When our Collegewise students get their SAT/ACT scores, they usually ask us, “Should I take it again?” Even if they’re thrilled with their scores, that’s the question they ask. Standardized tests have a way of doing that to people. No matter what score you get, you always wonder if it could be higher.
Eventually, the law of diminishing returns applies itself to studying for standardized tests. Spending your entire summer preparing to take the SAT a third or fourth time just won’t feel worth it if you only go up 20 points.
So how do you decide whether to take the test again? There’s only a little hard science to this decision, but here are a few guidelines.
1. Did you nail it?
If you met or beat what you hoped you could score, move on. End your standardized testing career on a high note. I know it’s tempting to think you might be able to eke out even more points, but there are lots of other things you can be doing to prepare for college admissions that are more important, and more rewarding, than doing more test prep.
Also, if you scored 2150 or higher on the SAT, or 32 or higher on the ACT, walk away. Those scores are good enough at even the most selective schools. Higher scores won’t improve your chances, and taking the test again just makes you look neurotic.
2. Check average test scores.
Most colleges share the average test scores of the students they admit. You can find that information on their websites or on collegeboard.com. Before you make a decision about retesting, it’s good to know how you compare to students your chosen colleges admit.
Also, don’t forget that many colleges allow you to report your highest SAT Math, Critical Reading and Writing scores from different
sittings (a practice called “superscoring”). So your highest test score may be better than you thought it was. Visit the admissions sections on the websites of the colleges that interest you and find out how they use the scores. Then you can make an informed decision about taking the test again.
3. If you took a class or worked with a tutor, ask the instructor’s opinion.
A good instructor should be able to tell you whether or not you have a good chance of improving your scores. And if you’ve already shown that you can do much better than your most recent score, an instructor can encourage you and tell you where to spend your time reviewing.
4. Are you feeling optimistic, or beaten down?
Some students want to take the test again because they know they can do better. They feel they’ve got the testing upper hand and want to show what they can do. If you’re feeling buoyed and want one more try at slaying the testing beast, have at it. But if you’ve done your best and spent your time preparing and now just wish you never have to take them again, do something else that doesn’t make you feel so discouraged.
For most students who plan and prepare well, two times is enough for any standardized tests. When a student decides he’s just got to try a third time, I tell him to go for it, but then mandate that he throw in the testing towel once he finishes. Part of managing standardized tests means knowing when to say when.