Pros and Cons of Retaking the SAT or ACT

Should you subject yourself to test-taking hell all over again to get a better score? It depends. Here are some pros and cons of retaking the SAT or ACT.

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.

Related: How to Make the Best Use of Your Time When Practicing for Standardized Tests

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.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now


About Phoebe Bain

Phoebe is a student at the College of William & Mary. She's an avid writer, reader, runner, ukulele player, and user of the passive voice. Her favorite show is How I Met Your Mother, and she loves how giraffes look when they sleep.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Amari Toussaint

Amari Toussaint

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped me narrow my school choices down from 10 schools to four and then two. It also gave me information on a school I had never heard about or thought about attending until now, which is the school I will be attending in the fall. I am thankful for CollegeXpress and its helpful tools.

Caitlin Eaton

Caitlin Eaton

$10,000 Scholarship Winner, 2021

I first discovered CollegeXpress during my sophomore year of high school while researching colleges that interested me. My SAT prep class the following year further familiarized me with the opportunities available through the organization. CX has personally helped me by exposing me to a diverse selection of schools as well as scholarships and life tips that have provided valuable guidance in my college search.

This scholarship will help me adjust to college life without worrying as much about tuition. This gives me more room to truly explore and benefit from all aspects of higher education. I plan to study Conservation Biology and work protecting species/ecosystems. I’m looking forward to getting field experience and seeing firsthand the problems research is solving.



Student, University of the People

I registered with CollegeXpress and filled all my necessary and relevant information as well as the course I wished to study. A few days later, an email was sent to me with a list of schools offering the course; amongst them was the University of the People, the school I got admitted to.

Rayan Hamdan

Rayan Hamdan

High School Student

I joined CollegeXpress just a few months ago. I had been struggling with severe anxiety, causing me to not be able to tour schools and make sure a college would be perfect for me. I came across CollegeXpress one day when I was searching for colleges online, and it completely changed the game. I was easily able to choose colleges that would suit me, and I also entered a few giveaways! Thank you so much!

Courtney Smith

Courtney Smith

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has been a huge help! The website is very organized with finding the right scholarship for anyone and anything. With CollegeXpress, I've been able to find many scholarship opportunities to apply for. Not only that, I'm also able to search for the colleges I have interest in and see what’s required and what scholarships they offer. I've learned a lot from CollegeXpress. They've helped me in many ways to achieve my goals!

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Emerson College

Boston, MA