With the rise of SAT-optional colleges and test suspensions due to COVID-19 classroom restrictions, many students are asking: “Should I still take the SAT in 2021?” While the stress of preparing for and taking the SAT might not seem worth it, your scores can only benefit you when you apply to college.
Read on for:
- what test-optional and test-blind means in terms of your admission application
- why the SAT won’t negatively affect your admission application
- how to best use your SAT scores now and in the future
- the financial benefits of the SAT
- different ways the SAT can accelerate your academic career
- how current SAT requirements and college admission guidelines may affect you
All this information will help you answer the college admission question of the year: “Should I take the SAT in 2021, or even at all?”
What is the SAT used for, exactly?
The SAT is a three-hour long exam with four sections that test your reading, writing, and math skills. Previously, the SAT tested for specific pieces of information. But the revamped SAT (released in 2018) specifically tests your ability to use logic and critical thinking skills in these subjects.
The test structure itself highlights how well you can process information under time constraints.
Historically, colleges have used the SAT as a way to measure a student’s command of skills needed to succeed in post-secondary school. The idea is that everyone takes the test, and because it’s supposed to be an objective, standard measurement tool, admissions offices get an objective view of each student’s potential for success. It’s supposed to be an equitable way of measuring student ability. Whether you’re in a public school or a top-tier private school, you’re both taking the same test.
High schools in several states have made the revamped SAT a requirement, while others offer the SAT for free in schools. Simply put, this is because the new SAT aligns more with Common Core standards, so schools can use it to measure Common Core skill mastery and as a way to offer students the SAT for free.
Can the SAT ever hurt my chances of being accepted to my school of choice?
If your school requires SAT scores, you want to send in strong ones, of course. You should take the SAT at least twice. Your chances of improvement usually increase the second time you test, just because you’re more familiar with the testing structure and language. If you take the SAT in your junior year, you have the summer to study, and can return with a vengeance to test in the fall.
There are a few ways that colleges receive and interpret SAT scores:
- Score Choice: (Common App): You can choose which score you send in with your application. Send in your top score, even if it isn’t your most recent test date.
- Superscoring: Your highest section scores are considered, even if they’re from different test dates. Send in tests that reflect your highest section scores, even if you didn’t do fantastic on the other sections on that test date.
- All Scores: Some schools require you to send all your scores.
It’s extremely important to understand how your prospective schools use SAT scores when considering your application. You can take the SAT as many times as you want. But if you’re required to send all your scores, you don’t want to continue taking the test if you’re not improving.
Best advice: Take the SAT once to get used to the test format. Figure out your weak points and work on them. Then test again. If you can choose which tests you want schools to see, then you can take it again for improvement.
Related: Are you not seeing much improvement in your SAT scores? Try these tutoring and SAT prep courses.
Should I still take the SAT if I’m applying to test-optional or test-blind schools?
Colleges that are test-optional do not require the SAT as part of your admission application. You do not get penalized if you don’t send your SAT scores with your application.
For test-optional college applications, a good SAT score can relieve pressure in other areas.
Most colleges consider the following factors when accepting students:
- GPA and class standing
- The difficulty of course curriculum, number of courses in a semester, and course grades
- Academic honors and achievements
- Standardized test scores
- Entrance essay responses
- Letters of recommendation
- Extracurriculars, work history, and family responsibilities
For test-optional schools, you get to choose exactly what to include in your application. If you omit your SAT scores, you have to shine in these other areas. But there’s less pressure to be spectacular in these other academic and personal areas if you send in a good SAT score.
Most extracurriculars in 2020-2021 have been canceled due to COVID-19. So it’s hard to shine in that area. You may not have strong personal relationships with your teachers due to remote learning. It’s been hard for students, especially low income students, just to stay afloat, let alone earn a great GPA or academic achievements.
But if you apply to test-optional schools, a good SAT score is a valuable piece of information. It shows prospective schools your ability to read and write with creativity and higher-level organization. It shows that you can analyze data, do arithmetic, and solve advanced math problems.
In short, it shows them that you’re ready for college despite the difficulties you have faced during COVID-19.
Related: Do you know the difference between weighted and unweighted GPA, and how they affect your application?
What if I’m only applying to test-blind colleges?
Test-blind schools do not consider SAT scores during the admissions process. In other words, they are “blind” because they don’t look at your scores, even if you send them in. Your SAT scores have no bearing on a general application to a test-blind school.
But taking the SAT (and earning a decent score) opens up many other opportunities. So even if you’re applying to test-blind schools, you should consider taking the SAT.
What are the benefits of taking the SAT, besides a stronger general admission application?
The SAT is a (sometimes optional) piece of your college application puzzle. But it also has the potential to give you access to many benefits.
Special Admissions: Honors, Athletics, and Transfer Programs
Most college honors programs require a minimum SAT or ACT score. You may be considered for these programs even if you don’t meet this criterion. But most honors colleges are highly selective, so a high SAT score will get you one step closer to securing a placement.
To get an athletic scholarship, you have to meet certain SAT and GPA requirements. A good SAT score can make up for a not-so-good GPA.
If you need to transfer colleges (which happens for many valid reasons) many colleges request your SAT/ACT scores with your transfer application.
SAT Based Scholarships and Financial Assistance
Several colleges award automatic scholarships based on your SAT score. In several cases, you don’t have to do anything but get a good score. Otherwise, you just have to submit your score by a deadline.
There are also merit-based scholarships that have different SAT requirements. The higher your score, the more scholarships you qualify for.
College Placement Test Exemptions
Most community colleges and universities require placement testing, especially for math, reading, and writing general education courses. These tests ensure that incoming students are placed at the right course level. If you show strong math, reading, and/or writing skills on the SAT, though, you usually don’t have to take them.
By taking one test now, you can reduce the number of tests you have to take later.
Introductory Course Exemptions
Along with skipping placement tests, you can also skip lower-level introductory courses by showing your skills in general education areas. This is especially true for people whose major involves a lot of writing, reading, or mathematics.
Related: Are you not sure what you’re going to major in? Consider these deciding factors.
What’s new about the SAT and college application process in 2021 (and after)?
The College Board, who produces the exam, made two big changes to the SAT to reduce stress for COVID-fatigued students. The general SAT will no longer include an optional essay section after June 2021. SAT subject tests have also been cancelled in the U.S. This is due to the widespread availability of Advanced Placement (AP) essays. The College Board will stop the SAT subject tests internationally after the May/June 2021 administration.
In general, several colleges suspended the SAT requirement for students applying in 2020-2021. Some have suspended the test for longer. Other schools have moved to test-optional.
But even with these changes, you can still take advantage of the SAT.
Should I still take the SAT this year, even if I don’t think I’ll do well on them?
COVID-19 has overthrown lives, school systems, our whole way of life. You can’t be expected to do as well as every student who has come before you, since none of them have ever faced the challenges you are facing now.
Even if you’re not in pandemic mode you, as a human being, face challenges in your life. It’s understandable to question whether the time is right for you to take on such a serious endeavor.
But consider the benefits of the SAT. And consider the fact that you can take the SAT multiple times to get the score you really want.