At this time of year, juniors are faced with a variety of decisions. Which colleges should I visit? Which teachers should I ask for recommendations? How should I spend the summer?

In this month’s How-To Blog, we will address the question of whether you should re-take the SAT or ACT.  As with many of your college-related questions, IT ALL DEPENDS!  The following factors should inform your decision:

How did you do on your PSAT?

Research has demonstrated a strong correlation between PSAT and SAT scores.  A variety of studies have concluded that on average, combined 2400-scale Critical Reading, Math and Writing scores rise about 10%, with some variation among sections. For example, Montgomery County Public Schools, in Rockville MD found Critical Reading increased by 13%, Math 10% and Writing 6%. These findings were in line with Collegiate Gateway’s own internal statistical analysis, which also found that an individual student’s increases could be as high as 25% on the SAT and 33% on the ACT.

View your PSAT scores as a baseline.  You have significant potential to improve, but be realistic about potential gains. You can expect to increase your scores between 10-20% due to growing maturity throughout high school, additional coursework in junior year, and test prep.  If your SAT scores have not improved, consider more effective test prep and re-take.

What kind of test prep did you do?

There exist a variety of ways to prepare: on your own, one-on-one with a tutor, or in an organized test prep class.  Determining which approach is most effective for you depends on your learning style and your budget.  If you are not pleased with your initial test results, re-assess whether your test prep method is the best fit.

No matter which option you choose, it’s important to devote the necessary time and energy.  How serious were you about completing test prep homework? Did you take at least three full-length practice tests for either the SAT and ACT? If so, how did you do on the practice tests relative to the actual test?

Beyond helping you improve your test scores, test prep will strengthen skills that you can apply to academic coursework in high school and college, such as test-taking strategies, reading comprehension, vocabulary and problem-solving.

How much time do you reasonably have to study for another standardized test?

Will preparing for the test compromise your academic performance in your coursework? Do you have significant responsibilities or commitments outside of your academics that would be affected by the time required for test prep?

Your grades in your high school courses are the top factor in college admissions. Your junior year grades are the most important, because colleges strongly consider the trends in your grades as you progress through increasingly more advanced courses.  If you are reasonably satisfied with your SAT or ACT scores, and your course finals and AP or IB exams will require extensive preparation, then it may not be a good trade-off to invest additional time in standardized test prep.

How many times have you already taken the SAT or ACT?

According to the College Board, most students take the SAT twice, and the majority of these students improve their scores. But it would be overkill to take either test more than two or three times. Even the Princeton Review, one of the major test prep companies, advises: “We don’t see any good reason to take either of these tests more than twice. Three times should be the absolute limit—many colleges frown on you taking the ACT or SAT more than that.”


How selective are your colleges? How academically competitive are you as a candidate?

This may be the most relevant question in addressing whether to re-take the SAT or ACT –  or to switch from one to the other.  Standardized testing is the third most important factor in college admissions, following  your grades and the rigor of your curriculum relative to what’s available at your high school. To assess whether your standardized scores will push your application into the “yes” or “maybe” admissions piles, look at the national mid-50% scores of accepted applicants at the colleges to which you wish to apply; if you attend school in a highly competitive part of the country, such as the New York metropolitan area, you should be above the mid-50% to be a viable candidate.  Also check your own school’s admissions history to see if your academic profile matches those of accepted students.


As with all decisions related to college admissions, a variety of complex factors are involved.  Choose the right course of action for YOU in particular!

For example, if you took the SAT twice already, did an extensive amount of test prep, have scores above the mid-50% of the colleges you are most strongly considering, and you prefer the SAT to the ACT, then you probably do not need to re-take the SAT or take an ACT.  Alternatively, if you took the ACT without any test prep, your scores are below the mid-50% of the colleges you prefer, and you realize that the ACT is too time-pressured for you, it may be advisable to switch to the SAT and prepare properly for the exam.

For more information or guidance, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!