We all know that person taking the SAT for the fourth, fifth, or — goodness forbid — sixth time. They constantly stress about studying, complain about only improving two points from their last test, and are probably aiming for a top college like Harvard with an SAT average of 2255.
But is it really worth it to take the SAT so many times? Does your score keep improving? When we hear about these people, it makes us question ourselves and think:
Should I be taking the SAT again?
The reality is, your scores generally don’t improve much after your second test. Of course this might not be true if you have different circumstances like being sick when you took the test, or if you didn’t study at all in between taking tests. For most of us though, the second test is most likely the score you will end up applying to colleges with.
This can be really difficult to accept, however, because there is always that part of you that will wonder if you could have gotten into the school of your dreams if you had taken the SAT just one more time. So to combat this paranoia, take a look at the following process.
Make your college list.
You have most likely already done this, but take a look at this post, by our very own Maddi, for some tips and tricks.
Look up average SAT scores of admitted students at those colleges.
Here is a link to understanding top university scores, but there are several ways to do this. I used a Fisk Guide to Colleges because it lists every college’s predicted scores on a convenient sidebar. College Board’s free BigFuture college selection engine has an Academic Tracker that allows you to enter in your information and automatically analyze your score comparison. College Confidential also has nice bar graphs in the left sidebar of every college profile, but any college selection site will probably have these numbers. Most colleges post statistics about their incoming freshman class’ SATs on their admissions pages, but its takes some searching to find them.
- Remember to look at the math/verbal breakdown.
- Some schools have significant differences in the breakdowns between math, writing, and reading sections. Also, consider what major you’ve applied to; it might look better to have a higher math score if you’re applying for engineering.
- Remember to factor in superscoring.
- If you don’t know what superscoring is, learn the difference between SAT score choice and superscoring. Be sure to check if a school does, or does not, superscore — but that information may be hard to find. In general, I found that most schools do, and the entire UC system does.
Compare your scores & decide.
Look for a post later on how the SAT is only a part of your college application, but for now understand that colleges look at scores in ranges (instead of exact numbers). There are essentially three possible outcomes:
1. You’re below all your target schools.
In this case you should probably take the test again. If you sincerely believe that you can study harder, and the scores on the paper do not reflect the best of your abilities, it’s probably a good idea to find a more effective way to study (try studying with a friend, or with our very own Magoosh SAT prep) and try again.
2. You’re at your target schools, but below your reach schools.
If you’ve chosen your schools realistically, this should be the majority of students. Here you have a choice: push yourself to get a higher score, or be happy with the one you have. If you really feel that, as it stands, your scores would hold you back or be the weakest part of your application, and you’ve got the time to really dedicate yourself to studying, you might pull off a higher score. If you feel that you got a score that shows your smarts, and you feel that the other parts of your application — like the essays or the letters of rec — will be your stronger sections, perhaps you’re done and it’s time to party.
3. You’re at or above your reach schools.
First of all, good for you! You’re obviously a good test-taker, and studied incredibly well for your first SAT! Congrats, and you can either relax or consider shooting a little higher if you think you can do better than the reach schools you’ve picked for yourself.
In all of these situations, the key is to be honest about your test taking abilities, and how much you will study. After all, you don’t want to waste your money (or your parents’ money) on another round of testing when you know you won’t study for it, and probably won’t improve your score. Conversely, it’s also important to understand that sometimes no amount of intense studying will improve a student’s score. I’ve had friends that absolutely torture themselves with SAT and ACT prep only to get the same or a lower score. It’s not that they aren’t smart, or didn’t try, it’s because standardized testing isn’t everyone’s strong suit.
What to do if you really can’t decide.
Take a break for a moment. Meditate, listen to your favorite music, go on a run — it can be as short as five minutes to just stop and think. It’s all right to say okay, I did my best, and my best is not as good as I hoped it would be. These are my scores, and I accept them as imperfect, and what I will apply to colleges with.
If you do decide that you do want to take the test once more, decide on a study plan and really stick to it. If someone tells you “practice makes perfect” they’re right, but you shouldn’t pay $50 for five “practice” SATs. Do those at home. Put all your effort into one last test so that you won’t have lingering stress or regret.
As for those people who take the test over, and over, and over again, don’t let them get to you. They’re probably exaggerating (I once heard a guy say he took the test at least 8 times) and you know you’ve done your best. No matter what anyone says, be happy with that fact!