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Image from Pexels

It’s been six weeks since you took the SAT. You start to get anxious about your results. You’re optimistic — Maybe this will be the only time I have to take the test. You comb through College Confidential posts to see if anyone knows when scores will come out. Scores will be released tomorrow, you read excitedly. But when you check your score the next day, your heart drops. You did not get the score you were looking for.

We’ve all been there. And it sucks.

But hope is not lost! Here are some tips to help you cope with an unsatisfactory score and improve for the future:


Take a look at any college admits thread on College Confidential, and you will see a number of students boasting perfect scores on the SAT. Thus, it may appear that a 2400 is an easy feat. However, very, very few students achieve this. In fact, according to College Board, of the 1.66 million people who took the SAT in 2012, only 360 got perfect scores. Do the math. I could cite more statistics, but the point is, most people who take the SAT do, well, average.

However, coming from a group of friends in high school where an SAT score of 2000 was considered “average” (which believe me, really isn’t!), I understand the pressures associated with doing “well”. The best thing to do is take a look at the percentiles College Board provides for the SAT. A score you perceive to be mediocre may actually be in the top quartile of SAT results. For example, if you scored 600 on critical reading last year, you performed better than 80% of the other senior test takers.

College Board released its average scores for 2013. They are:
Critical reading:497
Mathematics: 513
Writing: 487

As you can see, a score like 2000 is actually very impressive! Take a look at College Board’s percentile chart to see the exact breakdown of scores.

Learn From Mistakes

Chances are, if you’re disappointed with your SAT score, you’re going to want to take the test again. If you’re going to improve, though, you will need to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Take a look at your score breakdown — what went well? What didn’t? For me, my weakest section was always math, so after the first time I took the SAT, I focused much more on that particular section. Try to understand why you did poorly on a section. For those who struggle with the critical reading, doing better may just mean reading faster and learning how to skim. For math, you may need to review (or learn) different concepts that are tested.

Think more generally as well. Did you guess on any questions or leave any questions blank? Perhaps you may want revise your overall testing strategy. Keep in mind that a correct question earns you a point, while an incorrect answer docks a quarter of a point. On the other hand, leaving a question blank earns no points. Another issue may be anxiety. Check out Priyanka Srinivasan’s article for tips on dealing with test anxiety.


You’ve managed to survive one of the most tedious and stressful exams in the United States. You deserve to treat yourself to something delicious. Food, in moderation, is a way to relieve stress. However, as Aja Frost writes, food may also help you ace the SAT. For example, according to a study by St. Lawrence University, chewing gum stimulates mental blood flow, which may help your memory.

Try Out the ACT Instead

While most people do roughly the same on the SAT as the ACT, in some cases, the differences can be quite significant. My ACT score was actually the equivalent to 200 points higher than my SAT score. One of the reasons for this disparity may be that the ACT, unlike the SAT, doesn’t dock points for incorrect answers, encouraging students to guess on every question. The ACT also contains a science section, though it is essentially just reading comprehension. Check out Carlton Smith’s article for a comprehensive list of differences.

It’s Just a Test

At the end of the day, the SAT is just an exam. While it may seem important as you apply to schools, by your freshman year of college, no one will care how well you did. And, when applying to college, the SAT is only one of many factors that are considered. So, take a deep breath and relax.

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