Retaking the SAT
Many students take the SAT multiple times in an effort to improve performance. The SAT is typically taken by high school students in the spring semester of their junior year, and it is common for the test to be taken again in the fall semester of the senior year. Subsequent test attempts can result in higher scores if students acquire improved test-taking ability and familiarity with the test.
The College Board states that it is not necessary for students who took the pre-2016 SAT to take the test again in its latest version if they are satisfied with their original scores. During the transitional period, universities will be considering scores on both versions to ensure that students are given no obvious advantage based merely on the testing date.
The best approach for retaking the SAT is substantial preparation with an experienced SAT tutor or instructor. Many students receive disappointing scores on their initial test attempts due to inadequate preparation. Self-study methods and pre-recorded video instruction usually produce results that are less than optimal due to the lack of interaction with a live teacher. SAT tutoring provides informed and experienced instruction that can be customized to student need in terms of academic background, strengths and weaknesses in each of the SAT's testing areas, and preferred learning style. SAT tutors can help target student effort, structure learning plans, and build confidence through regular assessment and feedback.
Independent research has shown that SAT prep classes and/or private tutoring are correlated with substantive average score gains. A 1996 College Board study showed SAT coaching to be associated with an average composite score that was 26 points higher than those received without coaching. An Ohio State University study, based on data from 10,000 students compiled between 1988 and 2000, demonstrated average total score increases of 60 points as a result of private SAT prep classes. A 2012 Oxford study compared a group of coached students with an un-coached control group, and the former set received average increases of 23.5 points on verbal and 32.7 points on math. Professional SAT preparation helps correct mistakes made on earlier test attempts. Without improved preparation strategies, students have little reason to believe that their scores will increase on subsequent administrations of the SAT.
The College Board reports that 55 percent of high school juniors improved their scores when taking the test again as seniors. The average score improvement for all students retaking the SAT was 40 points. About 4 percent of retakes resulted in critical reading or mathematics score increases of 100 points or more. Score drops on subsequent test attempts occurred for 35 percent of students, while 10 percent experienced no change in their scores.
The College Board allows students to send only their highest test scores to institutions, but not their highest section scores on each of multiple test attempts. Each school has its own policies on score reports. Many colleges and universities require the submission of an applicant's entire testing history, which would include all SAT attempts. Institutions with these policies tend to base their admissions decisions on average rather than peak performance.
Students who wish to improve upon their initial SAT performance should consider several factors when deciding whether or not to retake the test. Taking the SAT a second time may be necessary if a student received scores that were below the averages for their preferred institutions or degree programs. Eligibility for merit-based financial aid can also be a legitimate reason for a second test attempt, as this standard is often higher than for admission alone. Applicants to Clemson University, for example, may receive an annual renewable scholarship of $1,000 if their SAT scores are 1200 or above, while at Colorado State University, an SAT score of at least 1300 can lead to $4,000 or more in automatic scholarships. Students who feel that they can reach these goals through several additional months of SAT preparation may see their efforts rewarded, but this usually happens only if they utilize the most effective preparation strategies and resources. Prospective test re-takers should also note that higher scores are more difficult to improve upon than lower scores. Exceeding an original score in the 98th percentile, for example, will be much more challenging than increasing a first score in the 75th percentile.