The SAT & ACT are dead…or are they?

UPDATE: As of April 11th, 2024, many schools have started re-requiring the SAT or ACT to apply for admissions. Test-optional is no more (meaning test-required) at these schools, which include:

  • Harvard
  • Yale
  • Brown
  • Dartmouth
  • MIT
  • Caltech
  • Georgetown
  • University of Texas Austin
  • but NOT the University of California (UC) system


You’ve probably heard the bombshell news already: the UC schools (all 9 of them — Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, etc.) have voted unanimously to drop the SAT/ACT requirements forever. No, not just this upcoming application season for the current rising seniors (graduating high school class of 2021) like many private colleges, but for all future years too!

Here are the exact details of the transition as the SAT and ACT are moved from regal (or reviled, depending on your point of view) kings to useless tests for admissions.

For all UC applicants (Californian and non-Californian students alike) starting in 2021 and onward, the essay portion of the SAT/ACT has been eliminated from admissions consideration (but if any other college requires the essay, then you should still take the SAT/ACT with essay).

For all UC applicants (Californian and non-Californian students alike) in 2021 and 2022, the SAT/ACT will be OPTIONAL, but the score (if submitted) will be used for scholarships, post-enrollment course placement, and statewide eligibility guarantees.

For Californian UC applicants in 2023 and 2024, the UC will be test-blind, meaning the SAT/ACT will NOT be used to determine UC admissions, but scores (if optionally submitted) will be used for scholarships, post-enrollment course placement, and statewide eligibility guarantees.

For Californian UC applicants in 2025 and beyond, the UC will use a new test that isn’t the SAT/ACT for admission purposes, as well as for scholarships, post-enrollment course placement, and statewide eligibility guarantees. If a new test has not been created by then, then the standardized testing requirement will be eliminated altogether for UC freshman admissions, and the UC Senate work work with the UC Administration to determine new ways of evaluating scholarships, post-enrollment course placement, and statewide eligibility guarantees.

For non-Californian UC applicants in 2023 and 2024, the UC Academic Senate will work with the UC Administration to establish to-be-determined guidelines. That means the SAT/ACT may or may not be required in 2023-24. It hasn’t been decided yet.

For non-Californian UC applicants in 2025 and beyond, they will also submit scores for the new UC test or follow a yet-to-be-decided approach determined by the UCs. If a new test has not been created by then, then the UC Senate will work with the UC Administration to determine new ways of evaluating non-Californian applicants for UC admissions.

Here’s the direct link to the official UC press release.

What does it all mean? I’m going to answer the following:

  • Why did the UCs abandon the SAT/ACT requirement?
  • What are the implications of eliminating the SAT/ACT?
  • If the SAT/ACT are considered bad tests, then why are the UCs becoming test-optional at all for a couple years — why not immediately go test-blind now and forever?
  • What was the SAT/ACT supposed to do?
  • Should I still study for the SAT/ACT?
  • In what situations should I NOT take the SAT/ACT?
  • What can I do to stack the cards in my favor now?

Why did the UCs abandon the SAT/ACT requirement?

The decision is mired in controversy. Some say dropping the SAT/ACT was a praise-worthy move meant to increase diversity and combat inequity. This school of thought believes that these tests unfairly disadvantage students from non-white and/or non-American cultures by making so many references to American history and literature. They also believe the tests are unfair to students from lower socioeconomic classes, since they can’t afford tutoring, reliable internet connections, computers, or even a quiet and safe home environment that is conducive to learning.

Those are all fair points for consideration, which is why the current UC President, Janet Napolitano, requested the UC’s Standardized Testing Task Force (STTF) to evaluate the UC’s use of the SAT/ACT in undergraduate admissions, especially to see if these tests promoted diversity. The main directive was to do so “analytically, without prejudice or presupposition.” That means no ulterior motives, agendas, or biased assumptions.

Here is the official STTF report.

After more than a year of research, the STTF found that using the SAT/ACT does NOT create inequity or bias towards any student group. In other words, the SAT/ACT does NOT hinder diversity by creating inequality. Furthermore, the STTF found that the SAT/ACT were highly predictive of first-year college GPA/success, college retention rates (i.e. not dropping out), and graduation rates.

