Should You Retake the SAT?
You’ve just received your SAT scores, and you didn’t get the perfect score you hoped for. (Don’t worry, hardly anyone does). No matter whether you scored a 1400 or a 1000, you might be wondering if you should retake the test. In fact, all students who take the SAT at some point are faced with the decision to settle on their SAT scores or take the test again.
On the one hand, retaking the test is a big commitment. You will need to pay another registration fee, withstand the test-related anxiety leading up to it, and devote another Saturday to taking the test. That’s not to mention the prep work you’ll also need to do. After all, if your goal is to improve your current score, you’ll need to put some time and energy towards doing so rather than just winging it a second time.
On the other hand, though, most students find that their SAT scores improve significantly after the first test administration and continue to do so, though less dramatically, even after the second and third. A higher score could put out of reach schools suddenly within your grasp or qualify you for a scholarship you’d otherwise miss out on.
In this post, we break down how to decide if retaking the SAT is the right decision for you. What factors should you weigh and what questions should you ask yourself if you’re deciding whether to retake the SAT? Keep reading to find out.
What Is Your Target SAT Score?
Before you take your SAT, you should have a target score in mind. This score will vary depending on a number of different factors. You will take into account your performance on practice tests, your general standardized test aptitude, and what schools you’d like to apply to when setting your target score. It can be a complex and sometimes imperfect process, but it’s one worth taking seriously if you hope to maximize your testing potential.
When you decide whether you’ll retake the SAT, one major consideration is how close you are to your target SAT score. If you are still hundreds of points away, you will definitely need to retake the test if you intend to keep your sights set on the same schools that you’d originally planned on applying to. If you are closer, say within 20-50 points, you’ll need to consider how important and precise your target score actually is. Is there any wiggle room? Do you think you could surpass it?
If you did not set a target score before you took the SAT, it isn’t too late to do so. First, you’ll need to consider your existing score and whether you believe it’s a fair representation of your ability. Also look at the colleges you’d like to attend. Research what SAT scores represent the average admitted student at each of these schools and then factor in your other application factors. For example, if you have stellar grades and impressive extracurriculars, a slightly lower SAT might still put you within reasonable reach of certain schools.
To learn more about setting a target SAT score and how it impacts which schools you consider, see these important CollegeVine posts:
How Likely Are You to Improve On Your Score?
The penultimate question when it really boils down to retaking your SAT is how likely you are to actually improve upon the score you received. While this might seem obvious, it relies heavily on a few factors. If you’re trying to figure out how likely you are to improve your score, consider these central questions:
Did you underperform?
While we’d all like to think that we underperformed if we didn’t achieve the score we want, there is actually an easy way to determine if you truly underperformed. If you scored more than 100 points below your average practice test score, you probably underperformed.
While this can be frustrating, it’s actually good news. Underperformance is often linked with test anxiety or an error such as reading directions incorrectly or filling in the scoring sheet wrong. These issues can be easily addressed and when they are, you will see your score return to something closer to your average range.
How many times have you taken the test?
In general, the greatest score increase is achieved the second time you take the SAT. While the average student continues to experience some score improvement beyond the second SAT, these gains are far less significant.
One study released by the CollegeBoard revealed that the greatest score gains were achieved between the first and second SATs taken by students, with lower-scoring students achieving greater gains.
If you have only taken the SAT once, you should definitely consider retaking it to capitalize on the score improvement associated with a second SAT. If you have already taken the SAT twice, you still might consider retaking it if there are compelling reasons to believe you’ll improve, but generally just taking the test twice is usually enough. If you’ve already taken the SAT three times, it’s unlikely you’ll achieve any significant score improvement unless there are other significant changes as well. Further, some admissions officers may be turned off if they see you have taken the test more than three times.
How much did you prepare?
Students who spend time seriously brushing up on content and who study strategy and time management as well will generally achieve a score closer to their peak score. In other words, if you prepared a ton the first time around, your score increase will likely be less significant than someone who didn’t study at all and finally decides to apply him or herself.
If you know you didn’t study as much as you should have or you identified major knowledge gaps during your first test, you have a decent chance of improving your score significantly if you put some more time into preparations.
To learn more about how to prepare for the SAT, see these posts:
Preparing for the SAT? Check out these top 8 tips for mastering the SAT in our free guide.
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