Last Updated: May 26, 2017
Taking standardized college admission tests is kinda like going to the DMV: it sucks, but it’s a fact of life if you want to arrive at your destination. (Yes, there are lots of test-optional schools these days, but most experts agree that you should still take either the SAT or ACT, in case you apply to a school that does require standardized tests for admission…which is still most of them.)
So should you subject yourself to all that test-taking hell again to try and get a better score? Well, it depends.
Here are some pros and cons of retaking the SAT or ACT.
You will get a better score…potentially
Studies show that about 57% students who retake the ACT see their score improve, and only 22% of students get a worse score after retaking the test. However, it’s unclear what any of these students actually did to prepare for their retake, or if they prepared at all. (Even the ACT says “it is crucial to question why these [score] gains occur.”)
The SAT doesn’t have similar retake stats on their site right now, but they used to report similar numbers. But the SAT does report that most retakes from junior to senior year see a score gain on average (though it varies a bunch, depending on what students scored the first time). But if your score was on the lower side your first time taking the SAT, you actually have a much better chance of improving the second time around.
So the retake odds are in your favor here—though not necessarily by a ton. Statistically, you have a little better than a 50-50 shot of improving your score if you retake these standardized tests. But! Since it’s not totally clear what students did to prepare for their retakes, you can bet on doing better if you really take the time to plan out a good test prep routine before your retake. And it’s probably in your best interest to retake the tests if you did less-than-awesome the first time.
I went up a couple points on the ACT after taking it a second time, and to some colleges, that seemingly marginal score difference could potentially bump you into a different scholarship eligibility bracket or even the “accepted” category. Of course, it’s also possible that a slight score difference will have no impact on your scholarship or admission at all.
Additionally, if you retake the tests, you can choose which scores you send. And even if you sent all of your scores, many colleges will only consider your highest. So even if you were to get a lower score the second time, it would not matter.
Most colleges have the average ACT or SAT score of admitted students up on their websites. Researching your potential colleges’ average scores is helpful, especially when you’re preparing for to retake the test, because trying to hit (or beat) their average is a good way to set a goal score for yourself. And you can plan your test prep accordingly. Speaking of which…
You’ll know what to study
After you take the SAT or ACT once, you have a better idea of your weaknesses and what you need to study for the test. (No need to drill yourself on algebra problems if you aced that section, am I right?)
And even if you prepared for the tests a lot your first time and didn’t get the score you wanted, taking the test a second time gives you the opportunity to find better study materials or even work with a tutor on the sections you did poorly on.
Of course, all this being said, you can also figure out your weak spots from taking low-pressure, free practice SATs or ACTs on your own time too. Just sayin’.
You’ll have more confidence
Since you’ll be more familiar with the whole testing process, you’ll likely go into the SAT or ACT with more confidence the second time around.
The first time I went into the ACT, I didn’t even study, so I had no idea what to expect. But on my retake, I knew exactly what was coming. I went into the test knowing what beast awaited me, and I brought the right sword to slay it.
Also, the first time you take either test, you might be distracted by other students and how they are pacing themselves. This can be even worse if you have test-taking anxiety. So going in and taking the test a second time when you are more prepared and focused could make a huge difference.
You’ll learn from other mistakes
Did you forget your calculator the first time you took the SAT? Slept through your alarm so you missed out on breakfast or coffee before the ACT? Only have one pencil with you that broke and ended up sending you into a panic?!?! I bet you won’t make those mistakes next time.
Taking standardized tests can get expensive, depending on how many times you do it. The SAT and the ACT cost about $50 each time you take them. My entire standardized testing experience cost me over $150, and I probably would have taken the ACT a third time if I could have afforded it.
You can only take these tests at the designated times they are offered, and for high school students with jobs or other obligations, it can be hard to find time to not only retake the test but also study for it. But as a possible consolation: hopefully you have a better sense of what you need to focus on for your retake, so you can be more focused and effective in your ACT or SAT studying!
Straight-up hating the tests
It depends on your personality and experience, but you might develop a really strong distaste for these tests the first time you take them, so much so that doing it all over again doesn’t seem worth it. (Personally, I had fun taking the ACT, but I would have rather drowned in a pool of my own tears than take the SAT one more time.)
If this is the case, start by weighing these pros and cons to see if you actually need to retake the SAT or ACT. If you decide you do, these tips for dealing with test-taking and general stress might help you get through it a little better.
Good luck and happy studying, friends!
Did we miss any important pros and cons of retaking the ACT or SAT? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.