There is no magic number for how many times a student should take the SAT or ACT. For some students, taking the test once may be enough. For others, they may need to take the test twice or even three times. There are no penalties for taking the tests multiple times, or choosing to take both tests to see how you do on the different tests. So, how should students determine how many times they should take standardized tests? A lot of it depends on the colleges you are considering. Keep these things in mind when figuring out whether to retake the SAT or ACT.
- Required test scores for admission. Some colleges have required test scores, and if you meet or exceed those requirements, there may be no need to take the test again. You will need to retake the test if you have not met the required scores.
- Average tests scores. Many colleges do not have required test scores, but will quote average test scores when asked about tests. Average test scores are usually the average tests scores of the previous year’s admitted or enrolled students. Colleges will typically want to bring in students who fall within average or above the test scores of the previous class. If you’re in the average range or below, you may want to consider retaking the test. If you’re above the average and the rest of your application meets or exceeds what the colleges are looking for in an applicant, you may not need to take the test again.
- Scholarship requirements. Quite a few scholarships, including merit awards from colleges and universities, require specific test scores. For college merit awards, some are very specific about the score requirement, while others are awarded on a sliding scale based on GPA and test scores. Learn about the requirements for the awards, or play around with the net price calculators on the college websites to see what happens if you were to increase your test scores. If there is a chance of increasing your financial aid award, it may be worth it to retake the test.
- Athletic requirements. If you are planning on competing in college athletics, there are specific requirements student-athletes must meet. If you have not met the eligibility requirement to compete, you must retake the test if you want to play or compete in college.
- Chances of doing better. Sometimes you just know you will do better on the test if you retake it. Maybe you were distracted or not feeling well the first time you took the test. If circumstances were different, you’d probably do better. Or, you did not prepare before the test but now know, after seeing the test once, that if you study and do some test prep, you’ll do better. If you know you will probably do better, take the test again.
- Selectivity of the institution. Even if you meet the average test scores of a selective institution, it might not be enough to be admitted. Therefore, if there is a likelihood of getting a better score, students should consider retaking the test. There is no guarantee of being admitted to most colleges, especially the highly selective colleges, so anything you can do to better your admissions profile can help your chances of being admitted.
The one thing students should never do is view their first SAT or ACT as a practice test. There are many test prep resources available to students, including free resources for students who do not have the funds to pay for a high-priced test prep tutoring company. Students can even sample previous tests and questions from both the SAT and ACT prior to their test date so that they can get acquainted with the format and type of questions they should anticipate. Students should go into that first SAT or ACT as if it were their last. Why waste your time and money not putting your all into the test anyway?
While the majority of colleges do not have a preference as to what test you take, they may use the test scores differently. Therefore, check with each college to see how they use test score. For many colleges, if you take the SAT and ACT, they will use the test score that is the highest based on the concordance chart to make their decisions. Many colleges also super score the SAT – they will use the highest score from each section.
If you are still unsure if you should retake the tests or not, talk with individuals who can provide further guidance. Your school counselor may have some insight into the admissions processes at the colleges you are considering. You can also go to the sources and talk to admissions officers. Admissions officers know the admissions process at their institution and can provide guidance on your admissions profile, including your test scores. While they won’t guarantee your admission to the institution, an admissions officer can give you a good idea as to the type of score you should try to obtain for admissions and financial aid purposes.