Studying for standardized tests is nobody’s idea of a fun Sunday activity. After all, these tests aren’t designed to be fun; instead, they’re designed to measure how much you know, and how well you can apply your knowledge. While the actual efficacy of these tests in measuring your skill and knowledge is debated, college admissions still put a lot of stock in them, for now at least.
Colleges that ask for standardized test scores rank them just barely behind high school performance when determining your academic capabilities. Thus a high score on a single test can count for almost as much as several years worth of effort and work. While top schools do put more weight on your performance in high school overall, they still care about test scores.
Thus, while you may not be particularly enthused about studying for the SAT or ACT, it is still a valuable way to invest your time. This isn’t to say it should be your only focus or dominate your schedule to the detriment of other activities you undertake. Merely that the benefits of an improved test score are quite high relative to the amount of time you put in. If you can raise your score by 100 points by studying an hour a week for 20 weeks, that is a very good time investment.
The earlier you begin studying, the higher you will be able to raise your score, and the more time you put in on high-quality studying, the better you will do. The trick is finding a proper balance, so you are able to raise your scores to a level that will impress colleges, while not completely overwhelming your other extracurriculars. High test scores will not make up for consistently poor grades, and high grades will sometimes cover for low test scores if other aspects of your application are particularly impressive. That said, the ideal applicant has very high grades and test scores alike, able to check all of the right boxes to make schools think they are academically prepared for college.
There is no golden formula that will tell you exactly how much you need to study, or what scores you need to achieve, in order to get into the college of your dreams. You should not neglect to study for these tests, however, and when you look at the impact of these single scores vs the overall weight of your high school record, a tradeoff may need to be made. Here again, there is no hard and fast rule, but we recommend doing as much as you can without neglecting any of your other core activities and commitments.