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“To Retake or Not Retake” – William Shakespeare’s Cousin

We’ve all been there at one time or another – whether in school, at work, at home, or in a wide range of activities – we have all (gulp) underperformed.  Take a deep breath – it happens. In fact, the last time you underperformed was probably not your first time either. It’s probably happened to your parents on numerous occasions.  I’ll bet it’s even happened to your peers at school, although you are far less likely to hear about those instances. 


Don’t worry – nobody is immune.  In high school, it happens to millions of students around the country, let’s say every four Saturdays, give or take.  


Of course, I am referring to the SAT and the ACT.  At some point during your high school tenure, it is incredibly likely that you will take one of these exams.  It is nearly as likely that you will take your chosen exam more than once.  There is even a chance you will consider taking it three times (or more) or perhaps trying both exams. 


One of the most common questions directed at counselors, tutors, and teachers is “Should I take it again?” While the answer will vary depending on each student’s specific academic situation, personality, worth ethic, and long-term goals, it is an important decision and one that should be arrived at after careful consideration and discussion with your counselor and parents.


At Insight, the first goal is to help you identify whether the SAT or ACT is the better test for you.  They are different in a number of ways, from length to style to presentation to the actual material.  We encourage you to take a practice test of each before doing anything (and perhaps repeating this process). If you find you are more comfortable and can score higher on one test over the other, that’s wonderful.  If you aren’t sure, take them again to reinforce your initial opinion.  No college prefers the SAT to the ACT or vice versa.  I promise!


Once you have prepared over a period of months, you approach the actual test day with confidence and poise. We offer SAT and ACT classes throughout the year to help students learn the skills and knowledge to perform well on test day and continue to take practice exams to improve speed and accuracy.  You breathe a sigh of relief when finished. And then when your scores arrive a few weeks after, you have a decision to make. If you hit your goal score, already established with your counselor, then hopefully you can consider yourself done. 


It’s common for students to feel doubt about their results or falling just short.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “I want to take it once more because I know I can score 10 or 20 points higher.” Is the effort and time required to prepare all over again worth 20 points?  Perhaps, depending on the college, but if it’s going to come at the expense of your grades, your time with organized activities, your applications, or your mental health, then I would say probably not, depending on how close you came to your goal. 


Many students will ask if colleges care how many times you take the SAT and/or ACT.  While the answer will again be tied into your specific experience, know that some colleges may place more value on your standardized test scores than others.  Also know that while many colleges will allow score choice, in which you only report the test results you choose, there are a growing number of schools, including the UCs, that will want you to send them every SAT or ACT that you have taken. While they will place most emphasis on your single best score, putting yourself in the best position to succeed through careful planning is crucial in order to effectively communicating the most beneficial information to the college of your choice. 


Many students do succeed taking tests two or three times and show considerable improvement over time, sometimes even raising scores by a few hundred points!  But if you’re thinking of trying the SAT or ACT a fourth or even fifth time, go find your favorite board game, roll the dice, and immediately move back three spaces.  It’s not necessary at that point and there will better ways to continue to build your credentials. 


 Insight counselors work with students every single day in this important area and based on your profile, your ambitions, and your tendencies, we will guide you to make the choice that allows you to convey the very best version of yourself to colleges.


Keep studying, work hard, sign up for a class, and consult the people you trust for advice.  And remember, at the end of the day, although it doesn’t feel like it in the moment, it’s only a test.


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