How to Know If You Should Retake the SAT or ACT One Last Time

"Sara, should I retake?"

There is not a day that goes by that a private client, a member of Application Nation, or a follower doesn't ask me whether they should retake the SATs, ACTs, or even Subject Tests. My response to them is tempered by the fact that I remember wondering the same thing when I was in high school. Nowadays, I understand exactly who would benefit from retaking these tests and who should focus on other pieces of the college admissions process.

The honest truth is that retaking the SATs in August/October of senior year or the ACT in September of senior year usually yields the student's best results. No matter how much students fight me on retaking the test, they are in their best frame of mind and most mature state to take the test one last time. But a lot of things need to be present for me to encourage this plan.

1. Their test scores are not far off their personal goal and the middle 50% range of their dream colleges.

For example, if the student just needs a point or two on the ACT or another 20-30 points on the SAT to reach that unofficial benchmark, it's worth retaking the test.

2. They already have a test prep plan in place that works.

Whether it's self-guided prep or working with a private tutor, if a student knows that it's working and a little extra time would make the difference, they should retake the test.

WATCH: Sara's Facebook Live session on Standardized Tests

3. They have the time to devote to test prep this summer.

Students need to be realistic when it comes to finding time to study. If they can carve out time on a daily/weekly basis, or just a concentrated few weeks at the end of the summer, it can make a big difference.

4. They have no other plans on the test date!

When I recommended to one of my private clients to retake the ACT in September, she told me that she had a varsity game, Homecoming, and it was her birthday that day. The student never sees better results when there is this much going on the same weekend as the test.

5. Scores from the test will arrive in time for any early deadlines.

For example, the University of Michigan states on their website that scores from the October SAT/Subject Tests will not arrive in time for their November 1st Early Action deadline. However, many colleges with Early Action and Early Decision deadlines will accept scores after their deadline as long as they arrive within a few days or so.


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When it comes to Subject Tests, it is usually hard enough to find the right tests to take in the first place. Finding time to retake Subject Tests can be challenging. But if the student has time, here is what they should consider:

  1. Do a number of colleges on the list require or recommend them? The reality is that there are only a handful of colleges that fill this criteria. I never want students to spend time on a test that is not needed.
  2. Are my scores going to be competitive in the end? For the handful of colleges that require or recommend Subject Tests, they have very high standards when it comes to scores. If the student's practice tests are in the 700+ range, it's probably worth retaking.
  3. Do I truly have the time to devote to studying for these Subject Tests? If not, I would rather that the student focus their time and energy on writing essays, filling out applications, and getting the highest grades they can get during senior year.

"If a student doesn't have enough time to properly prepare to retake #SubjectTests, their focus is better spent on other pieces of the application." TWEET THIS

The last thing that a student wants to do is retake standardized tests heading into senior year. However, if they have that indescribable motivation to give it one more try, they often will see their highest scores as long as they are willing to properly prepare. 
 
When I was a high school senior, I reached my breaking point and wasn't willing to take the SAT one last time during senior year. My dad was not happy with me! In the end, I made sure that I was applying to colleges who would accept all of me (including those final scores). Did I settle or just know my own limitations? I'd argue that I understood my limits. That's the ultimate decision-maker on whether to retake a standardized test. Have you reached your max? If not, go for it one last time!