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Expert Guide: How Many Times Should You Take the SAT?

Posted by Rebecca Safier | May 8, 2015 8:30:00 AM

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How many times can you take the SAT? Is there a limit if you're retaking it to achieve your ideal score? Why would you want to keep sitting through this high stakes test, anyway?

There are several compelling reasons to take the SAT more than once, but you also shouldn't go totally overboard. Let's go over when you should retake the SAT, and when it might be time to move on.

 

Reasons to Take the SAT More Than Once 

Students almost always improve when they retake the SAT. When you take the SAT, you gain valuable real test experience that helps you figure out how to manage your time and deal with pressure. You might encounter certain problems that stump you and learn the concepts you missed out on for next time. Because they can take time to study and improve, lots of students choose to take the SAT more than once to improve the scores they'll ultimately add to their college applications.

Some students strategically build up their SAT score section by section. If your college superscores your test results, or takes the highest scores by section across all the time you sat for the test, then you could theoretically focus in on the math section on one test date, the Critical Reading on another date, and the Writing on the third. While you shouldn't treat any sections as throwaway sections, since a major discrepancy in scores could raise red flags both to your colleges and the College Board, this approach is one way to really hone your knowledge in one area and potentially achieve near perfect section scores one test date at a time.

If you score worse than you expected to on the SAT, you might have had a fluke test. There could have been a major passage that just didn't make sense to you, or maybe you were tired, sick, or distracted that day. If this is the case, you should schedule for the next test as soon as possible.

So if you're likely to improve your SAT scores every time you take the test, should you just keep taking it over and over again until you hit perfection?

 

Can You Take the SAT an Unlimited Number of Times?

How many times can you take the SAT? Technically, you can take the SAT as many times as you want! There are no restrictions for registering for and taking the test. There are 7 test dates throughout the year, so the only limit that stands in your way is time.

Many schools allow you to use Score Choice, or to pick and choose which scores from which test dates you want to send as part of your college application.

Not all schools support the use of Score Choice, however, and they take it on good faith that you'll send all your scores. Some notable schools with a "send all scores" policy include Yale, Stanford, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of California.

So if you can use Score Choice to send only some scores and keep the rest private, and you have the time and money to keep retesting, then technically you could take the SAT as many times as you want. But if your schools don't use Score Choice and you are expected to send all your test scores along with your application, how many times retaking the SAT is too many?

 

How Many Is Too Many?

If you're applying to schools that require all scores, like the ones mentioned above, I would recommend not taking the SAT more than 6 times. If you take it this many or more times, you might be sending the signal that you're not taking the test seriously enough to prep each time or that you have a lot of trouble improving your scores. The SAT is meant to test all students on a level playing field and determine their readiness for college, so it wouldn't look all that strong to have to take the test more than 6 times to perform well.

While real test experience is valuable, you also will gain a lot from focused and purposeful test prep. Perhaps you keep retaking the SAT and your scores are not improving as much as you'd like. Rather than asking, "How many times can I take the SAT?" you should reconsider your test prep approach. Are you really uncovering and targeting your weak spots and filling in your knowledge gaps? Are you timing yourself when you take practice tests to practice your pacing? Are you familiar with the best strategies for reading the Critical Reading passages or writing the essay

By honing your approach to test prep and really putting in the time and effort to study, you should be able to achieve your target scores within a few administrations of the SAT. Besides what excessive retesting indicates about how you're prepping for the SAT, it also might not be the best idea for a few other reasons.

 

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Planning your SAT testing schedule is all about balance.

 

Reasons Not to "Overtake" the SAT

First, it's important to take control of your test prep, diagnose your strengths and weaknesses, and figure out what you need to do to improve your scores. Apart from this, you're probably also taking other tests, like finals or the SAT Subject Tests, along with all your schoolwork, community service, and clubs or sports that require your attention. You wouldn't want to drop the ball at this point in your high school career by diverting attention away from these other pursuits, as these are also all key parts of your college application.

Plus, unless you're superhuman or highly skilled at meditating, sitting for the SAT tends to involve stress and anxiety. Getting real test experience is helpful in teaching you to regulate your nerves, calm yourself down, and focus, but you also don't need to put yourself through this too many times. Taking the SAT more than 6 times could potentially become a waste of time, money, and energy.

