The SAT and ACT: To Retest or Not?

If you were told you have a 55 percent chance of winning the lottery tonight, would you purchase a ticket? Of course you would! That same percentage of students will increase their ACT or SAT test score on a second attempt—a success that can feel like winning the college lottery.

Choose Your Best Test

Many juniors taking their first round of ACT and SAT tests in the spring want to be done with testing so they can move on to tackling college applications. But regardless of the first set of scores, I regularly encourage students to take a second shot. Some students are better suited to the SAT’s reasoning test or the ACT’s straight-forward approach, so it’s wise to compare national percentile scores and then repeat the test on which you excel.

All colleges accept either test—unlike in the days of your parents—and, I’m regularly assured by college admissions counselors, do not give a preference to either. If both scores appear to be fairly even, you may want to give both a second shot in the fall of your senior year.

Settling Has a Price

I recall Tracy, a junior at the top of her class with a 4.3 weighted GPA who scored a 32 on her first ACT, putting her above the average at her best-fit school. She gleefully announced her scores and that she was finished testing. After congratulating her on her score, I pointed out that her parents’ wallet was a great reason to consider retaking the test. The difference between the 32 she was satisfied with and the 34 she eventually earned amounted to thousands of dollars in scholarships at a state flagship. Tracy (and her parents) later thanked me for the push.

Best Test Forward

In 2009, the SAT joined the ACT in its Score Choice policy, meaning students can take each test multiple times and ultimately choose which score they want to submit to colleges. However, some schools will Super Score the tests by taking the best score from each section across multiple test dates to boost the student’s chance at acceptance. Regardless of the policy at any school, an improved score can make a difference.

While both ACT and SAT report the same 55 percent improvement statistic, keep in mind that the other 45 percent of students will get the same score or lower the next time around. However, in my experience, students who put a little effort into prepping before a retest, have higher odds than 55 percent.

Test scores are a snapshot of who you were on a single test day, and thankfully colleges will look at the whole picture. Whether testing is your strength, as it was Tracy’s, or it’s the thorn in your side, with a little effort you may just win the lottery!


This article was written by Lisa Mader

Lisa Mader relies on extensive teaching experience, a master's-level education, and affiliation with some of the industry's most important accreditation boards to help college-bound students maximize their performance and find their best-fit college. Through her company LEAP, Lisa has helped countless families in the areas of test preparation, college selection/application, choosing a major and future career, and much more.

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