“Can I take the SAT every time it’s administered nationally this year?” Rarely am I asked that question, but when I am, I say, “Sure, you could, but why would you want to?” Let’s get into why a student should probably take the SAT more than once but fewer than the 7 times it’s offered every year. We find that the sweet spot is somewhere between 2-4 times.
Why should I take the SAT more than once?
- Practice makes perfect.
First, you should plan to take the SAT more than once if you are using your scores as part of your application. Why do I say if? Well, as you may know, many schools have become test-optional or, in some cases, test-free. Read more about these types of policies here. The College Board makes a vague statement that, “Students usually do better the second time” and recently backed this up with more specific statistics showing that roughly two thirds of students improved when taking the SAT more than once.
Why is that? There are some cognitive and psychological reasons at play:
- Students become more comfortable with the test as they gain familiarity when taking it.
- Students reviewed the first test they took and noticed their mistakes, which makes them less likely to commit those same errors again.
- Students may have gained more content from school. Algebra II is an important course for the SAT, and if a student took one test before they had Algebra II and then another one after it, their math score should (in theory) go up just from learning more topics.
- Students may complete more test prep practice between the first and second administration of the exam.
- Superscoring may be in your future.
Some schools will choose your highest Evidence Based Reading and Writing score and combine that with your highest math score for a “superscore.” They choose the best section scores from different dates effectively. This is on a college by college basis, so you should review admissions websites for each school and determine their stance regarding superscoring. So, if you feel that you didn’t nail the math sections the first time, but you liked your verbal score, you might be able to use that verbal score on your application anyway.
- You had a bad test day. It happens.
We’ve heard of fire alarms going off during exams, no A/C when the outside temp was well into the 90s, and students getting sick during the test. Can you cancel your scores? Yes, you could do that. But if you choose not to, with the hopes that maybe, just maybe, you actually pulled it together, you may be able to superscore and salvage at least half of the exam. If not, you can take it again and for most colleges, you wouldn’t even have to show the score.
What are some reasons not to “over take” the SAT?
- Test burnout is REAL.
Just as we do not recommend taking a bunch of full-length practice SATs in the weeks leading up to the test, we don’t generally recommend testing more than three times, and certainly we don’t recommend that students try 3 or more in a row (meaning consecutive administrations the SAT is offered). We do think it may be worth students trying two tests in subsequent administrations, for example, a May and June SAT, if they’ve been focused on studying for it. There’s a caveat: only if you’ve done significant preparation between exams (or if there was an extenuating circumstance during one of your tests) should you consider testing back to back to back. When students test, test, and test again, we find that they sometimes become more focused on the scores when they should, instead, review mistakes made, reflect on strategies utilized, and consider changes for the next exam.
- You may have heard about the “law of diminishing returns.”
What this means is that after taking a certain number of tests, your returns don’t grow: your scores don’t improve or they might, in fact, go down.
How many times are you allowed to take the SAT?
The College Board will let you take the test as many times as you want for its intended purposes (see this post). But the College Board is a business—albeit non-profit—and so they earn money when you test from the fees you pay. Do you really want to give more money to this organization? Here’s a caveat: we know that some students receive test fee waivers and free detailed score reports. In those cases, students should utilize the free services and tests they are offered.
Speaking of detailed score reports: those are great tools to utilize between administrations so you can review what you missed. You can order what’s called the Question-and-Answer Service for 3 administrations each year (typically March, May, and October national administrations), and if you take one of those tests, it’s a good idea to order the QAS service. You will be able to view the contents for each question you missed. For other administrations, the SAS (Student Answer Service) is typically available, but it only shows you which question numbers you missed.
- Colleges want to see you spend your time doing more interesting things.
Does it really make a difference whether you get a 1560 or a 1580? Probably not. Listen to what some of our leaders say about this in our Get Wise podcast, “The tests are never the most important thing.”
Here’s a list of things to do that are more interesting than taking the SAT again:
- Help a grandparent (not necessarily one of yours).
- Hug some puppies at a shelter.
- Learn how to play the ukulele. Or banjo. Or harmonica.
We do believe preparing for the test can impact your scores, especially if you’re planning to take the SAT again. The College Board came out with research supporting this, too, after many years of saying that students could not prepare for the exam. We’ll dive further into how to prepare for the test in one of our upcoming blogs.
About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counseling, test prep, academic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates.