To Retest or Not?

By Lisa Mader, LEAP, 2011

If you were told you have a 55% chance of winning the lottery tonight, would you purchase a ticket? Of course! That same percentage of students will increase their ACT or SAT scores on a second attempt.  Often this can lead to what feels like winning the college lottery.

Many juniors taking their first round of ACT and SAT tests in the spring want to be done with testing only to move on to tackling college applications. Regardless of the first set of scores, I regularly encourage students to take a second shot. Some students are better suited to the SAT’s reasoning test or the ACT’s straight-forward approach, so compare national percentile scores then repeat the test on which you excel.  All colleges accept either test (unlike the days of your parents) and, I’m regularly assured by college admissions counselors, do not give a preference to either.  If both scores appear to be fairly even, you may want to give both a second shot in the fall of your senior year.

I recall Tracy, a junior at the top of her class with a 4.3 weighted GPA who scored a 32 on her first ACT putting her above the average at her best-fit school.  She gleefully announced her scores and that she was finished testing.  After congratulation her on her scores, I dashed her hopes of putting testing behind her only to explain her parents wallet was the main reason to test again.  The difference between the 32 she was satisfied with and the 34 she eventually earned amounted to thousands of dollars in scholarships at a state flagship.  She, and her parents, later thanked me for the push.

In 2009, the SAT joined in the ACT in their Score Choice policy meaning students can take each test multiple times and choose to ultimately submit only the very best, single test date score to the colleges where they apply.  However, some schools will Super Score the tests by taking the best score from each section across multiple test dates to boost the student’s chance at acceptance.  Regardless of the policy at any school, an improved score can make a difference.

While both ACT and SAT report the same 55% improvement statistic, keep in mind a percentage will drop and for some others scores remain the same.  However, in my experience, students who put a little effort into prepping before a retest, have higher odds than 55%.

Ultimately test scores are a snapshot of who you were on a single test day and thankfully colleges will look at the whole picture.  Whether testing is your strength as was Tracy’s or it’s the thorn in your side, with a little effort you may just win the lottery!