Myth: It Looks Bad if I Take the ACT / SAT Too Many Times

A student's hand holding a multiple choice answer sheet.

Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski

Is it bad to take the SAT multiple times? Some fear that if they take the SAT or ACT too many times, it will make them look like a failure in the eyes of the colleges to which they’re applying. But that’s definitely not the case!

Appearance is everything when it comes to college applications. Students craft a resume to sell themselves as the perfect student candidate for their dream schools. Understandably, they want to avoid anything that paints them in a bad light in order to receive that acceptance letter.

Here are some pointers to follow.

Try and Try Again

Many, many students take the ACT or SAT more than once. In fact, a majority of students who retake the test get a higher score the second time around. Once you get a feel for the tests, you are usually less nervous the second or third time around. Colleges won’t turn up their noses if you’ve taken the exam two or three times, in fact, it shows that you’re serious about your studies, and are willing to put in the time and effort to better yourself. Regardless of your score, taking the test again shows determination.

Multiple Score Submissions & Super-Scoring

Some colleges will let you submit what test scores you prefer while others will require you to submit any results you get, no matter what. If you got less than stellar scores one time, that might seem like an intimidating request, but there is a silver lining: super-scoring! But what exactly is super-scoring and how does taking the SAT or ACT multiple times help with it?

Almost all colleges will super-score your test results if you submit more than one ACT or SAT score. This means they’ll take the highest score out of both (or all three) of your test results. So if you scored higher in mathematics the first time, and higher in reading the second time, the college will take the highest math, and the highest reading regardless of when you took it. Pretty nice, huh?

Be Smart with Your Retakes

Now, keep in mind that retaking the test costs money and demands a lot of attention—so don’t retake them just to impress admissions officers. Take them with the intention of bettering your score, or reaching a school’s average as a goal. And remember: the ACT and SAT scores aren’t the only (or even most important) factor in your application! Your application essays, extracurricular activities, and GPA will also need your attention.

When is a Myth Not a Myth?

In some cases, this may not be a total myth. The most selective schools— like Yale and Stanford for instance—require you to submit every ACT and SAT test that you have ever taken. Therefore, it can potentially hurt you because it shows that your priorities may have been on test-taking and not on your extracurricular activities or other important elements of your application. This is why we suggest taking the test only two or three times and studying hard for each one.

It also may show that your family had a lot of money to spend on prep for the test (as well as the application fees themselves), which puts you at an advantage over a family that is not as affluent.  Some admissions counselors might prefer an applicant with a good score that only took the test once over a kid who took the test 5 times to achieve a great score.

For most students, there is no disadvantage in taking the test as many times as they want. But there is somewhat of a disadvantage to taking too many tests when applying to the very top colleges.

How to Get a Better Test Score

Exam day can be super unnerving for a lot of high school students. Standardized tests and the whole college application process can be stressful. If you’ve already gone through your first attempt and didn’t receive your ideal score, it’s time to prep for the next test. See if your school offers SAT and ACT tutoring to help you get used to the format and timing of the exams. SAT prep allows you to increase your score easily! Take official practice tests in a single sitting so you feel like you’re taking the real test. It’s also important to eat a good breakfast and drink water before the test so you feel your best. 

Interested in seeing how your ACT / SAT scores affect your acceptance odds? Check out College Raptor’s match tool to find out!

One thought on “Myth: It Looks Bad if I Take the ACT / SAT Too Many Times”

  1. Michael C says:

    My daughter thinks your article is somewhat helpful but is very concerned about taking the SAT for a 4th time! What do you think?

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