SAT – Limits on Retakes

Official Limits on Retakes

There are no official limits on retaking the SAT. Students may, in theory, take the test as many times as it is offered within their college application timeframe. However, the College Board does keep track of the number of test attempts and scores for each attempt associated with a given student and will report this information upon institutional request. Admissions officials at schools that require submission of all test scores do not tend to look favorably on students who have taken the SAT an excessive number of times. The ideal situation for students is to receive a high score on the first test attempt through substantial preparation with an experienced SAT tutor or instructor. A second test attempt is common for students with score levels that are insufficient for admission to their chosen universities or for the purposes of financial aid, but for most students it is probably not advisable to take the SAT more than twice. Third test attempts (and beyond) should be taken only when absolutely necessary. The College Board generally recommends that students take the SAT twice, the first time in the spring of their junior year in high school and the second time in the fall of their senior year.

Financial and Time Considerations

Students should remember the costs associated with each SAT test attempt. These include registration and testing fees as well as the expenses incurred during preparation. The baseline SAT costs $60 to take; however, additional fees made be added on if a student signs up to take the test during the late registration period, signs up by phone to take the test, or makes changes to an existing registration. Regional fees also apply to international students taking the SAT outside of the United States. While every SAT registration includes free score reports to four scores, there are fees for sending additional score reports, rush ordering score reports, or requesting score verification. Student decisions with respect to SAT retakes must balance the additional financial burden with the potential rewards. If a given student's SAT scores are sufficient to achieve his or her academic goals, multiple extra test attempts purely for pride or "bragging rights" may not be worth thousands of dollars in additional costs. College applicants must also make the most effective use of their likely already limited time. At a certain point, students should consider if the time necessary for SAT retakes would be better devoted to other aspects of their college applications and preparation.

When Multiple Retakes are Necessary

Students whose second test attempts produce scores that are well below the average range for their chosen schools may have no choice but to take the SAT for a third time. If a student has already taken the SAT in the spring of their junior year and the fall of their senior year, they may still have one last opportunity to take the exam again towards the end of the fall of their senior year. Students who are dependent on merit-based financial aid in order to attend college may also be forced to consider this option. In these cases, students must improve their approach to SAT preparation, best done with the assistance of qualified and experienced SAT educators through group prep courses or private tutoring. Though some test prep companies have become known for lofty and implausible-sounding promises, the fact is that private SAT instruction has been independently shown to improve test performance. A large body of published research on this topic is publicly available, from statistical analyses to studies that use randomized control groups. This type of research dates back at least 20 years and is widely accepted in educational circles.

While it is certainly possible to take the SAT numerous times, it is best for a student to approach the first time taking the test as the only time they will take it, preparing as best they can with the assistance available to them. The more seriously students take the exam and the more diligently they prepare, the less likely they will need to take the SAT a second or third time, reducing a significant portion of the stress often associated with the college application process.

Data on Retakes and College Acceptance

According to the College Board, more than half (55%) of high school juniors improved their scores when re-taking the test as seniors, and the average gain was 40 points. Some universities provide their acceptance rates by SAT scores, and these statistics show that in many cases, 40-point score increases (or slightly more) can give students much better chances of acceptance. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a 690 SAT Math score was associated with a 3% chance of acceptance, but a score of 730 more than doubled the odds to 7%, and a 750 quadrupled the odds to 12%. Of course, students should also remember the risks associated with retaking the SAT. College Board statistics show that more than one-third (35%) of subsequent test attempts result in score drops. These risks can be effectively managed with experienced and professional instruction, and students who devote sufficient effort to their preparation nearly always avoid score drops. Based on the available data, it can certainly be worth retaking the SAT, but simply retaking the test is no guarantee of an improved score. Retaking the test after additional, targeted preparation under the guidance of a professional is far more likely to result in the desired score increase than simply taking the test again without altering preparation methods.

Taking the SAT Officially for Practice

Students should never undergo an official administration of the SAT purely for the purpose of practice. This is an exercise that is at best unnecessarily stressful and time-consuming and at worst destructive to student application prospects and confidence. Official SAT practice tests are widely and inexpensively available, and there are many sources of free practice tests. Test timing, test environment, and other actual testing conditions are fairly easy to replicate in an artificial setting. These mock tests have the obvious advantages of being both very close to the real thing while also remaining strictly "off the record." An ample number of practice tests will provide better preparation than an official test taken for preparation purposes. Watching scores improve across multiple practice tests has the additional benefit of boosting a student’s confidence, which can further increase his or her scores on the official day of the test.

When taking practice exams, it is important for students to make sure they are taking the most current version of the SAT, as many free or inexpensive test prep resources may be out of date or based on older versions of the exam. Working with a professional educator through a test prep course or private tutoring is one way for students to ensure they are practicing the most current versions of the exam, further familiarizing them with the test before officially taking the SAT.

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