SAT Sittings: How Many is Too Many?
April 27, 2018
SAT Sittings: How Many is Too Many?
You study for months and months, aiming for that perfect SAT score. Finally, you take the test. But your results aren’t what you had hoped. So, what’s next? Should you suffer through more SAT sittings? Or would investing time and taking the test again actually be detrimental to your profile?
There’s no doubt about it - your standardized test scores are an important part of your application. But it’s important to keep in mind that admissions officers also consider how many times you take the test. There’s a big difference between an applicant who gets a 1550 in one take, and one who does 5 SAT sittings to reach that same score. Let’s break this down so that you can decide if it is in your best interest to do another SAT sitting.
Disclaimer: there isn’t a standard number that will push everyone over the edge to the “too many” side when it comes to SAT sittings because each individual will have their own “edge.” With this blog, I hope to guide your decision about whether or not you should retake the SAT, and in the process perhaps spare you some anxiety, stress, and possibly money. Ask yourself these questions to determine if you should take the SAT once again:
Am I actively preparing for another sitting?
Don’t just expect to do better on the next SAT sitting based on luck and optimism. Sign up for a test prep class, self-study, take full-length practice tests, etc. Identify the types of questions that are challenging for you and practice those. Likewise, identify the types of questions that come easier to you and try to verify what you’re doing right. By taking initiative in your own learning, you can more reasonably expect a better performance in subsequent SAT sittings.
Have I significantly improved between sittings?
Maybe you’ve done all of those things that I just mentioned and you’re still not seeing much change in your score. At this time, a cost-benefit analysis will tell you that the time and effort you’re putting in would be better spent enhancing other parts of your application, rather than going through yet another SAT sitting. Remember, SAT scores are only one of many variables involved in a holistic admissions process. Work on expanding your extracurricular activities, participate in a competition, work on a blog. The possibilities are endless!
Do I still need to take other standardized tests?
If your target school requires or recommends additional standardized tests, then be sure to dedicate enough time to those as well so your performance is consistent across all tests. For example, Georgetown strongly recommends (read: requires) 3 subject tests. MIT requires one subject test in Math and another in Science. Other schools have specific subject test recommendations based on your intended major. Moreover, if you’re in the AP or IB curriculum, you’ll have those examinations to prepare for as well. If you’re juggling a lot of standardized tests, really think about whether or not it is worth it to add more SAT sittings to your plate.
Have I reached the threshold score for my target schools?
Take a look at the graph below. While most US colleges don’t have hard cut-offs for GPA and test scores, there is a general “threshold” where students become competitive for admission (the green area). Past that threshold, the line plateaus even though the GPA and test scores continue to increase. This threshold is different for every school, but you can get a general idea of what that may look like at a certain college by researching their median test scores. You’ll want your scores to be at or slightly above that median to be a competitive candidate.
The takeaway message here is that at a certain point, a higher score will not significantly improve your chances of admissions. For the most competitive schools in the US, a student with an SAT score of 1560 won’t be read differently from a student with a 1580. If you’ve reached that threshold score for your target school, don’t waste more time in another SAT sitting in the hopes of a minor increase.
Will the scores be received by my target school on time?
There’s little point in doing another SAT sitting if the results won’t be out in time to be considered for college admissions. Watch out particularly for early deadlines. For example, University of Michigan warned students this year that the October SAT scores would not arrive in time to be considered for their Early Action Round. If you’re not sure about a school’s testing policy, check their website or email their admissions office. Before signing up for another SAT sitting, do your research!
How is the SAT score considered in the schools I’m applying to?
Some schools are transitioning to test flexible or test optional policies, which might be a good option for schools where you fall below their median scores. For example, schools like NYU allow you to substitute an SAT/ACT score for 3 subject test scores, 3 AP scores, an IB diploma, etc. If you can give yourself a better chance for admission by covering the testing requirement with other options that you were going to do anyway, then make that work to your advantage!
What if you’re a bad test-taker? Or you believe that your SAT score doesn’t accurately portray your academic potential? Should you keep retaking it in the hopes your score will increase to be consistent with the rest of your application? Not necessarily! Consider applying to test-optional schools, like Sarah Lawrence College or Brandeis University, where they’re giving the students more control over how they portray themselves as applicants and what materials they share with the schools.
Remember, your SAT score is only a part of your whole application. While it's important, a perfect score alone will not guarantee admission to the nation’s top schools. Consider all of your options before you sign up for another SAT sitting!