SAT Prep – Retaking the Test

Taking the SAT More than Once

Many students take the SAT multiple times in an effort to improve their 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 their senior year. Subsequent test attempts can result in higher scores if students use their increased familiarity with the test to acquire improved test-taking skills. Retaking the exam without allocating additional time to studying or retaking it without the professional guidance of a tutor or prep course class is not likely to result in significant improvement. It is therefore important for students to have realistic expectations when retaking the SAT and for them to be willing to do the work required to improve their score. The good news is that, after taking the SAT once, they now have a benchmark to work from, allowing them to better understand what they are currently capable of, as well as how they would like to see their score improve.

Retaking the 2023 SAT

The SAT will be transitioning to a digital format beginning in 2023 for international students and in 2024 for students in the United States. According to the College Board, it will not be necessary for students who took the paper-and-pencil version of the test to take the test again using the digital version if they are satisfied with their original scores. The paper-and-pencil version of the test will be discontinued once the digital format is widely available, but those taking the digital version will be given no obvious advantage based merely on the testing format. Students needing test modifications that require a paper-and-pencil exam will continue to be accommodated.

Approaches to Retaking the SAT

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 testing 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with a live teacher or to students being unaware that the free materials they downloaded online are not current and are out of date, applicable to previous version of the SAT. SAT tutoring provides informed and experienced instruction that can be customized to a student’s 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, create structured learning plans, and build confidence through regular assessment and feedback.

Research on SAT Prep

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.

College Board Statistics on Retaking 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 four 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. While the College Board notes that two out of three students improve their scores by taking the SAT a second time, they are also quick to point out that each individual student must decide whether or not retaking the test makes sense for them. According to a 2018 College Board study, 63% of test takers improved their SAT score by taking the exam more than once. Researchers highlight personal experience and knowing what to expect on the exam as playing significant roles in improved test scores the second time around.

Retaking the SAT and Score Reporting

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. We encourage students to familiarize themselves with the specific SAT score-related policies of the colleges and universities they intend to apply to in order to avoid missing deadlines or failing to submit required information.

Students Who Should Consider Retaking the SAT

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. Ultimately, every student must make the best decision for their unique higher education plans, and what is best for one person is not automatically best for another. Talking with school guidance counselors, family members, and SAT prep course instructors can provide useful information that is helpful in making the best decision possible.

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