sign up for a test-prep class, or vice versa.

Like any athlete, you can improve your results by continuing your workouts. You might need to switch to a team sport (i.e., class) or hire a personal trainer (tutor) to reach your goals, and that’s okay.

Most of all, try to remember that these tests do not measure how smart you are, how well you’ll do in college, how nice you are, how cute your spouse will be, or how good a parent you’ll be; they actually measure nothing worth measuring. So keep it in perspective, please, and just do your best to improve so you can have the widest range of colleges to apply to over the summer!

About CollegePrepExpress

The primary purpose of CollegePrepExpress, LLC is to help students get into their top secondary schools, colleges, and graduate schools and to reduce stress surrounding the entire admissions process.

Leave a Reply