Taking the ACT or SAT can be stressful, and it’s completely natural to feel disappointed if your scores are lower than you’d hoped after all the time and energy you put into preparing. If you’re in that situation, it’s worth considering whether you should retake the test to try to get a better score. In some cases, this may help strengthen your college applications -- but in others, it’s best to stick with the score you have. Ask yourself these questions to help figure out the best plan.
Have You Only Taken the Test Once?
If so, definitely strongly consider taking it again! Many students improve their scores on a second time through. In fact, the ACT reveals that 57% of students improved their scores upon retaking the test. Those numbers are high enough to suggest that you might as well take it a second time, even if you did decently the first time through.
After all, this time you have a much better understanding of what to expect from the test. Even if you’ve taken practice tests that simulate the real thing, you didn’t do them under the same sort of pressure as you were facing on the real test.
Are You a Perfectionist?
If you’re a straight-A student for whom even an A- or B+ feels like a tragedy, try to honestly assess whether your scores are actually a problem or whether they just aren’t quite up to your very high standards. With a maximum score of 1600 on the SAT, a 1520 might feel like a disappointment -- after all, there were eighty more points you could have earned! -- but it puts you among the average accepted students for schools like Stanford and MIT, and well above the average for schools like Vassar and UC Berkeley.
Look at the average scores among students accepted at the schools you realistically want to go to, and honestly assess whether your scores fit in. If it’s just a question of being a perfectionist and wanting the best possible score, even though your current scores are good enough, don’t retake the tests.
Do You Have Time?
If you’re planning to take the ACT or SAT again for more than your second time through, and you want a significant improvement in your scores, you’ll need to actually study. In most cases, simply retaking the test more than once (so two times total) won’t give you a dramatically different result without serious preparation. Of course, needing to study and prepare takes time, which you may not have.
There are lots of reasons you might not realistically have the time to dedicate to the test preparation process. This is already a busy time of year with college applications, various holidays and the associated family expectations, and final exams are already right around the corner. If you won’t realistically have quite a bit of time to devote to test preparation, spare yourself the stress and skip the retake.
Did You Genuinely Underperform?
There are typical stress nerves when you take a test, and then there’s serious anxiety so bad that it genuinely and dramatically hurts your results. If you suffered from the latter when you last took the SAT or ACT, it’s worth considering a retest.
The same goes for other circumstances that could have led to a serious one-time underperformance. For example, maybe you were sick or recovering from a flu. A death or serious illness in the family could have been enough of a distraction to lower your scores. A fight with your boyfriend or girlfriend could have taken more of your attention than you’d like, and led to a lack of focus on the test. If you had an issue along these lines, your test scores could easily be artificially low and not representative of your true abilities. In this case, you should seriously consider retaking the test. Simply not having that other issue to contend with, and being able to give the test your full focus, could be enough to significantly raise your scores.