Should I Retake the SAT or ACT?

Are you thinking about retaking the SAT or ACT? Maybe you’re not happy with your current score, or you want to increase your chances of getting accepted to your dream college or receiving a scholarship. Whatever your reason, retaking the SAT or ACT is a smart move for most students

Before we talk about retaking the exams, we have to address a relatively new phenomenon in college admissions and scholarships- Test Optional Policies.  Deciding whether or not to submit your standardized test scores to colleges can be a tough call. So, I’ve created two useful decision trees to help you decide if you should submit your first scores or retakes.
Remember, every college has its own unique policies when it comes to standardized test scores. So, be sure to do your research and check each college’s website or reach out to their admissions office for more information.

Will a better score really help me?

Almost assuredly! A higher score can help you in 3 ways:

  1. Increase your chances of getting accepted to a more selective college or university.
  2. Increase your chances of receiving scholarships. In fact, less selective schools often offer automatic scholarships if you hit a certain score threshold. I’ve sat on hundreds of scholarship committees and there are definitely some reviewers that will be impressed by a higher score and take it into account.
  3. Decrease the likelihood that you will have to take unnecessary and costly remedial courses because most schools will determine which math and English courses you will take freshman year based on your highest section score.

In fact, some colleges and universities have policies that specifically encourage students to retake the SAT. For example, Michigan State University considers the highest total SAT or composite ACT score on file. “There is no disadvantage in sending multiple test scores since the lower test scores are disregarded.”

What are the chances that my score will improve?

As I will discuss below, knowledge and practice lead to confidence. As a result, 2/3rds of students who retake the SAT improve their scores and the average increase is over 40 points! Similarly, the ACT reports that students who retake the test typically see a score increase of around 2-3 points on the composite score. These are just the averages and some students will see much larger score increases!

What if my total score doesn’t go up?

There’s a common misconception that colleges and universities only look at your highest total SAT or ACT score. Some schools do this (like MSU), but many schools consider all your scores or use a process called “superscoring” to combine your highest individual section scores from multiple test dates. This means that even if you don’t improve your overall score, you could still improve your section scores.

Schools like Miami University in Ohio and the University of Michigan (U-M) use a “superscoring” method to combine the highest section scores from multiple test dates into a new overall score. According to U-M, retaking the exam can demonstrate a student’s “commitment to excellence and a willingness to engage in challenge and growth.”

Why doesn’t everyone retake, then?

Reason #1: Anxiety. Research shows that nearly one in five teenagers have high test anxiety and nearly everyone experiences some level of anxiety. The good news is that students who retake are usually less anxious and perform better because:

  • They are more familiar with the process- where to show up and what to expect on test day.
  • They are familiar with the test and aren’t surprised by the types of questions that show up.
  • They know which specific topics they need to study before the next time they take the test.

Reason #2: Cost. Most school districts will pay for a student’s first attempt. If the student is required to pay for their own retake, it will cost between $60 and $100 per test. Fortunately, some districts will pay for retakes and there is need-based aid to help lower-income students retake for free. Be sure to talk to your guidance counselor to see if you qualify!

If you’re considering retaking the SAT, go for it! Take advantage of the resources available to you, such as practice tests, study guides, and tutoring programs. And remember, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving it another shot!

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