Should I Retake The SAT, ACT?

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After sitting for the ACT or SAT, some students may find that their initial test results do not quite match their expectations. Taking a standardized exam multiple times can be a great idea in certain instances, but for students with limited time to improve, it can also be stressful to consider spending more time on the ACT or SAT.

For students who are weighing this decision, here are three major considerations to review.

Did you underperform?

Underperformance is a subjective measure that varies from student to student. Rather than comparing your score to the scores of your peers, focus on your goal and how far your results strayed from it.

First, ask yourself if there were any significant factors that negatively influenced your performance. Were you recovering from a bad cold, or grappling with the loss of a relative? If there is an obvious outside influence that accounts for your lower score, retaking the ACT or SAT is likely a good idea.

However, underperforming may also mean that a strong math student realizes halfway through the test that he needs to revisit math concepts covered in class several years ago. It may mean that a normally strong writer is caught off-guard by the essay topic and has trouble brainstorming.

The essential question here is do you know that you could have done better? If so, you should schedule a second exam date.

Will you need review help, and can you access these resources for improvement?

If being sick affected your score, you may just need to show up healthy and well-rested to your next exam. However, if you must review fundamental math concepts, you will need to create a study plan. Will you require an SAT or ACT test prep book, or are internet resources sufficient? Do you feel capable of covering the content independently, or do you need an SAT prep tutor? Consider what it will take to reach your goal score, and plan realistically. Expect to invest more energy and resources if looking for a large score increase.

Time can also be a factor. If you only have a few weeks to prepare, it will be harder to earn a major score increase. Do you have the ability to obtain whatever resources you will need to succeed given any constraints like schedule?

Will working on your weaknesses offer a substantive boost?

If you do not believe you significantly underperformed but you still wish to improve, there are ways to do so. Generally, this involves working on your weakest areas. However, it is important to be realistic about how much time you have to review and how much you need to improve.

One way to determine the latter is to investigate your score relative to college admissions averages. The College Board’s Big Future website allows you to search for your preferred institutions. After you locate a college of interest, click on “Applying” and then “SAT & ACT Scores.” How does your score compare to the average for that school? A 200 point gain on the SAT, for instance, is very different from a 20 point gain. Can you conceivably close the gap in the time available to you, or would a second test date prove unfruitful?

Being realistic about one’s options, resources and needs will allow students to make the best decision possible when it comes to retesting. Preparing a plan to approach retaking the ACT or SAT will help to ensure you make the most of your study time.

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