When Can My Student Stop Retaking the ACT/SAT?

By Maxine Seya

If your student is taking the SAT or ACT, you might be wondering what is a good enough score for us to move on from weekend practice tests and tedious math problems?

I’ve encountered countless parents who insist on their children scoring at least a 1590 before giving up.

These parents often have the money to send their kids to test prep camp or hire a private test prep tutor.

A high score gives them the personal security that they did their best to prepare their children for college, even if the children don’t get accepted.

I’ve even met parents who highly incentivize their kids to earn a perfect score on the SAT or ACT, by promising them their dream car or some other reward.

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Too often, these students are the ones already scoring 1400+ or 32+ on the SAT and ACT respectively.

An Analogy for Test Scores in Admissions

When my students’ parents ask me how admissions officer see SAT and ACT scores, I use the analogy of tax brackets.

As taxpayers, we are liable to pay a certain tax rate. The tax rate we’re expected to pay depends on our income range. To make it easier to imagine, let’s say incomes between $0 to $9,999 pay 10%, then $10,000 to $19,999 pay 20% then $20,000 to $29,999 pay 30%, then $30,000 and up pay 40%.

Whether we make $12,000 or $17,499, as long as we are within that bracket, we pay 20% our income to the government in the form of tax. The $17,499 income does not make us liable to pay a higher tax rate than a $12,000 income.

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The SAT and ACT scores may be imagined similarly.  In a hypothetical situation, let’s say Socrates Post University requires standardized test scores from all applicants. Let’s imagine that we give applicants a score of 1 to 5, 5 being the best.

To earn a rating of 5, we require an ACT score between 33 and 35. For a 4, you’d need between a 30 and  32. For a 3 you’d need between a 27 and 29. In this situation, whether the applicant scores a 29 or 27, she will receive the same “grade” or same benefits.

Harvard, University of South Alabama, and Score Brackets

For example, at the University of South Alabama, applicants who apply with an SAT score between 145o and 1600 are automatically considered for the Presidential Scholarship. In this situation, stopping after a one-time 1480 score isn’t settling — it’s smart because you earn the same benefits as a 1600 scorer who took the test 4 times, without the extra expended effort on a trivial test.

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Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.