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Rae Largura: SAT and ACT — What Do the Scores Mean?

Continuing on with the dry topic of SAT and ACT exams, the natural follow-up and what so many are asking is: What do the scores mean? What is the score that colleges want to see? If you are a parent of a high-schooler, understanding how to guide your child through this pivotal component of the college application is imperative.

The national average score for the SAT is 1,500. On a total score of 2,400 (800 critical reading, 800 math, 800 writing), a score of 1,650 to 1,800 is adequate for many colleges. A score of 1,800 to 2,100 is good. A score above 2,100 is considered high, and admissions will be happy.

College admissions officers look at the individual scores of each section, in addition to the overall score. Sometime you may find that an 1,800 overall score may be above average at one university, but may be below average at another.

The SAT has an option called “Score Choice.” This allows the test-taker to decide which scores to release to prospective colleges. In the past, colleges would automatically receive all of your scores. Score Choice is a free option that is chosen or not when you register for the exam. If you do not choose it, your prospective colleges will continue to receive all of your scores. Whether or not you exercise this can be a complex answer because some colleges want all the scores regardless, and there is some strategy to retaking the exam. I recommend getting a consultation from a SAT specialist.

When viewing ACT scores, college admission officers are most concerned with your composite score. So if you're weak in one content area but strong in others, you could still end up with a very good ACT score, thus make a strong impression.

The exam consists of four parts — English language, reading, mathematics and science. Each category receives a score between 1 (lowest) and 36 (highest). Those four scores are then averaged to generate the composite score used by most colleges. The average composite score is 21. Top universities want to see scores in the low 30s. Scores of 34 to 36 are the top 1 percent of test-takers. For students taking the ACT with writing, it is scored on a 12-point scale, and again wanting to see the top 20 percent numbers.

The SAT or ACT scores are fundamental to the college application. Making high scores is a worthwhile goal and can be paramount for college options. These exams should not be taken lightly, and I highly recommend getting help from SAT/ACT specialists.

Any subject, any grade: What is your question for a tutor? Email [email protected].

— Rae Largura is president of Leading Edge Tutors. The opinions expressed are her own.

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