Admit It! Sitting for a standardized test is not how you’d choose to spend a Saturday morning. We hear ya. They are time-consuming, expensive, and likely the only reason we still need No. 2 pencils and non-graphing calculators. But, if you plan to apply to W&M or other highly selective colleges, they are in fact necessary.
So how do we evaluate standardized test results? They are one part of our process; they are no more than that, and they are no less than that. Like any other component of the application they can make you a more or less competitive applicant but they are not the be all and end all of your record. It is not as if a particular SAT score automatically puts you into one decision category or the other. There are students who score a perfect 1600 (Critical Reading + Math) who we do not admit and there are students who score below 1000 (Critical Reading + Math) that we do admit. This is because we review applications holistically and do not allow any one component to hold undo sway. Do standardized tests matter? Absolutely. Does your four-hour record on a Saturday morning matter more than your four-year record in high school? Absolutely not.
What the deans see when reviewing your application is your best outcome. If you take the SAT multiple times, we combine your best individual components — even if they are from different test dates — into your best composite score. If you take the ACT multiple times, we will evaluate only your highest composite score. If you take both the SAT and the ACT we look only at whichever composite is the highest. So do not worry about reporting to us any score you receive. We will only evaluate your best.
For the SAT, we look primarily at your Critical Reading plus Math scores (using a 1600 scale). For the ACT, we look primarily at your composite score and not the individual subscores. While we certainly see the SAT Writing score (we actually do not require those who take the ACT to take the writing component) we review your essay to best measure your writing abilities. The middle 50% of our students score between a 1280 and 1430 on the SAT and between a 28 and 32 on the ACT. What that means is one-quarter of W&M students score below a 1280/28 and one-quarter score higher than a 1430/32.
A few quick side notes regarding standardized testing:
- Your scores need to be sent to us from the testing agency. We will not take them from your application or transcript.
- If you take any subject tests, which W&M considers optional, and you report those scores to us we will see them and consider them during our review process. While they are not a primary factor in our decision-making, it certainly cannot hurt you to report any high marks on these exams or other standardized tests (such as AP exams).
- Use the Common Applications’ standardized testing section to report any future test dates to us. Unlike other new application materials which we can print and add to an application file, standardized test results arrive electronically and are simply fed directly into our data system. We will not know to look for updated testing unless you let us know that there will be new scores arriving.
- Our best advice, take your first standardized test the spring of your junior year. This will leave you the option of retaking an exam in the summer before or fall of your senior year should you deem that necessary.
- Our other best advice, take each test (the SAT and the ACT) one time each. Then take whichever one you performed better on a second time. And then stop. Rarely do students improve their scores with a fourth, fifth, or sixth sitting. But every student should, if possible, make at least two attempts because it cannot hurt you to do so and could possibly help you.
Believe it or not we also put standardized testing results in context. Some high schools provide all students with test prep courses. We understand that that’s an advantage those students have over others and therefore may expect more from those students. We also know that some high schools, due to lack of resources, are unable to provide such opportunities. We also know that testing results should be put into environmental context. A student’s high school, geographic area, socioeconomic status, race, first-generation college student status, and first language can all impact standardized testing outcomes and we take note if any of those factors are in play when reviewing a student’s SAT/ACT scores as well as when reviewing their application as a whole.
So it’s okay to be nervous about the SAT or ACT. While they are not a reflection of you or your accomplishments they do matter when applying to colleges (the good news is they never matter after that). Our pool is full of so many strong applicants that SAT/ACT results can help to differentiate one student from another. But again, a 1600 does not ensure admission and a 1000 does not ensure denial. They are a part of the whole, a cog in the wheel, a battle in the war. So go forth armed with your No. 2 pencils and non-graphing calculators and kick some SAT or ACT butt. And then do something fun with the rest of your day because a Saturday afternoon is a terrible thing to waste.
Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ’09
Senior Assistant Dean of Admission