Common sense itself would suggest that standardized testing is more fair than the widely un-standardized high school GPA (it’s far harder to earn a 3.7 at an academically rigorous high school than a 4.0 at certain “grade-inflation” high schools or academically easier high schools. Even within the same school, in the same class, or under the same teacher, students are treated unequally, so if a teacher happens to like you more, you’re more likely to earn an A. Just a fact of life).

Although the STTF recommended looking into a new test within 9 years (so in 2029), it also firmly suggested that the UCs NOT use a test-optional or test-blind approach in the immediate years. These recommendations were further reviewed and supported by the UC Academic Senate, which consists of the UC system’s own group of diverse, educated experts. The UC Senate agreed that the SAT and ACT actually promote (not lower) admission eligibility for underrepresented, low-income, or minority students.

Yet, somehow, against all these recommendations and despite all of these evidence-based research supporting the use of the SAT and ACT, the UC Board of Regents still decided to abandon these tests, adopting a test-optional policy for the next two years (2021-22), a test-blind policy for the two years after that (2023-24), and then a new test altogether in 5 years from now (2025) or no standardized test of any kind if no new test could be modified or developed in time. This 5-year timeline is a significantly accelerated timeline compared to the STTF’s recommendation of 9 years to find a new test.

To add to the woes of an already overburdened UC system with its skyrocketing tuition rates, budget cuts, and overpacked classes, the cost to develop a new test assessment tool has been estimated to be as high as $100 million. Who or what would pay for that? Further tuition and fee increases shouldered by the students and their families? More state taxes? There are many uncomfortable unknowns with very real, very heavy effects.

But it’s the students who would have to bear the worst burden of all: they now need to prepare for an additional UC-specific test (perhaps the SBAC, or Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) on top of the SAT/ACT for other colleges. The SAT and ACT are stressful and time-consuming enough, but in 5 years, for those wishing to apply to a UC school, there’d could be an additional major test to prepare for. This would increase tutoring costs and decrease time students could spend on more meaningful pursuits, whether in school or extracurricularly.

Nevertheless, UC President Janet Napolitano succeeded with her proposal to drop the SAT/ACT, even at a time when she intends to resign as UC President by the end of the current academic year.

Some speculate that the decision, especially going against the recommendations of the very task force designed to research the issue, is politically motivated, but we can take some direct quotes from the UC Board of Regents for insight into their unanimous decision.

President Janet Napolitano said that the SAT/ACT were misaligned with the needs of California, stating, “Generally, the right test is better than no test…but a flawed test should not continue to be required.” So she believes the SAT/ACT are flawed, which is certainly true in the sense that they aren’t aligned with typical school curriculums. I’ll discuss this in more detail coming up.

Board Chairman John A. Perez said the decision would “create urgency to creating better, equitable outcomes in [the UC] admissions process.” So he finds the SAT/ACT to be inequitable, despite the research by the STTF finding the exact opposite.

Regent Jonathan “Jay” Sures argued that the SAT is, “a racist test, no two ways about it.” Some SAT opponents certainly argue the test is geared towards white and American culture, given the emphasis and frequent references to American history and white culture.

Add these reasons to the reasons proclaimed by long-time SAT/ACT opponents who’ve argued that the test unfairly advantages well-off families, that the tests don’t align with school curriculums, and that testing just adds another source of stress for already stressed students, and we have the situation we’re facing today.

What are the implications of eliminating the SAT/ACT?

First of all, the next two years (2021-22; currently rising juniors and seniors), the SAT/ACT policy is test-optional, which does NOT mean you should definitely not take the test.

Moving to a test-optional policy is often for the benefit of the colleges, not the students. Test-optional allows colleges to have great optics and promote “diversity and equality” (despite the STTF’s findings that the SAT/ACT does NOT create inequity or lack of diversity) and get rid of tests that don’t align with school curriculums, so it’s a wise political move for the UCs. However, making the UCs test-optional will lead to only students with strong SAT/ACT scores submitting, which means the scores the UCs receive are going to be from a pool of self-selected students who are already top performers.

In practice, that means the UCs may wonder if the reason you didn’t submit an SAT/ACT score is that you weren’t able to score well because of poor academic skills. They’ll do their best to overlook that possibility and give you the benefit of the doubt as to why you didn’t submit a score, but there will always be that nagging voice in the back of their heads wondering what if this student really isn’t academically strong enough.

