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Anika Manzoor

How Many Times Should a Student Take the SAT?

Retaking the SAT. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, most students probably should retake the SAT at least once because chances are very likely that your score will improve even if you don’t study the second time around (but still study). And with the whole Score Choice option, you can make sure that colleges only see the scores that best represent your abilities while theoretically having the freedom to take the SAT as many times as you want. But is there such thing as too many times?

Ideally, students shouldn’t take the SAT more than 3, maybe 4 times, except under rare circumstances (e.g. family emergency, being 10 points shy of your target score, etc.). By the third try, most students will probably have reached their maximum potential, given that they have put forth a solid effort in studying. Furthermore, each retake of the SAT is mentally and physically exhausting. After a few attempts at the SAT, it would be a much more productive use of your time to focus instead on being a rock star in your academics or exploring your passions meaningfully in your extra-curricular activities.

Wanna know what you can do to make sure you avoid being in the position to take the SAT too many times? I’m glad you asked!


Step 1: Start preparing early

The main benefit in preparing for and taking the SAT as early as you can is not being pressured by time, which can significantly improve your SAT prep experience. For one, you don’t have to worry about the time crunch due to application season, which – by taking off a considerable amount of pressure – can actually help you do better the first time you take the test. By getting an early idea of your initial standpoint on the SAT, you also have a longer and therefore less stressful time to work on your weaknesses. Also, spaced out study sessions over a long period of time are much more effective than cramming, which is particularly helpful if you are reaching for point increases in the several hundreds. I recommend to start preparing for the SAT your sophomore year – that way, you don’t have to worry about prepping as much during junior year when you have your toughest course load while indirectly working to ace your PSAT during your National Merit Semifinalist qualifying year.

Step 2: Understand your target score and study smart

There is a difference between studying and studying smart when it comes to the SAT. Studying is just when you’re just doing lots of aimless practice without regard to where you need the most help whereas studying smart means that you are taking the time to understand your weaknesses and your common mistakes and then actively working to improve them. Research your target schools, figure what kind score you’ll need as well as how many points you’ll need to increase your diagnostic score, and study smart!

Step 3: Practice strategies to reduce test anxiety

Text anxiety is probably one of the most overlooked factors in keeping students from their target SAT scores because students spend so much time studying and stressing over their score that they do not consider the huge hindrance test anxiety and over-studying can be to their performance. Focusing on minimizing SAT stress and working actively to reduce test anxiety should therefore be just as important as studying for the test itself.

Step 4: Remember that the SAT is only ONE aspect of your application

If you’ve spent hours and hours preparing for the SAT, have taken the actual test a few times, and you still haven’t reached your target score, remind yourself that there are other important aspects of your application that colleges take into account. If you have a stellar academic record and/or have a great résumé that showcases how you shine at your job or other outside activities, these elements will have more weight than a low SAT score. Besides, there are ways to address weaknesses in your application; you just have to make sure you talk about them as a learning experience while also bringing it back to your strengths. College admissions is a tricky process and there is never guarantee of admission, but great candidates have gone to great schools despite mediocre SAT scores. If you’re not completely satisfied with your SAT score after a few tries, it’s time to make sure the other aspects of your application are as strong as they can be. It’s also time to remember that you are so much more than an SAT score!

About Anika Manzoor

A 2013 graduate of Grinnell College, Anika dedicated her first few years as a newly-minted professional to teaching. In addition to being an SAT instructor, she served as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at a Malaysian secondary school for two years. Considering that both opportunities allowed her to explore fun ways to teach and relate to students who were otherwise bored out of their minds, she is excited to share that expertise on the Magoosh High School blog.

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