When Should Students Retake the ACT or SAT?

The following is a guest post written by Hillary Gan of Varsity Tutors.

Calculator and test prep book

While students can theoretically take the ACT up to 12 times and the SAT an unlimited number of times, the benefits of such a strategy are often limited by costs and college timelines.

Retaking the test once or twice, however, might be advantageous. Retaking can be a good idea in the following scenarios:

You scored below the average range for students at your college of choice

The ultimate goal of taking standardized tests is to get into college. Most colleges publish the average score range for enrolled students on their websites or with third-party sites. If your scores are a little below your target school’s range, then taking the test again could increase your chances of acceptance; scores too far below, however, might indicate you need to rethink your target schools.

You’ve only taken the test once

Most student scores go up on both the ACT and SAT the second time they take the test — even if students don’t prepare. Prior testers now have an edge in familiarity with the test structure, timing, and environment — which can give students more time and confidence in the second test. Taking it a second time, especially if the student prepares, will usually result in a higher score.

You have enough time to prepare properly

Allow at least a month between getting scores back from the first test and taking the test again. Students will be able to review answers from the first test and pinpoint areas of difficulty before getting back to practicing. Using free test prep resources, such as these mobile ACT and SAT apps, can be incredibly helpful in refining your skills.

You have enough time to get the score to the relevant colleges

Retaking the ACT or SAT won’t help you much if your target college sends you its decision before you can send along your test scores. Make sure you plan any testing with enough time for the scores to be reported and sent to colleges before decisions are made.

Your college uses superscoring

Most schools use the highest scores from each section of the ACT or SAT, even if they were achieved on different dates, to add up to a “superscore” when considering for admission. In this case, retaking the test can only help. However, some schools — especially Ivy League schools — insist that all scores be sent in with the application, or others consider your “highest date” score, which is the single test with the highest score. Make sure to be familiar with the school’s’ policies before deciding whether to retake a test.

You scored significantly lower than reasonably expected

Sometimes testing just goes badly. If a student showed up late, got nervous, implemented poor strategies, misunderstood directions, or otherwise underperformed when aptitude suggested a higher score, a second test might be an easy fix. Make sure to revise strategies, review directions, times, and/or locations for the test, and practice some anxiety coping mechanisms.

The prospective gain is worth the cost

A final factor that might be important to consider is cost. If the student has already taken the test one or two times, has scored within a range that accurately represents their aptitude and meets their target schools’ score ranges, studied hard and prepared well, then the additional expense and time of repeat tests might not be necessary.

Retaking ACT or SAT can help greatly with the college admissions process if approached with the right mindset and goals, but it isn’t always necessary. An accurate assessment of how you are performing and what you want to achieve will help you decide if a second test will be beneficial.

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