Are You Taking the SAT or ACT Without Studying? Think Again!

By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: June 4, 2021

Parents and students often ask us: Is taking the SAT or ACT without studying okay? Isn’t it good practice for next time?

Our answer is always the same: No! Test day is not the time to show up blind. Even if you plan on taking the test numerous times and even if you feel confident in your testing ability, it’s just not worth the risk.

The SAT and ACT are not your typical standardized tests and most importantly, they bear considerably on your future. It’s the very rare student who can walk into an SAT or ACT without studying and perform well. Every test matters. Here are a few of the reasons why you should not skip studying and preparing, even for your first test:

Reason #1: Some Schools Require You to Send Every Score

Some colleges are going “test optional” (which doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t submit scores – see our important blog, 3 Reasons Scores Matter) and some institutions offer students the option of submitting only their highest scores. BUT, there are still a good number of colleges that require you to submit all scores from every test sitting. So, if you go in with an attitude of “just seeing what kind of score I can get without studying” and come out with a low score, a college that requires all scores will see that low score – and that could impact your admission decision!

If you know what colleges you’re interested in, it’s a great idea to check their standardized test requirements before you start testing. You can find a list of colleges and their SAT submission policies here. Always remember to check again with every college before you submit your scores, since policies can change.Student Meeting with College Admissions Director

Reason #2: A Poor Score Can Impact Future Testing

After working with thousands of students over the years, we’ve learned that when it comes to standardized tests for college admission, there’s an emotional component that cannot be ignored. On top of their schoolwork and extracurriculars, students feel pressured to perform well on the SAT or ACT. Often, even those students who don’t typically suffer from test anxiety will feel some anxiety with these tests (read more about coping with test anxiety). We also know from experience that if you awake on test day unprepared, the resulting score will likely be much lower than you might have scored had you studied. A sub-par score can be deflating for any student. It could affect your self-confidence and ultimately create more pressure and anxiety surrounding future tests.

Sure, low scores are going to happen and they’re not the end of the world, but why not give yourself the best tools to do well? At minimum, you should familiarize yourself with the test format and take one or two practice tests under timed conditions to get a feel for the overall experience. Most students, however, have better test outcomes with a comprehensive preparation plan. For tips on effective test preparation, see our Guide to Preparing for College Entrance Exams.SAT Test with a Timer

Reason #3: You’d Be Wasting A Valuable Opportunity

There’s so much to be gleaned from every practice SAT or ACT you take, so preparing ahead will help you maximize the time (and money) you’re spending to sit for the actual test. If you’ve taken practice tests and reviewed strategies, the results should give you a pretty solid indication of where you are and what you need to focus on in order to improve. Once your results are in, carefully review, paying particular attention to any questions that tripped you up. Was it the wording of the question that confused you, or do you need to work more on concepts? A valuable testing opportunity is one in which you learn about your strengths and weaknesses and use that information to set realistic expectations and goals for future tests. It will also help you plan for the next steps in your prep work. Maybe you need to work on the timing – more practice tests will help. Or perhaps you’ll decide you need a tutor to help you review some of the math you’ve forgotten.

Bottom line: taking the SAT or ACT without at least minimal prepping is never a good idea. While you can take these tests as many times as you like, we advise students not to take any test more than 4 times, and taking a test twice is really ideal. So don’t waste your time, energy, and money “practicing” on a real test; do it beforehand to make the most of every test sitting.

Need help prepping for standardized tests or guidance about the college application process? Give us a call. We’re in the know.


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