It’s similar to the courthouse where the jury is supposed to presume the defendant’s innocence until proven guilty, but in reality, that’s almost impossible to do. People form judgments quickly. Just as a jury member may feel someone is guilty simply because the defendant refuses to testify, a UC admissions officer may unconsciously (or consciously) feel that a student isn’t as academically strong as someone who chooses to submit a SAT/ACT score.

Also keep in mind that the UC Board of Regents that voted to move away from the SAT/ACT are NOT the same people actually deciding your UC admissions fate! That’s left in the hands of the UC admissions readers and officers, many of whom do NOT agree with the Board’s decision. If your specific admission officer is a firm believer in the SAT/ACT, then you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle.

Furthermore, without the SAT/ACT, the UCs are left to more subjective evaluation criteria, such as your extracurriculars and personal insight questions (college application essays). Those are the most easily gamed part of the process by wealthy families who can have the resources to support certain activities/projects or hire writing coaches like me to perfect their essays, highlighting the best and most unique parts of the student.

For the students who DO submit scores, they’re now going to be competing with a far MORE competitive field filled with top scores. Virtually all low scores will be eliminated; anyone who doesn’t have a respectable score simply won’t bother to submit because it would lower his or her chances of admissions. So that 1400 SAT score or 30 ACT score that used to be great when compared to the scores of ALL applicants, everyone of whom were forced to submit scores (even those scoring under 1,000 on the SAT or under 21 on the ACT), suddenly doesn’t look so hot against the 1450- 1500+ SAT scorers (32+ on the ACT).

That means to stand out now, you have to score EVEN HIGHER than before. So perhaps an unintended consequence of going test-optional is adding more stress to students, rather than taking it away.

Now, even if you don’t want to submit your SAT/ACT scores for admissions evaluation, they can still be used for scholarship determination and post-enrollment course placement. A high-enough score will allow you to skip the lower classes and jump straight into advanced classes, so that’ll save on tuition dollars and significant time.

It’s unclear right now if getting scholarship and post-enrollment placement consideration based on SAT/ACT scores also requires submitting the scores for admissions evaluation, or if you can choose to ONLY submit your scores for scholarship and post-enrollment placement consideration.

Even if you could only submit for scholarships/post-enrollment course placement, would that actually mean a DIFFERENT person than your admission officer(s) sees your SAT/ACT score? If not, then it’s impossible for the admissions officer(s) to unsee your score. Again, it’s similar to the courthouse–if a judge tells the jury to ignore a particular comment and to “strike it from the record,” the jury has still already heard the comment. Ignoring a piece of evidence or comment that has already seen or heard, especially if it proves guilt, becomes psychologically almost impossible. So if your score is weak, you need to think carefully whether you should submit it for ANY purposes.

After two years, the UC system will change to test-blind, meaning they won’t use the SAT/ACT scores for admissions purposes at all. However, that’s all in theory. The scores will still be used for scholarships and post-enrollment consideration, which means it’s impossible to unsee. So again, the same considerations I described in the previous paragraph still apply.

If you can score well (above 1350 for the lower UCs, above 1400s for the middle UCs, and high 1400s/1500s for the top UCs), it’d still be well-worth your effort to study and submit your scores, even though the field has just gotten more competitive.

If you can’t score well, then I’d advise you to spend that time improving your GPA or extracurricular profile by participating in truly impactful activities. Don’t just spend the hundreds of hours you would have spent on SAT/ACT prep to hang out with people, watch Netflix or Youtube, or Snapchat with friends. Do something productive! 

After all, without this historically important element that is the SAT/ACT score, the UCs will give more weight to the subjective parts of your application, such as the application essays and extracurricular activities, which are the MOST easily gamed aspects by wealthy families. Just look at the Varsity Blues college scandal of this last year (even though a few dozen high-profile families got caught, imagine the thousands of wealthy families who did not)! And remember, the UCs generally do NOT consider letters of recommendations, so your essays and activities become even more important without the SAT/ACT.

I don’t offer unethical help by fabricating activities out of thin air, but if you’re looking for mentorship on crafting the right college strategy, activities, passion projects, and presentation to stand out, then contact me at [email protected] for my personalized college consulting programs.

