December SAT scores are out today (or at least, multiple choice scores begin to come out today). I hope that today brought you good news and that the thrill of victory lingers all weekend. I’ve been doing this long enough to know, however, that score day is never a happy day for everyone. If your results today fell short of your aspirations, a few thoughts.

First, if you’re a senior and this was your last attempt before you finalize your applications, remember that the SAT is but one of many facets of your candidacy. You don’t get into your dream school (or any school) on scores alone—the most selective schools regularly reject people with perfect scores. The SAT is an important factor and it’s worth prepping for, but surveys of admissions offices consistently show that grades and strength of curriculum are rated higher than SAT/ACT scores as admissions factors (see chapter 3 of this report). So the breathless drama of score release day notwithstanding, you’ve been slowly solidifying the most important aspect of your college application for the last three and a half years. Stay positive, focus on the things you can still be doing to strengthen your application (personal statements, etc.) and enjoy the rest of senior year.

Now, juniors (and younger):

Don’t panic. The gif at the top of this post is a joke. Panic isn’t productive. You’re still way early in this process; you have many more chances to take the SAT and plenty of time to improve. Perhaps you’ve heard before that the best thing to do when thrown off a horse is to get right back on it. The same applies to the SAT. Feeling sorry for yourself won’t help; focused and assiduous prep will. Take today to lick your wounds, and start working in earnest tomorrow.

Stay focused. The options for test prep are vast, from books (I know a good one!) to Khan Academy to private tutoring, but the key to your success will be your own personal commitment to improving. If it felt crappy when you didn’t get the score you wanted today, remember this feeling every time you’re tempted to blow off SAT prep. Large improvements are possible, but they usually require dedication and focus.

Data is your friend. Keep track of questions that stump you, reading passages that flummox you, grammar rules that keep tripping you up. Maybe you take pictures of the questions you miss and keep them in a folder on your phone that you can swipe through on the subway, or maybe you cut questions out of your practice tests and make a physical scrapbook. Figure out an organized way to return often to your weakest areas and before you know it, they’ll be strengths.

Do something every day. Even if it’s just a single practice question (like my Daily PWN emails), keep yourself in the rhythm. Some days, you’ll need to spend some real time (like to take practice tests, ugh) but 2 minutes a day on tricky practice questions turns into an hour of valuable prep after a month.


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