students taking practice sat test

If you’re a high school student planning to apply to college, college admissions tests are probably on your mind.

Should I take the SAT or the ACT?

How can I prep for the SAT or the ACT?

And, most worrisome of all…

What if I bomb the SAT or ACT?

For students who do well in school and just can’t seem to get those high test scores, this is no small worry – after all, college admissions officers consistently rank SAT and ACT scores as one of the top factors in admissions decisions. Fear not! There are steps you can take to ensure college success even if your SAT or ACT scores suck.

If your applications are due…

Test prep just isn’t an option if your applications are due now — but there are still things you can do. First, take a deep breath and remind yourself that while test scores are important to most college admissions officers, they are not as important as your grades and course rigor. How you’ve performed in four years’ worth of high-level courses is almost always going to carry more weight than how you performed during a three-hour test on a Saturday morning. Even if your test scores aren’t where they really should be in order to be competitive at your dream college, apply anyway! The test scores published by colleges usually represent the middle 50% of admitted students, which means that 1 in 4 admitted students scored below that range. Take the chance.

At the same time, hedge your bets. Do some research to identify possible safety schools where your low SAT or ACT scores won’t be a problem. Safety schools are important to every student, no matter what their test scores look like!

And don’t forget to consider test flexible or test optional colleges. There are hundreds of highly ranked colleges that have deemphasized test scores in their admissions processes. Check out these resources to explore more:

If you’ve still got time to bring scores up…

Although the SAT and the ACT are intended to test the same knowledge and skills that you learn in high level classes, a lot of high-performing students just don’t see their academic skills reflected in their test scores. Sometimes there’s a gap in knowledge that just doesn’t show up in current course grades, and other times there’s a lack of test-taking skills that causes students to freeze up, run out of time, and second guess themselves. Regardless of the root cause, if you’ve still got a few months before you need to have your final test scores, SAT or ACT prep can do wonders.

Even the College Board, purveyor of the SAT, has recognized the value of good test prep: A College Board study found that students saw an average SAT score increase of 115 points after 20 hours of online test prep. Online resources like Khan Academy can offer a good score boost. If that’s not enough, in-person customized test prep like that offered at C2 Education can help to shore up fundamental skills and build test-taking abilities.