If the SAT/ACT are considered bad tests, then why are the UCs becoming test-optional at all for a couple years — why not immediately go test-blind now and forever?

Probably just to give people time to transition. Some students have already started seriously studying as early as 7th – 10th grade, so it wouldn’t be fair to say their efforts have gone to waste. Students who are rising sophomores (current freshmen as of May 2020), let’s say, might have already invested 30-50+ hours on SAT/ACT prep, so if they prep a bit more, they could easily reach their goal. The UCs likely wanted those students to still be able to submit their scores for admissions consideration.

Even if you haven’t started SAT/ACT prep at all, the testing requirement has been around for so long that everyone is just more comfortable with planning to take the test and submitting a score, so the UCs wanted to respect that option. But the UCs also recognize that COVID-19 has disrupted life in unprecedented ways, so if you feel the SAT/ACT is not right for you, then you have the option to to submit (with the consequences I’ve discussed in the previous section).

But after two years of being test-optional, anyone who was planning on or has already started SAT/ACT prep should be done already, which is why the UCs will then move into test-blind admissions. That said, remember, the SAT/ACT will still be used for scholarships and post-enrollment course placement even during the test-blind period (as well as the test-optional period), so it may be wise for you to still take the test.

What was the SAT/ACT supposed to do?

In over a decade of tutoring the SAT/ACT and working with thousands of students 1-on-1, I’ve personally seen SAT/ACT performance serve as a highly accurate representation of a student’s true intellectual abilities. As much as the SAT/ACT prep industry would have you believe (and ironically, I’m a part of that industry), no amount of shortcuts, SAT/ACT-specific strategies, or identification of test pitfalls can compensate for solid reading comprehension, math, or logic skills, for example. The SAT/ACT strategies definitely help, but they are NOT a replacement for strong academic fundamentals.

However, for me, the true value of the SAT/ACT in college admissions was never simply about evaluating intellectual strength. For me, the true value was in evaluating a student’s perseverance, determination, grit, or whatever you want to call it.

Some SAT/ACT opponents argue that these exams are unfair because they don’t align with the concepts students are learning in school (I full-heartedly agree, which I’ll explain in just a bit). But it’s precisely because the SAT/ACT are utterly misaligned with high school curriculums that these tests are superb evaluators of student perseverance.

See, if these tests actually reflected what students were taught in school, then there wouldn’t be a need for the whole cottage industry of SAT/ACT prep. Schools would have already provided the services that test prep companies provide. Students wouldn’t have to go out of their way to study for the SAT/ACT because doing well in school would also mean doing well on the SAT/ACT, since the tests would cover what school already teaches.

However, the reality is that the SAT/ACT is utterly misaligned, which means that students must find extra time in their busy schedules to learn new academic strategies and prepare for a test unlike anything they’ve ever seen in school. In fact, doing well on the SAT/ACT requires actively UNLEARNING some of what students have been trained to do in school because applying school strategies would lead them straight into the SAT/ACT traps.

For instance, English and literature classes across America are training students to think critically and to add their own interpretations backed up with so-called “evidence.” Except the SAT and ACT demand unequivocal, objective proof, not merely reasonable “evidence.” If there’s any room for interpretation, then there could be multiple correct answers, which defeats the purpose of these tests. So students must actually UNLEARN the skills of interpretation that their English teachers have drilled into their heads for years in order to do well on the SAT/ACT reading sections.

Furthermore, many students are in AP Calculus, AP Statistics, or at least Pre-Calculus Honors by the time they are making a serious go at the SAT/ACT. But the SAT/ACT don’t test these more advanced math concepts at all! The SAT/ACT math concepts only go up to Algebra 2/trig, with arguably a tiny bit of Pre-Calc. And that’s because Algebra 2/trig and Pre-Calc are often the SAME THING — it just depends on which textbook your school uses! I’ve had countless students tell me their Pre-Calc class was a 99% repeat of their previous year in Algebra 2/trig, and looking through their textbooks, I saw that was absolutely the case.

What this means is that you don’t need to be in the upper years of high school to have already learned all the math you need for the SAT/ACT. Waiting until your junior or senior year often means you’ve forgotten the more basic Algebra 1, geometry, and pre-algebra that are heavily tested. Moreover, setting up equations and solving them the school way often leads to carefully placed traps on the SAT/ACT math questions. There are specific SAT/ACT patterns and shortcuts that allow students to bypass all of that tedious school-way math, if only students knew about these secrets. So again, school math does not align with the actual SAT/ACT content.

