Though it’s tempting to simply say you want to score “as high as possible” on your college admissions exam, a target score will help you determine how much of your limited time and energy you devote to test preparations. So how should you determine you target score? There are several factors to consider:
1) What is your starting point?
First, learn your “base score” by taking a diagnostic test. If you took the PSAT as a tenth or eleventh grader, you can use that for the SAT. For the ACT, you can purchase the official guide or find multiple practice tests at www.crackact.com. You could also take a free proctored practice test, which LA Tutors offers once a month at its office. It’s a good idea to try out both the SAT and ACT to decide which test is best for you.
Once you have your base score, be realistic about how much you might increase it through hard work and a good test tutor or preparation program. Though results vary widely between students, as a tutor I’ve observed that improvements of 200 points on the SAT or 4 points on the ACT are feasible with a lot of hard work and practice. Increases of 400 points on the SAT or 8 points on the ACT, however, are possible but not likely. When you set your target score, aim high but be realistic.
2) Which schools are you applying to?
Check out the 25th-75th percentile score range of those who were accepted to your dream schools (http://www.collegesimply.com/guides/colleges-by-test-score/). If your score is above the 75th percentile, it means that your test score will be a boost to your application. This doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get in, but if you get rejected, then it probably isn’t because of low test scores. If your score is below the 25th percentile, it will hinder your application. You still might be accepted, but it would be despite your test scores rather than because of them. As a general rule, you should aim for a 75th percentile score, but a score in the middle of the range will likely earn your application further consideration. If your score is below the 25th percentile for your dream school, it’s a good idea to identify other schools where you’ll be more competitive, though there’s no harm in reaching for your top choice as well.
3) How much time and resources do you want to devote to test prep?
Test scores are only part of your college application. If you’re a strong test taker, you’ll want to make sure your grades and extracurricular activities are equally strong. If you’re a weaker test taker, you’ll want to emphasize the areas of your application where you shine brighter, such as earning stellar grades or being a star volunteer.
I’ve set my target score! Now what?
There are many resources out there to help you improve you test scores, including Khan Academy, www.crackact.com, and a wide variety of test prep guides. Individualized tutoring is an excellent option, especially if you have limited time, as your tutor can recommend a study plan that will get you to your goal and focus on the areas where you need the most help. No matter what your starting point and your target score, everyone can improve with hard work and quality test preparation!