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How Many Times Should I take the SAT?

College admissions officers say that after you’ve taken the SAT four times or more, elite colleges in the US will start raising their eyebrows
BY Uttara Choudhury |   01-11-2010

The Yale applicant had terrific grades. He had a satisfactory essay. As one of Yale’s admissions officers, Michael Motto, leafed through his application, he found himself more and more impressed. Then he got to his SAT score. As he remembers it, he had taken the test six times.

“The applicant was discussed, but not for the reasons he might have hoped,” Michael Motto, a former assistant director of admissions at Yale and co-founder of Apply High, told students at Stuyvesant High School, in New York which constantly sends students to Yale, Harvard and Stanford.

“Most students applying to competitive schools will take the standardized tests like the SAT and ACT two or three times to reach their target scores. Colleges will not look down upon that,” said Motto.

How Many Times is Too Many Times

Retaking the newly designed SAT test involves a second infusion of time and money, but it is worth it in these two circumstances: Your score falls below the average mark for your prospective colleges or a higher SAT score will qualify you for additional financial aid.

“If you are within 100 points of a definitive target score, to apply to your target or reach school, it is worth working toward that goal,” said S.R Mackintosh, a former admissions officer at Smith.

“Alternatively, you may find your initial scores on the SAT are sufficient for admissions purposes, but they fall just short of the threshold for merit-based scholarships. Then you should give it a shot,” she added.

The University of Arkansas, for example, uses a sliding tuition scale for students who are not state residents or come from overseas. According to admission officials, as few as 70 additional points on the SAT can mean a significant tuition reduction.

In some rare situations you may not have any other choice but to retake the SAT. On the redesigned SAT, the essay section is optional. If you skipped the essay the first time you took the test, you may need to retake the whole exam if you later realize that your prospective colleges require it. Out of nearly 360 colleges, only about 15 percent require the essay. Top schools are split pretty evenly. While Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Dartmouth, Yale and the University of California require the SAT essay, Cornell, Brown, UPenn, USC, NYU, Vanderbilt, and MIT do not.

The College Board which administers the SAT places no restrictions on how often you can take the exam. There are at least 7 SAT test dates every year so you can retake the high-stakes test multiple times. However, most college admission officers agree that after you’ve taken the SAT four times or more, competitive colleges in America will start raising their eyebrows.

“After retaking the SAT two or three times, you are tumbling way, way too far down the rabbit hole. Too many kids attach such a crazy degree of importance to getting into the most selective schools that they do desperate things to get a perfect score or ace the SAT test,” said Motto.

“But this approach can very easily backfire,” added Motto whose life revolves around admissions season, school visits, and the process that winnows out the ordinary mortals with their 4.2 GPAs, from the real academic stars.

Do Test Redos Give SAT Scores a Lift

According to test prep consultants, 28 percent of college-bound students in the United States and overseas take the SAT, two, three and even four times to boost their scores. Test scores typically account for about 20 percent of admissions decisions, along with undergraduate transcripts, essays and recommendations.

“Motivated students tend to improve when they sit for the SAT more than once. We have seen that taking the test again often raises scores,” said an official from College Board, who did not want to be named.

Still, different studies (including data shared by College Board) over the years have suggested retaking the SAT tends to improve performance, though perhaps less dramatically than some test-prep companies suggest.

“I took the SAT three times. On my second try, I improved by 100 points but I plateaued off on my third try. It’s a myth that each time you take the SAT test you improve your score,” said Rohit Sachdev.

“I barely got a 20 points bump on the reading-heavy verbal and math sections of the SAT when I took it a third time,” added Sachdev.

It’s easy to understand the allure. “Those extra points could improve the chance of being admitted to a coveted school, and higher scores may also increase the dollar amount of merit-based scholarships,” reported “The Wall Street Journal.”

When students retake the SAT, their scores often improve — but they may also get worse. Here is the good news: at most US colleges, this is irrelevant because they “super score,” which means they mix and match test results, judging students by their best scores for each section regardless of whether the score was recorded on the first or third attempt.


Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America, for TV 18’s Firstpost news site. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.

Related stories:
The New SAT Test
Seeking the Ultimate SAT Score
A Guide to Understanding Standardized Tests
The Importance of the SAT Verbal Score



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