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. Others 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?

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How Many Times Should You Take the ACT or SAT?

How many times you should personally take the ACT or SAT is entirely up to you. Many students will only take the exam once and take the score they received. Others may want to improve on the result and keep aiming for higher numbers. And some still will not take the ACT or SAT at all because their school no longer requires the tests (though it’s still a good idea to take the ACT or SAT!).

There are a few reasons students may decide to retake the test though, including

  • A certain situation requires a higher test score. Keep reading to learn more about these!
  • You weren’t feeling well on test day. You may have been overly anxious or even sick and did worse than expected.
  • You realized you weren’t prepared at all for the test. If you didn’t study enough beforehand, you may have found the SAT or ACT more difficult and scored lower than expected.
  • You simply want to try for a higher score. Whether to increase your chances of admission to your dream college or for your personal goals, you may want to aim for a higher score.
  • You discovered, upon taking the test, that you should have taken the other one. The ACT and SAT, while similar, are also different. While you should determine which test is right for you ahead of time, you may discover this on test day. If you’re in this boat, you may want to sign up for the other exam.

Situations Where You Should Take the ACT/SAT More Than Once

How many times you should personally take the ACT or SAT depends on a few different factors, including

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, however.

Average Test Scores

Many colleges do not have any required test scores, but they will report the average test scores they received. These numbers 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.

So, 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 don’t necessarily have to take the test again.

Scholarship Requirements

Quite a few scholarships and financial aid programs, including merit awards from colleges and universities and some states, require specific scores. They will often be clear if a certain ACT or SAT score is required to qualify for the award. Some will waive the ACT/SAT score requirement though if your GPA is high enough. 

If you are aiming for one of these awards, you will need to retake the exams until you get at least the minimum score required. Even 1 or 2 points can make the difference for some scholarships, and it can add up.

Athletic Requirements

If you are planning on competing in college athletics, there are specific academic 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.

Highly Selective Schools

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 no guarantee of being admitted to most colleges, especially the highly selective colleges. Anything you can do to better your admissions profile though can help your chances of being admitted.

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, tutoring, study aids, mobile apps, and more. Students can even sample previous tests and questions from both the SAT and ACT before 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?

So Should You Retake the ACT or SAT?

If you are still unsure if you should retake the tests or not, you should schedule an appointment to talk with your high school guidance counselor. They will have insight into the admissions processes, college requirements, and more to help you make an informed decision. 

In most cases, though, it doesn’t hurt to retake the ACT or SAT. Schools tend to only look at your highest score after all, and if you do score poorly on your retake, you can opt-out of sending the results to colleges! If you do decide to retake the exams, though, make sure you prepare properly to build upon your previous score.

Every student will have a different approach to the SAT and ACT and how many times they take them. It really all depends on your individual goals! Some students may find they have to retake it, while others may be satisfied after one exam.

Understanding what colleges are looking for in students can help your admission chances – and this includes average ACT and SAT scores. Each college page on College Raptor offers insight into these average scores if the school reports them. To get started, sign up for free and use College Match to identify the best colleges and universities for you!