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What To Consider When Retaking the ACT or SAT

By IvyWise Master Tutor

As we head into late fall, juniors may be taking the ACT or SAT for the first time, but many seniors will be taking these college entrance exams for the second, or even third, time. It’s important to keep in mind that regardless of where you are in test preparation, it is a process – one that involves, for most students, taking the test more than once. It’s critical for students to not only prepare for their first sitting of the ACT or SAT, but also any retakes.

Students retaking the SAT or ACT may aim to improve their overall scores or their performance on a particular section in order to bring up their composite score. In either case, it is important to set clear goals for what specific sections and question types you would like to improve upon as you retest. Let’s get into the main three factors to consider when retaking the SAT or ACT.

Realistic Retesting Timeline
First, students need to think about the testing timeline that is available to them and develop a test prep plan that will allow them to optimize their performance, not only the first time, but also to refine their prep in order to improve the second (or third) time around. A stretch of six to nine months of test prep affords a student a different set of options than two weeks or even a month.

A junior, for example, should start their test prep in September for a winter or early spring initial test date. Spring semester of junior year is most often a critical time for testing, and most juniors should take advantage of the multiple dates offered in the spring to retake the test.

Seniors who are more pressed for time should make sure to incorporate the possibility of retaking tests into their test schedule, so that if they are taking the October SAT/ACT, they should also sign up for the subsequent December test date. But setting concrete, realistic goals is an important part of knowing when to retake tests.

Score Goals
This takes us to the second factor that students should consider when taking or retaking the SAT/ACT: their score goals. The purpose of college entrance exams is to help students gain admission to their top-choice colleges, so students need to know what score benchmarks are needed to be competitive for the schools to which they are applying and how their previous performance stacks up to those benchmarks. Know how to read your SAT or ACT score reports, and use your results to identify concrete ways you can make improvements in the span between test dates, depending on your test prep timeline, and what scores are realistic based on where you are now. If you scored a 25 on the ACT, aiming for a 35 the next time around might be unrealistic depending on your test prep timeline and strategy. This is where practice tests and test prep guidance can really help. An expert tutor can help you identify areas of weakness, develop a plan of action, and better gauge how improvement in certain areas will impact your scores.

Whether you are a junior or senior, the idea of retaking tests simply to get one more point on the ACT or 10 more points on the SAT may not be worth it. And without additional prep time devoted between sittings, one should not expect improvement that is significant. Creating score goals that are in line with your test prep is key. Always look at the broader context of how your score goals match with your college goals, and know when to stop testing or consider alternatives, like test-optional or test-flexible colleges.

Section Score Performance
When retaking the SAT or ACT many students have one goal: improving their overall score. However, when retesting, it’s more beneficial for students to focus on certain sections in which they need to improve, rather than the exam as a whole. The makeup of each test is complex, and each section presents its own set of challenges and difficulties, its own set of time constraints, and its own particular structure. A student’s performance on individual test sections, and indeed in the particular parts of the test that make up these ‘sections,’ can and will vary. This is one of the most difficult and often frustrating truths of test preparation: a student might do very well, better in fact than the student has done on practice tests, on the Math section but perhaps not as well as the student usually does on the English section.

Focusing on individual sections is important because many colleges do not honor Score Choice, meaning many will request to see your scores from every test sitting, rather than just the scores you want them to see. This is because many colleges will “superscore,” or take the highest section scores from different test dates to calculate a new composite score, when evaluating applications. So it’s beneficial to bring up your score in a section that you’ve previously struggled with in order to have the best chance for not only a higher composite score for that sitting, but also a higher superscore should the schools you’re applying to evaluate all scores across all sittings.

The more specific a student can be with what section needs improvement, the more efficient a student’s preparation can be. For example, students who are retaking the ACT to improve their Math score should identify whether they should be focusing on geometry, word problems, or algebra during their test prep.

At the same time, it’s important to maintain a consistency in scores in the other sections, as tests can vary from test date to test date, and students often improve on sections they did not expect to improve. Consequently, it really pays off to prepare for all sections even if emphasizing on one particular section.

Again, preparing for the ACT or SAT is a process, and students should expect to take the exam more than once in order to reach their goal score or superscore. Creating a test prep strategy is critical, and IvyWise can help. For more information on our tutoring and test prep services, click here.