And most high schools don’t teach grammar and punctuation altogether or only barely, so that’s no help for the SAT Writing & Language or ACT English sections. 

It’s obvious that these tests do not align with school teachings, which is a strong argument to abandon the SAT/ACT. So then why do I wholeheartedly still believe in the SAT/ACT?

Because their primary value is not from their academic assessment but from their personal assessment of students. It’s no easy achievement to ace the SAT/ACT, but students who are determined, manage their time well, and diligently learn the new academic skills needed do succeed. It takes tremendous perseverance to achieve this, so the SAT/ACT is a wonderful evaluator of how much a student is willing and able to go above and beyond, a quality any college would pride its students on. And it’s this motivation factor that ultimately determines the best leaders, innovators, thinkers, and doers in society, not raw intellectual horsepower.

That’s not to say the SAT/ACT’s intellectual component isn’t valuable. It certainly is, and the SAT/ACT have encouraged students to master fundamental academic concepts in ways schools have failed at. I can’t tell you how many juniors and even seniors from top-ranked high schools in the nation (both public and private) struggle to explain the main idea of a paragraph to me. That’s something students should have learned by 8th or 9th grade at the latest. I can’t tell you the number of 16+ year-olds who struggle to understand basic fractions and percentages concepts taught in middle school. Blame it on budget cuts, low teacher compensation, or any number of other factors, but it’s obvious that many students aren’t prepared for college.

It’s actually appalling that 1300 out of 1600 on the SAT (650 for math, 650 for verbal) is considered competitive for the vast majority of colleges. But a 650 out of a perfect 800 in the verbal section usually indicates major reading comprehension issues! It means students are likely missing the main idea or key details a quarter of the time!

But colleges presuppose that students enter college with a solid grasp of reading already. College isn’t the right time or place to learn to read! Colleges expect students to already know how to read because college is the place to discuss higher-level ideas. Colleges expect students to respond to complicated writings and arguments with their own well-reasoned insights and ideas. But none of that is possible if a student can’t even understand what the guy in the article actually said. Yet, that’s precisely the situation students find themselves in. 1350 or lower scorers often completely miss the point of the article or essay, so whatever ideas these students have in response is off base.

The SAT/ACT was designed to test a student’s core competencies in reading, writing, math, and logic. They’re not an IQ test, but they’re certainly intellectual tests that have merits academically and personally (evaluating student perseverance). That’s why most elite colleges have not gone test-optional or test-blind (other than for the next cohort of students who were affected by COVID-19 and the disruption to schools and test centers across the world).

My view is that the push to eliminate the SAT/ACT from college admissions is not so much a push to get rid of these specific tests, but a push to eliminate standardized tests of any kind altogether. That’s a dangerous proposition because there is SO MUCH VALUE that only standardized tests can provide, namely that the evaluation is as objective as possible.

It’s also why the UCs are looking into a different test to replace the SAT/ACT rather than scrapping standardized testing altogether, since no tests would mean more weight on subjective parts of the application like personal insight questions (essays) and extracurriculars.

Should I still study for the SAT/ACT?

In a nutshell, I’d advise yes. In full transparency, my firm Young Prodigy does offer SAT/ACT prep services, so I have a vested interest in keeping the SAT/ACT alive. But putting that aside, here are 5 reasons why I believe it’s still worthwhile for you to study for the SAT/ACT at least up until 2025.

