Scores were released today for the May SAT, and many students are wondering whether to retake the exam. The SAT is changing next year and there are only a few more opportunities to take this version of the test, so it is in your best interest to make a decision now. Here are some questions to ask yourself in order to determine whether or not you should retake the SAT:

  • Was this your first time taking the test?

Most people take the SAT more than once, in part because it can be easier to achieve a score that reflects your potential when you are more comfortable with the exam’s logistics. In most cases, it makes sense to try the test at least twice, especially since many schools will allow you to “superscore” and count the highest section scores across multiple exams.

  • How does your score compare to your practice tests?

Was your score significantly higher or lower than your practice exams? If it was much lower, either in one section or overall, you should consider retaking the test. However, if this was your best performance you should think carefully before signing up again.

  • Was one section much lower than the others?

Speaking of individual sections, many schools like to see a relatively balanced testing profile. So, if your reading score was much higher than your math score, for instance, and you think that you are capable of raising the math, it might be worth a retake.

  • Was your score in the 95% percentile or above?

On the other hand, the higher your score the more likely you are to see your score decrease with subsequent sittings. This is not a clear reason not to retake the SAT, and does not hold true for everyone, but it is a pattern to consider.

  • How did you study?

Did you take a class? Prepare on your own? Did you take the test cold, without much studying at all? The SAT is a highly coachable exam, so if you didn’t invest much time preparing you might consider studying more rigorously and taking it again.

  • How do you feel about standardized tests?

Do you find standardized tests to be particularly stressful? The SAT is just one part of the college admissions process. There are many other ways to enhance your profile and stand out to the right school, so please don’t torture yourself if standardized tests cause you excessive anxiety.

  • How does your score compare to the middle 50% at your target schools?

You may not know where you want to apply, but if you do you can take a look at the average SAT for the incoming freshman class. If your score falls outside the middle 50% of the admitted range you might consider trying again.

The bottom line is that the SAT is just one component of your college applications. I have seen too many families become overly focused on the SAT. Although there are definitely situations in which it makes sense to retake the exam, it is also important to know when to move on and work towards creating applications that reflect who you are on a personal level, and what you will contribute to your future school.

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Karen Marks

Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Clients have been awarded more than $36 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 97% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.