The First Step in Test Prep

The first step in planning your test prep is understanding what score you’re going to need in order to get into the school you want. The key to getting accepted has as much to do with staying out of the “No” pile as anything else.

Staying out of the “No” pile

The easiest way for an admissions officer to stamp “Denied” on an application is if a student’s GPA and test scores don’t match what they’re looking for. Contrary to the common perception, test scores don’t actually get students into a school. Instead, they make it easy to differentiate between students. For this reason, your test scores are only important in the context of the schools you’re applying to. For that matter, the most important part of your application will be your GPA. Schools use your test scores to get an idea of what your GPA tells them about you. It’s a way for them to compare GPAs from schools within areas and across the country.

Researching schools

From outside of the admissions process, it can be more difficult on know what GPA a particular school will look for. That’s why the test score is a valuable starting point. You can use a resource like College Navigator to do research.

Type in the name of the school you’re looking for and scroll down to the “Admissions” line. When you open that box, you’ll see the middle 50% range of scores for the last class of incoming freshman. Calculate what the likely 50th percentile cut off is. That’s a safe range. The 25th – 50th percentile ranges are typically where the school makes exceptions for recruited students (athletes, first generation college students, etc.). If you’re not in one of those groups, you’re going to need to be 50th percentile or above to be safe.

Of course, exceptions exist. Extremely selective schools–think less than 20% admissions–often have a much smaller range from the 25th to 75th percentiles. A school like Rice University with an SAT math range of 760-800 probably isn’t going to throw out an applicant with a 770 SAT where a school like Texas A&M University with a math range of 550-670 might look at students below 620 differently.

Making your list

At this point, you’re doing research to figure out what sort of scores you will need. That’s it. It gives you a target for what you want to achieve. As you do your research, generate a list of 7-10 schools you would love to go to where you’re test scores will line up with what they look for. You don’t have to think in terms of “Stretch”, “Target”, and “Safety” any more. You have the information you need at your fingertips. Use those resources to create a list of schools where you will be a rock star.

Need a customized prep plan? Check out our test prep planning app. Answer a few critical questions and get a test prep plan that is right for you.