While college admissions officers don’t diminish a student’s evaluation for having taken the SAT or ACT multiple times, students would be prudent to pause and reflect before taking either test more than three times each.
To make a more informed choice, students can:
- First, review previous scores, analyzing the improvement between one test to the next, or why scores (or one subsection score) may have decreased from one test to the next. Students can review the more detailed SAT and ACT score reports to understand what concepts may need to be reviewed.
Also, if students have purchased the score reporting services, like “Requesting a Copy of the Questions and Answers” for the ACT, the “Question & Answer Service” or “Student Answer Service” for the SAT, then they can review specific questions were answered incorrectly and if there’s a block of questions which were not answered correctly, which can indicate a loss of concentration or issue pacing to answer questions within the allotted time. Then, students can determine a more effective test preparation strategy.
- Second, research the average ACT or SAT scores for the incoming students at colleges where a student intends to apply, and typically research a few years back for more useful statistical analysis.
Also, students should track down the percentage of applicants who submitted SAT or ACT scores, as well as the percentage of admitted students with scores, given the widespread implementation of test-optional admissions starting in Fall 2020.
Then, students can compare if their scores fit within the typical profile of a student at that college or not, to determine if a fourth or more test sitting is needed.
Furthermore, with research, students can know if the university admissions officers expressly state test scores from more than three test dates will not be considered, or if the university superscores both the SAT and ACT (meaning combines the highest subsection scores from multiple test dates to formulate the highest combination score.
- Third, check your motivation. Why are you trying to improve your scores? If the improvement is to “better” chances for admissions to a particular college, why do you seek to attend said college? Or is there some personal satisfaction in achieving a particular score, and why?
- Fourth, what are the costs of taking the SAT or ACT a fourth or more times? Any time spent preparing for the exam can be an opportunity cost of studying to maintain academic grades or maintaining a commitment to an important extracurricular activity.
Since many university admissions officers practice holistic evaluation, where no one part of an application is more important than another, then focusing efforts seeking to earn a particular SAT or ACT score can prevent students’ participation in other activities where they can more aptly demonstrate their ability and interests.
- Switch up tests: if you’re attached to submitting a test score as part of the application, then considering switching from the SAT to the ACT or vice versa. Some students score higher (relatively) on one test over the other, given the differences in format, test question style, and timing.
Lastly, given widespread test-optional admissions, many universities are entering their fourth admissions cycle evaluating students with (and without) test scores, the Class of 2024 are empowered to choose how to demonstrate their aptitude. Thus, students can thoughtfully consider the totality of their experience, noting how a test score may add to or verify a student’s aptitude.
A University of California San Diego and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill Yoshikawa, EdM advises clients about all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. Contact her at email@example.com