  1. Only the UCs and a handful of private colleges have dropped the SAT/ACT. Most of these colleges are “test-optional,” not truly “test-blind,” so it’s still in most students’ best interest to submit a score. Going test-optional allows colleges to brag that their average SAT/ACT scores are higher (because only those who scored well would choose to submit scores), which helps their prestige, ranking, and funding. But test-optional actually disadvantages many students because those who choose to submit have self-selected to do so, which means they are going to submit HIGHER scores overall. That means for you to stand out among this top-performing crowd, you have to score even higher, so you should definitely study hard.Choosing NOT to submit a score would automatically make the UCs (or other test-optional colleges) wonder whether you’re academically strong enough. A student who submits a decent score will always be favored over an equivalent student who didn’t submit a score. Even if the admission officers are instructed not to disadvantage students who don’t submit a score, it’s difficult to override human nature, so there may be some natural bias against students who don’t submit a score.
  2. If you plan to apply for even a single college (say one of the Ivy League schools, Stanford, etc.) requires the SAT/ACT, then you’ll need to take it regardless of the UC’s decision. Even if you don’t currently intend to apply to any such schools, you may change your mind later. By then, it may be too late to adequately prepare for the SAT/ACT. So taking the test is about keeping your options open. UCs are just nine colleges out of thousands.
  3. The SAT/ACT is the fastest and easiest way to improve your admission chances. There’s nothing better you can spend your time on, hour per hour. In other words, an hour of SAT/ACT prep will improve your admission chances more than an hour of literally almost anything else. That’s because when the SAT/ACT is used for admissions, it’s worth approximately two full years of your GPA (which is likely about 2,000-3,000 hours or more once you combine how much time it takes for you to attend school, do the assignments, and study for school tests for ALL your classes in two years).Each 100-point improvement on the SAT (or 2-points on the ACT) roughly doubles your chances of admissions! You only need 100-200 or so hours of solid SAT/ACT prep time to see 200-300+ (SAT) or 5-7+ (ACT) improvements! Where else can you find gains like that in such a relatively short amount of time? Nowhere. If you do sports, marching band, or any other time-intensive club, then you know 100-200 hours is nothing. Yet even 2,000 hours of basketball is worth 10x less than a 100-point score improvement (easily achievable with under 50 hours of prep, sometimes way under).
  4. The SAT/ACT will continue to be used for at least 4 more years for scholarships and post-enrollment course placement, allowing you to significantly lower your UC expenses by placing out of beginner classes or receiving free money. Even if your SAT/ACT isn’t used for UC admissions, the score is still going to be beneficial in other appreciable and tangible ways with real high-dollar value.
  5. As I argued in the “What was the SAT/ACT supposed to do?” section, the SAT/ACT actually do a great job of encouraging students to master academic fundamentals in reading, writing, math, and logic. The tests ARE a strong indicator of academic understanding, which is critical in college and life.School does NOT teach these academic skills adequately because they’re pushing students through the years at a largely predetermined pace, instead of allowing students to truly comprehend the concepts before moving on. That’s why so many students are struggling to catch up in English class, tasked with offering their own thoughtful interpretations when they can’t even understand the stories they’re reading. Countless students are struggling to catch up in Pre-Calculus or Calculus class when their basic pre-algebra and Algebra 1 foundations are more shaky than a rollercoaster during a windstorm.Studying for the SAT/ACT helps solidify core academic skills that students will need to succeed in college, regardless of whether colleges continue to require these tests for admissions or not.

In what situations should I NOT take the SAT/ACT?

There’s no practical need to take these tests if you are 100% positive you are not going to apply to any schools that could use the SAT/ACT score in admissions evaluation. Notice I said “could,” so I’m NOT talking about test-optional schools because they could and definitely will use your SAT/ACT score if you submit it.

Don’t take the test if ALL the schools you plan to apply to are test-blind, meaning they do not allow students to submit a score even if they wanted to and scores will NOT be used in admission decisions at all.

The problem is it’s hard for you to know what schools you’ll definitely apply to this early. And even if you think you know now, decisions often change as the senior year approaches. You just never know for sure.

So a more practical reason not to take the SAT/ACT is if you’ve historically struggled in school and have a low GPA not out of laziness, but out of true academic struggles. If you’re generally placed in lower-level classes at school or you know that you’re not a great test-taker and scoring above a 1300 (ideally 1400+ for most UCs) feels unrealistic for you, then it’s probably not worth the effort. I say above a 1300 because that’s around the average SAT score for UC Riverside, the second-lowest ranked UC (right above UC Merced). If you plan to gain admission to higher-ranked UCs, then I’d aim for 1400 or even high 1400s/low 1500s.

This isn’t to say that only people who submit top scores will gain admission into the UC schools. But for UC Berkeley or UCLA, I’m willing to bet students who submit 1450+ will have a far easier chance for those two campuses than students who don’t. For UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Irvine, I recommend at least 1400. For UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz, I recommend around 1350+. For UC Riverside and UC Merced, I’d aim for 1300+.

