Every year, millions of high school students study relentlessly to achieve the highest score they possibly can on the ACT and SAT, only to come up short of their goals. A lot of those students will end up taking the test multiple times and never be able to improve their score.
Consider this: The highest score on the ACT is a 36, and less than 1 percent of test takers will score a 33 or higher, and only 10 percent will score higher than a 28. The new SAT high score is 1600, though it just recently changed from being 2400. The national statistics for the new scoring is currently unavailable, but if we estimate the new score being two-thirds of the old score (1600/2400), the top 1 percent will be scoring around 1480 and above. Likewise, 10 percent will score around 1285 and above. In short, perfect scores on either test are extremely rare.
Keep in mind that these are composite score averages. This is important because schools and certain degree programs might value one section’s score over another. This will likely depend on your child’s degree program as well. For example, if they are going into engineering, the school will likely value a higher score on the science and math sections of the ACT and SAT rather than the reading, writing and English sections.
However, this doesn’t mean that sections other than their potential major should be completely discounted, either. Composite scores are meant to be a representation of overall knowledge, while section scores are representative of the depth of knowledge in a particular area. Many students score significantly higher or lower on certain sections, which can bring down their composite score even if they got a perfect score on the other sections.
Scoring in the top percentile is rare, but it isn’t impossible. Traditional studying, however, might not be the best way to spend your time. Scoring high requires students to be extremely well organized and able to practice time management, work well under stress, know exactly what to study, and be just a little bit lucky.
When to Be Content with Your Child’s Score
If you and your child have gone over the study material multiple times and there doesn’t seem to be significant improvement in the practice tests, then it might be time to either accept the score or try a different way of studying.
Study burnout is real, and it is a lot like occupational burnout. It’s when someone studies so much that it causes long-term fatigue, intellectual exhaustion and the brain’s inability to absorb more information. This means that sometimes the score isn’t going to get better without giving the brain a rest.
Yes, parents, your child can study too much.
I don’t mean to say that taking the test more than once is a bad idea. Quite a few students will take the tests at least twice so that they have a better understanding and more confidence the second time around. There is a lot involved in these tests, and practice can indeed be hugely beneficial.
But if your child has taken the test more than three times and isn’t seeing a huge difference in scores, there isn’t much point in taking it a fourth time. Sure, your child might score a little bit higher, but what matters is what those scores will do for your child in regards to getting into a school or being awarded a scholarship.
The decision is ultimately up to you and your child. If you need more information to decide, consider having a conversation with an admissions advisor, financial aid or scholarship advisor, or even a professor at the prospective school. It never hurts to find out from people who deal with these questions first-hand.
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