Again, while you can definitely have a fluke testing experience and score much lower than you should, you also don't want to treat any tests as throwaway tests. It's important to take every test seriously so you can get a real sense of your skills and scoring capacity. You can use this same mindset with practice tests - by simulating testing conditions and timing yourself, you can build on your testing experience and figure out what you need to learn and practice to boost your scores.

Like with everything else you're involved in through school and outside of school, taking the SAT is all about balance. If you set and stick to a study plan and testing schedule, then you'll be able to find the happy medium between testing too often and testing too little. Below is one common guide that works for a lot of high school students.

 

SAT Study Plan and Testing Schedule Guide

This timeline is effective for a lot of students and gives you time to prep and retake the SAT a few times to hit your target scores. Rather than scouring for test dates to figure out how many times can you take the SAT, you can have everything planned out in advance.

 

  1. Study for the SAT the summer before junior year. You can use online prep, answer SAT Questions of the Day, print official practice tests, try sample questions, and study from books.
  2. Register for and take your first real SAT test in the fall of junior year. Depending on how you do, you can register for the test again.
  3. If you're retaking the SAT, you can prep during the winter of junior year and take the SAT again in the spring. You might also be taking SAT Subject Tests at the end of the school year. If you still aren't scoring where you want to score, then you can sign up to take the SAT in the fall of your senior year.
  4. Put a lot of effort into test prep the summer between junior and senior year. Figure out what you were missing on the first two administrations of the test, learn the concepts, and apply them through practice problems. You want to do everything you can to prepare, as this test in the fall will likely be your last chance.
  5. Take the first available test senior year, before you get too busy with schoolwork and your summer studying is fresh in your mind. This would be in October for the SAT. If you feel this test did not go well, you might be able to retake it one more time, depending on your college deadlines. This is also not an ideal time to take the SAT, as you'll be busy finishing up and sending off the rest of your application. If you're not sure if your scores will be sent to your colleges in time, definitely call or email the admissions office and ask if they'll accept these scores. They might wait for your scores even if they arrive after the stated deadline, but you can't bank on this unless they've told you this explicitly.

 

Ambitious students who feel they can achieve a high score even earlier in their high school career might choose to push this schedule forward a year. You could start prepping as a 9th or 10th grader, take the SAT throughout sophomore year, and be all set with your scores before you even start the rest of the application process. If you're a strong, academically achieving student, you might already have the math, reading, and writing skills you need to score highly on the SAT before you even reach junior year.

Just like with your test prep, it's important to reflect on what works best for you. As everyone has different preferences, strengths, and weaknesses, there's no one size fits all approach to studying for and taking the SAT. This testing schedule works for a lot of students, but ultimately it's up to you to decide on and stick to the schedule that will allow you to perform your best.

 

To Sum Up...

Around 4 times of sitting for the SAT (sometimes more, sometimes less) should likely be enough for you to reach your target scores, along with many more practice tests and effective test prep on your own. Don't underestimate the power of prep in helping you master the SAT.

In the end though, you shouldn't be afraid to take real tests, as they are valuable training experiences and you can almost always improve your scores or make up for a fluke off day. Give yourself enough test dates so you don't run out of opportunities to take the test and find the balance between retesting, studying, and accomplishing your goals in time for your college deadlines.

 

What's Next?

What's a good SAT score for 10th grade? 9th grade? What about overall for your college applications? These articles explore this topic of when to take the SAT even further, revealing what your early test scores indicate about your future performance.

Are you aiming for a perfect 2400? This full scorer shares his strategies for scoring an 800 in math, Critical Reading, and writing.

While most schools place a great deal of importance on the SAT or ACT, there are actually some schools now that have test optional or test flexible policies. Before you design your plan, make sure you understand the requirements of your colleges.

Want to improve your SAT score by 240 points? We have the industry's leading SAT prep program. Built by Harvard grads and SAT full scorers, the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible.

Check out our 5-day free trial today:

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Rebecca Safier
About the Author

Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.



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