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Certainly standardized tests are an important part of the college admission process, but the SAT or the ACT is not identified as the most important. Surveys consistently show that strong grades in college-prep classes are more important college admission requirements than test scores.

Test scores and the college admission process

If you’re a strong test taker, you’ve got little to worry about, as long as you can do well in your classes and fulfill the other college admissions requirements. However, many students perform well in a college-prep curriculum, but have trouble with the ACT or SAT. If you fit this profile, focus on your grades, stretch yourself in tough classes and make sure you prepare in the months leading up to your test.

While grades are at the top, that’s not to say that test scores aren’t important in the college admissions process. In 1993, NACAC found that 46 percent of colleges surveyed placed “considerable importance” on admission tests. As the number of graduates and competition for admission to selective schools has increased, so has that percentage. In 2003, the number went up to 61 percent. The number that placed “considerable importance” on grades, 78 percent, had remained fairly consistent over those 10 years.

Other important college admission requirements

Next to grades and test scores, other key college admissions requirements were mentioned, though they’re less prominent. Class rank (not calculated at about half of high schools), interviews (not offered at many colleges), essays (not required by some colleges), and recommendation letters were identified as being of “considerable importance,” but by less than a third of respondents.

Test scores more important at selective schools

Which colleges do emphasize test scores? According to NACAC, it’s the most selective institutions — particularly those admitting fewer than 50 percent of applicants. So if you’re looking for college admissions assistance to a selective institution, consider putting extra effort into test preparation; it may pay off in the end.

This also holds true at schools outside of New England or the West; schools with a yield of less than 60 percent; and four-year, private, and middle- to large-size institutions (those with 10,000 to 20,000 students).

However, some schools don’t consider test scores at all. Most two-year and non-selective schools are in this group.