Much has been written lately about the future of standardized tests and whether they will have a role in the college admissions process. A handful of schools have stopped requiring test scores for admissions, including a few well-known schools such as Bowdoin College. Despite the amount of press these shifts have generated, however, this simple fact remains: the vast, vast majority of quality universities still require either the SAT or the ACT. How much these scores matter in the admissions process, however, may depend on a variety of factors.
Various schools will assign a variety of weight to standardized tests, and the importance of standardized tests will also depend on some specific factors related to the student. Some schools will give greater weight to a student's GPA or extracurriculars, whereas other schools will have fixed minimum scores or a formula that produces a minimum score when GPA or class rank are known. "A lot of public schools will have a sliding scale system where a higher GPA will allow a student to have a lower test score, and vice versa," says Test Geek Test Prep. "That doesn't mean students should ignore one or the other. What it does mean, however, is that, depending on a student's circumstance, test score can absolutely be a big barrier to admission."
By the time a student is a junior in high school, the bulk of his or her GPA is set, which means test scores often represent the biggest opportunity for improving a college resume. Test Geek continues, "If you break it down in terms of hours spent and benefit achieved, preparing for standardized tests is one of the biggest bang-for-the-buck things a student can do. In a relatively small amount of time -- 15 or 20 hours -- a student can significantly change his or her college prospects. That's a serious return on investment."
The best advice a student can probably receive is to check out what his or her prospective schools say about the importance of test scores. It's often useful to look at average accepted GPA, test scores and any other available information. Recognize that, if a given school has a higher average GPA than your GPA, you probably need to pull a little extra weight with your test scores. That isn't to say that a seriously low GPA can be overcome with great test scores. If often can't, but the same is true in many cases for a seriously low test score and a high GPA.
The most competitive candidates with be well-rounded, and test scores are still one of the two most important parts of a college resume. For many students, that means time spent preparing for the SAT and ACT is time well-spent.