We have officially entered the period of the college admissions calendar lovingly referred to as “the freakout months.” Ok, maybe only we call it that, but we think it’s a fitting name. Between now and December, things get real. Final test dates are fast approaching and application due dates are right around the corner. Students who promised themselves they’d work on their applications over the summer then spent the last few months goofing off realize that they are way behind, and even students who are on top of the ball start overthinking, nitpicking, and generally freaking out.
One of the major stress inducers is test scores, and we’re pretty sure you already knew that. Sure, people try to make the argument that test scores don’t matter anymore and yeah, more schools are going test optional, but most of the time they do matter and we get why you want high ones. Higher test scores mean more options, and having options makes everything easier. But acing standardized tests like the SAT and ACT isn’t as easy as reading a few books and not forgetting your calculator, and not everyone is happy with their scores when the beginning of the school year rolls around. You might even be thinking about retaking the SAT, ACT, or both.
Disclaimer: This post is NOT for juniors trying to get a head start. This post IS for rising seniors who want to raise their scores before applications are due.
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s dive into whether you should retake the SAT and/or ACT.
Answer: It depends (duh).
If you have already taken the test in question three times, DO NOT take it again.
If you have already taken the test in question twice, PROBABLY DON’T take it again.
The hard truth is that if you’ve taken the test two or three times and you’re this late in the game, you’re probably as high as you’re going to go. Upping your score is hard, especially when you’re stressed out and everything matters a lot, so it’s time to accept the numbers, to assess where you are, and to reevaluate what colleges are on your list. For example, it might be time to add a few that are test optional, or that are known for being more flexible with testing if you’re strong in other areas. You’re better off spending your time writing a standout essay and supplement for a college that will take the time to read it than trying to nab a score you most likely won’t reach.
Now, there is an exception to this. Let’s call it the “high achievers exception.” If for example, you have taken the ACT once or twice, capped out at 32 and want to apply to Brown, where you really should have a 34 or above, there is a little bit of wiggle room IF you have been putting in the work. If you’ve been studying all summer long, working with a testing tutor or blazing through test prep books, and are showing real progress, you MIGHT be a good candidate for taking another stab at it.
That said, chances are that you didn’t suddenly become a genius over summer break, so this really only applies if you are only looking for a 1-2 point boost to get your score over a school’s median threshold. but remember that you only have a few weeks before the senior fall course load kicks in, so you don’t have much time before things are going to get crazy. If you haven’t been putting in the time and strengthening your strategy, and if you don’t know what you’re hold-ups were the previous time(s) - like a specific type of problem - then it’s not worth it.
We know this is tough love, but we don’t mean to be negative nancys. Our biggest goal is for you to get into the best college for you that you can. Not every kid has a Harvard score, but there is a perfect fit college out there for every student - a school that will embrace you, nurture you, and challenge you to be your best and most successful self - and not having the highest score doesn’t mean that you can’t get into that perfect fit.
Let’s say that you are in the 25th percentile for a school score-wise. Maybe you’re that kid who’s applying to Brown with a 32 or applying to Tufts with a 30. Your scores haven’t completely ruled you out of the running, so your application needs to be good enough that the admissions officers can’t help but look past them. You need to invest your time in how you can represent yourself best, and that’s not by taking a test again and only doing marginally better. One point isn’t going to get you in, but making the rest of your application stand out may. This means stellar essays and killer supplements. So if you’re a rising senior who wishes they just gotten a little bit higher, the best course of action is to cut yourself some slack on the test scores, maybe add a few more safety schools to your list, and to double-down on the parts of your application that you can control.
Wonder why we write like we know what we’re talking about? It’s because we do. 100% of our students get into one of their top 2 schools, and they’re not all acing the SAT. We’re sort of pros at this.