Does this scenario sound familiar at all to you?
You just finished taking the SAT or ACT, and you’re already convinced you messed it up. You normally finish the Writing/English with time to spare, but this time, you barely squeaked by. You didn’t even finish every Reading question. And the Math? Forget it! It felt much harder than the math on your practice tests.
You’re SURE you bombed. Shouldn’t you just cancel your SAT or ACT score and not have to face a disastrous score?
While cancelling your score IS an option, let’s be rational about this one, shall we? Let me explain the situations where cancelling your SAT or ACT score makes sense—and where you should sit on your hands and ride the discomfort of a potentially lower-than-hoped-for score.
How do you know if you should cancel your SAT or ACT score?
Here it is in a nutshell: canceling a score should be reserved for situations that border on emergencies—because they’re the ones that are actually likely to have affected your score. Let me give you some examples.
Here are reasons you might ACTUALLY want to cancel your SAT or ACT score:
You fell ASLEEP in the middle of the test and didn’t finish it.
An emergency came up and you had to leave the test early, without finishing it.
You came to the test LATE and missed huge chunks of a section—or even more than one section!
You got sick and excused yourself from the Science section to throw up in the bathroom—where you stayed for 20 minutes.
You were passing a kidney stone, were in excruciating pain the entire time, AND hardly finished any of the sections.
Your calculator battery died and you couldn’t complete the math questions without it—for the whole section.
Your pencil broke, there was no sharpener, the proctor didn’t have an extra for you to use, it wasn’t a No. 2 pencil anyway—basically, you had no way of bubbling in your answers in a way the scantron could read and accurately spit out a score for.
Don’t laugh: those are actual TRUE stories from past students! (Ones I helped them bounce back from and move past to keep pursuing the scores they were capable of.) In any event, situations like those, where you know for certain you can’t possibly have gotten anywhere near the score you normally earn because a circumstance prevented you from actually finishing entire sections of the test—THOSE situations warrant cancelling a score. Especially if you have schools on your list that require you send every test score and do NOT allow for Score Choice!
For both the ACT and SAT, you could simply tell the proctor during the test and have your scores canceled (as in, NOT even graded) right then and there!
Now, here are reasons NOT to cancel your SAT or ACT score:
You thought the Math/Reading/Grammar/Science section was much harder than normal.
You didn’t finish every single question on a section that you usually have ample time on.
You saw some questions on topics you swear you’ve never learned before.
You never have issues with Reading/whatever, and one of the passages was really difficult for you to understand.
You felt distracted by some construction noise and are convinced you didn’t do well because of it.
You felt more nervous than you’ve ever been while taking a test.
You left the testing center “feeling bad” about it and about your performance.
…do you see the difference?
Still convinced YOUR situation warrants you to cancel your SAT score? Maybe this story will help you:
A perfect example of this occurred when a student of mine—let’s call her Ellen—called me after her SAT sitting in a total panic.
“Kristina, the Math was AWFUL! It felt so much harder than normal. I didn’t know how to do 3 of the questions and just guessed. Also, one of the Reading passages was super hard, and I don’t think I really understood it. Shouldn’t I just cancel my score?! My brother canceled one of his tests, and he ended up getting the scores he needed on the next one.”
After about 15 minutes on the phone with her, I determined that the only tangible things that happened were that there were a few math and reading questions that Ellen more or less guessed on—and she usually has time to work through everything. Everything else was subjective: like how “hard” sections, questions, passages were and how she “felt” about it.
I convinced her to NOT cancel her scores, a decision I was convinced was best for several reasons:
If she thought the Math section was incredibly “hard”...that probably meant that a LOT of other students did, too! Which meant the curve would more than likely be “easier” and account for that.
If she thought a Reading passage was harder than usual...that same logic applies here, too! She was a naturally strong reader, so she’d likely STILL be in the top percentiles, even if she missed a few more questions than she usually did.
Many of her schools Super-Scored. Meaning, they would take her highest Math and highest Verbal across test dates. She already locked in a 770 on Verbal, so who really cared if her Reading section didn’t go as well as usual? We were looking to raise her Math to 730 so she could Super-Score to a 1500.
All but one of her schools accepted Score Choice, meaning that if she truly DID get an abysmal score, no one would have to see it, anyway. She could just never send it.
To keep up her momentum! If she canceled her scores when there’s even a chance to get something useful, she would have stalled her process. There would be nothing to “go over” later, and she might risk being in “test prep limbo,” never fully re-committing to the process in time for the next test date.
There are only so many test dates for the SAT and the ACT. Unless you had a real emergency, you should see what score you got before pooh-pooh-ing it. You’ll never see your score if you cancel.
Do you know what ended up happening? Ellen did NOT cancel her score. Then, when she got it back, she got a 730 in Math—the highest she’d EVER gotten! Her Verbal wasn’t quite as good as the 770 she already had, but that didn’t matter for her super score—she got exactly what she needed to Super Score to a 1500! (And just because, she took the NEXT sitting as well...and got a 1540, Super-Scoring to a 1550!)
I definitely wouldn’t want you to miss out on a score that’s better than you fear because of panic or an imperfect understanding of how the test works. But sometimes there ARE real reasons to cancel your score—and so you’ll be ready if you run into one of those, in my next post, I’ll be telling you HOW to cancel your ACT score! Stay tuned, and if you need help making this decision FAST, you know where to reach me.