Inside tips and advice from AcceptU's team of former admissions officers


Should you retake the SAT or ACT?

June 8, 2011, Posted In Standardized Testing

The scores are in. How did you do?

Scores (no pun intended) of students took the ACT in April and the SAT in May. (And thousands more sharpened their No. 2 pencils for the June exams.)

Regardless of test date, you’ll get the results this summer and have to decide whether to retake the exam in the fall. Are you done with standardized testing? Are you satisfied with your score? Do you think you could do better the next time around? What is the maximum number of tests you should even take? Do colleges really super-score these exams?

In making your decision, consider the following six factors:

1. Standardized tests are just one piece of the application. If colleges only looked at your grades and test scores, and nothing else, then their admissions decisions would be easy. So, if your score isn’t what you had hoped for, remember that there’s a lot more for admissions officers to consider.

2. What are the middle fiftieth percentile scores of colleges that interest you? (The middle 50% is a range, where 25% of students’ scores fell above and 25% fell below.) You can use this range to gauge if you might be a good candidate for admission. If your score is above the range, and you have good grades, then maybe this college is a safety school for you. If you fall in the range, then maybe it’s a match, and if you’re below, maybe it’s a reach school. Scores are just one determinant in admissions, so don’t let a number dictate where you end up applying, but use it instead as a starting point in forming your college list.

3. How many times have you already taken the SAT or ACT? If it’s one or two, then you might want to consider taking it again this fall. If it’s three, then you really should move on and concentrate on other aspects of your application, like making the most of your summer, preparing for interviews, taking college tours and brainstorming your essay topics. Colleges don’t want to see you taking standardized tests over and over again; the tests are designed for reproducibility, meaning you should get similar scores each time unless you change your study habits in between testing dates.

4. All colleges will super-score your tests, meaning they’ll look at the highest composite ACT and the highest components of the ACT from each testing date (and, similarly, they’ll look at your highest Math, Critical Reading and Writing sections from each SAT test you submit). Colleges want you to have your highest scores shine on your apps as much as you do.

5. Will you dedicate yourself to studying hard for the ACT or SAT over the summer? If so, then perhaps it’s worth retaking the exam in fall (September for the ACT, and October for the SAT). But keep in mind you’ll be very busy with the start of senior year, and you’ll be finishing up your essays and working on completing your applications, so you might not want to spend the time studying.

6. Are you applying via rolling decision or early action/decision? Rolling decision means you apply after the online application goes live, and you could hear a reply from the college within four weeks. With early action/decision, you apply by November and receive a reply by December. With any of these options, you’ll want most or all of your testing completed by the time you submit an application. It’s okay if you don’t have your exams completed, but admissions offices will hold off on making a decision until all scores are received.