If you’re taking the SAT, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to take it twice—once at the end of junior year and once at the start of senior year. If you’ve only taken it once so far, going through the test again might sound about as pleasant as an leisurely afternoon of waterboarding (not to be confused with the arguably more enjoyable wakeboarding), but this is actually a good thing—a very good thing.
The biggest plus is that it gives you room to have a bad day. Everybody knows or has heard about that guy in their grade who fell asleep during his Chem final and flunked. What if he’d been allowed to take the final twice, and only the higher score counted? That’s what the SAT is like: even the worst experience on test-day is alright, because you can try again, and that worse score will almost never count against you.
Besides that, on average, students’ scores go up when they take the SAT for a second time.
So with that in mind, if you’re reconsidering taking the SAT, there are probably two scenarios:
You’re in junior year, and your score seems high enough
You know you could take the test again, sure, but do you have to? Alright, so if you’ve already scored a 2200 – 2400, then there’s not really much point in taking the test again. Schools will be impressed (or at least satisfied) and that’s that. But that’s only a very, very small percentage of people. Usually, your “good” scores could be a little bit better. And if there’s room for improvement, there’s good enough reason to retake the test. Remember that you’re very likely going to see a higher score the second time—especially if you study for it. And the summer before senior year is the perfect time to do a bit of SAT prep.
Also, if you already know your target and reach schools, that helps add context. If your SAT score isn’t as high as the average score at your reach schools (or is just about equal to that average), then it’s worth taking the test again, clearly. That’s how you get into your first choice school—or part of how, at least.
You’re in senior year, and your score seems too low
If you’ve already taken the test three or more times, stop there—if you have that many tests under your belt, I can bet pretty safely that you did some serious prep, too. And if, after all that prep and all those tests, you’re still not where you want to be, but you know deadlines are coming on fast, it’s probably time to focus on the other parts of your application. Remember that SAT scores are just a part of the larger package. Some schools don’t even care that much about SAT scores.
But if you’ve only taken the test once or twice, and you have one more shot at a higher score, then yes—go for it: especially if you are under the average test scores of your targets schools. Be sure to study the test this time, if you haven’t already (or even if you have). I’d recommend starting with our posts, Guide to Retaking the SAT and How to Study for an SAT Retake.
After all, a few weeks or months of getting familiar with the question types, strategies, and wrong answer types of the SAT can translate into a very real score increase—try doing that to your cumulative GPA in such a short time! And keep in mind that most schools only look at your highest score on each section of the test across all of your test dates, so even if you just see an increase in one section, that’s still worth it.
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About Lucas Fink
Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.
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