Take a timed practice test and see where you currently stand. If you’re more than 300 points from the suggested minimum targets above, then I’d say spend your time elsewhere. Use your energy on improving your application in other areas, such as your extracurricular activities, because the SAT/ACT may be too much of an uphill battle for use, costing you time you’d need to develop a unique extracurricular passion and achievement.

What can I do to stack the cards in my favor now?

If you opt not to take the SAT/ACT, then stack the cards in your favor by pursuing meaningful extracurricular work, particularly a passion or monument project that aligns with your application strategy hook or theme.

Pursuing rich, impactful activities will allow you to reflect on poignant and impactful experiences you can write about in your UC personal insight questions (and college essays in general for private or other schools). Don’t just pursue random activities to seem impressive on paper; make sure every activity you pursue fits together in your overall story as you hone your specialty. Dig deeper into your activities because it’s not about how many activities you do, but about how much you accomplish in a few of them.

If you’re shooting for a top-100 school (definitely a top-50 school) and not only a UC school, then I’d highly recommend that you continue to study for the SAT/ACT. Test-optional means that those who submit are generally going to have a better chance at admissions. Despite what anyone says, think about it, if submitting a score truly did not matter and did not affect your chances, then why would ANYONE waste their time studying and submitting a score? Those who submit are going to self-select themselves as a top scorer, so it’s going to be a relatively strong score, which means your admission chances will go up.

And of course, if you wish to receive scholarships based on your SAT/ACT score and be placed in higher-level classes as soon as you begin your time at a UC school, then definitely take the SAT/ACT. Also continue to study for the SAT/ACT if you wish to be competitive for most of the elite private universities and colleges.

During these next two years (2021-22), when the UCs are test-optional, students who submit a strong score will still be rewarded. A good score can help compensate for weaker activities, GPAs, and essays too, especially since traditionally, the SAT/ACT score was worth approximately two full years (all classes combined) of your GPA. 

The SAT/ACT was and continues to be one of the biggest bang for your hour, meaning each hour of studying for the SAT could get you a bigger benefit for your admissions chances than spending an hour doing anything else. For instance, if you participate in sports, you could easily spend 15+ hours a week on that, totally thousands of hours by the time you graduate. But after say 1,000 or 2,000 hours of soccer, an extra 500 hours typically doesn’t improve your chances because you’re just doing more of the same thing, not achieving anything deeper. But 500 hours…heck, even 100 hours of SAT/ACT studying could dramatically improve your score by 200-300 points on the SAT or 5-7+ points on the ACT, which more than triples your chances of admissions.

Even when the UCs switch to test-blind in 2023 and 2024, the SAT/ACT will continue to be used for scholarships and post-enrollment consideration, so it’d still be worth it to take the test if you can do well.

And keep in mind, it’s unclear right now if the UCs are having DIFFERENT people evaluate your admissions fate than people who make scholarship and post-enrollment course placement considerations. If it’s the same people, then it’s psychologically impossible to unsee your score, so they’re going to be biased one way or another.


The overall impact of the UCs decision to transition away from the SAT/ACT is that pursuing impressive extracurriculars and creating the right college strategy (a specialized passion area, a personalized timeline, and activities and recognition that all align with your story) will become exponentially more important, especially if more universities follow suit in abandoning the SAT/ACT. So if you’re looking for the best ways to maximize your efforts to get into the school of your dreams, go ahead and send me an email at [email protected] to schedule a free discovery call.

The SAT/ACT aren’t dead at the UCs. The decision really only affects those who will struggle to earn higher than 1300 on the SAT or 27 on the ACT. For everyone else, it’s going to be a MORE competitive field as you’re going to be competing against higher submitted scores, which is why I’ve decided to host an intensive SAT bootcamp starting in late June/early July 2020 to prepare for the upcoming August, September, October, and November 2020 SATs.

I’m thinking 100 hours across a few months; it’s going to be super concentrated hard work in an intimate small-group setting of no more than 10-15 students. Of course, my normal 1-on-1 SAT and ACT programs will continue as well, so if you’re ready to ace the SAT/ACT once and for all, shoot me an email at [email protected] for details.

Good luck, and feel free to reply or leave a comment if you have any questions!

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