How Many Times Should I Take the ACT or SAT?

First: There is no magic number for how many times a student should take the ACT or SAT.

For some students, taking the test once may be enough. For others, they may need to take the test twice or even three times. There are no penalties for taking the tests multiple times or choosing to take both tests to see how you do on each one. So, how should students determine how many times they should take standardized tests?

A pair of glasses sitting on top of a journal.

Should you take the ACT or SAT more than once?

A lot of it depends on the colleges you are considering. Keep these things in mind when figuring out whether to retake the SAT or ACT:

  • Required test scores for admission. Some colleges have required test scores. If you meet or exceed those requirements, there may be no need to take the test again. You will need to retake the test if you have not met the required scores.
  • Average test scores. Many colleges do not have any required test scores. But, they will report the average test scores they received. Average test scores are usually the average test scores of the previous year’s admitted or enrolled students. Colleges will typically want to bring in students who fall within or above the test scores of the previous class. If you’re in the average range or below, you may want to consider retaking the test. If you’re above the average and the rest of your application meets or exceeds what the colleges are looking for in an applicant, you may not need to take the test again.
  • Scholarship requirements. Quite a few scholarships, including merit awards from colleges and universities, require specific scores. For college merit awards, some are very specific about the score requirement, while others are awarded on a sliding scale based on GPA and test scores. Learn about the requirements for the awards. Or, play around with the net price calculators on the college websites to see what happens if you were to increase your test scores. This could mean a huge boost in the amount of aid you receive. In some instances, even just scoring 1 or 2 points higher may qualify you for significant merit aid. So, closely examine what your test score can earn you and how much more you may be able to receive with some extra effort.
  • Athletic requirements. If you are planning on competing in college athletics, there are specific requirements student-athletes must meet. If you have not met the eligibility requirement to compete, you must retake the test if you want to play or compete in college.
  • Chances of doing better. Sometimes you just know you will do better on the test if you retake it. Maybe you were distracted or not feeling well the first time you took the test. If circumstances were different, you’d probably do better. Or, you did not prepare before the test but know now, after seeing the test once, that if you study and do some test prep, you’ll do better. If you know you will probably do better, take the test again.
  • Selectivity of the institution. Even if you meet the average test scores of a selective institution, it probably will not be enough to be admitted. Therefore, if there is a likelihood of getting a better score, you should consider retaking the test. There is not a guarantee of being admitted to most colleges, especially the highly selective colleges. Anything you can do to better your admissions profile can help your chances of being admitted.

Be sure to prepare properly before taking the ACT or SAT–even the first time

The one thing you should never do is view your first time taking the SAT or ACT as a “practice test”.

There are many test prep resources available, including free resources for students who can’t afford expensive test prep tutoring. Students can even sample previous tests and questions from both the SAT and ACT prior to their test date so that they can get acquainted with the format and type of questions they should anticipate. Students should go into that first SAT or ACT as if it were their last. Why waste your time and money not putting your all into the test anyway?

While the majority of colleges do not have a preference as to which test you take, they may use the test scores differently. Therefore, check with each college to see how they use test scores. For many colleges, if you take the SAT and ACT, they will use the test score that is the highest based on the concordance chart to make their decisions. Many colleges also superscore the SAT — they will use the highest score from each section.

Should you retake the ACT or SAT?

If you are still unsure if you should retake the tests or not, talk with individuals who can provide further guidance. Your school counselor may have some insight into the admissions processes at the colleges you are considering. You can also go to the sources and talk to admissions officers.

Admissions officers know the admissions process at their institution and can provide guidance on your admissions profile. While they won’t guarantee your admission to the institution, an admissions officer can give you a good idea as to the type of score you should try to obtain for admissions and financial aid purposes.

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