By Gen and Kelly Tanabe, founders of SuperCollege.com and authors of Get Into Any College and The Ultimate Guide to America's Best Colleges.
How this hype surrounding these tests has come to be, we do not know. But it sure is enough to scare any college bound senior. So, before you fall into this state of mind we call SAT Tunnel Vision, let us try to clear up some of the misunderstandings.
Myth #1: Standardized tests make or break your chances of admission.
Absolutely not true! While it is true that standardized tests are important in the admissions process, they are certainly not the only determinant of your admission into college. A friend of ours who scored 1560 on the math and critical reading portions of the SAT was passed over by Harvard, while another friend who barely broke 1100 was accepted.
The reality is that admissions officers are interested in more than just the numbers. When they evaluate students' applications, they take into consideration all of the components including the application, evaluation letters, essay, academic record, awards, work experience, leadership and extracurricular activities, and (in borderline cases) the interview.
To think that test scores top all of these factors is simply wrong. In fact, between: a) your grades and the types of classes you took; and b) your SAT scores, the former is much more useful in predicting how successful you will be in college. Admissions officers know from experience that it is safer to accept an academically motivated but low testing student than the opposite.
Myth #2: You have to score over 1350 to get into Harvard or any other elite school.
As mentioned above, test scores will not doom you to rejection. Thus, when you are looking at the profiles of colleges in the guidebooks, don't get worked up because your scores are lower than a certain median or percentile.
Many guidebooks provide a median score for each school, which indicates the score at which half the students scored better and half scored worse. Some schools list ranges between which most of their students who are admitted scored. These numbers can give you a good target to aim for, but keep in mind that every year thousands of students with good high school records but lower than average test scores are admitted to top schools.
If your scores are lower than the scores in the guidebooks, remember that admissions officers realize that even well-qualified and motivated students do not always perform well on standardized tests. A student with a high GPA but an average SAT score is just as competitive (if not more so) than someone with an average GPA but high SAT score. Plus, there are many other factors that admissions officers evaluate when making their decisions. Academic performance, teacher evaluations and the essay can be much more important than any single test score.
In short: the scores count, but they are not the most important factor in admissions decisions. Don't take yourself out of the running if don't get a "high" score. Of course, try your best since it certainly won't hurt your chances to get the best score possible.
Myth #3: There is nothing you can do to prepare for these tests.
All tests would be easier if we didn't have to study for them. Unfortunately, the standardized tests for college admissions are not these kinds of tests. To perform well, you must practice and study. Fortunately, there are several ways to study the material you will be tested on as well as to improve your test-taking skills.
However you choose to study for these tests, do not spend so much time that your grades or participation in extracurricular activities suffers. If you devote so much time to studying at the expense of your grades and activities, you will greatly hurt your chances of getting accepted. Be careful how much time you devote to test preparation.
We hope we have dispelled some of the myths that surround these tests. Don't ever let your scores prevent you from applying to a specific college. These tests do count but not to the degree that most students and parents assume. No score guarantees either acceptance or rejection.