Test day. Dreaded by most, but essential for almost all who are college-bound. Taking college entrance exams isn’t really fun for most teens, and so my recommendation for students to take the official ACT and/or SAT more than once can seem like some pretty unfair punishment.
There are a few instances in which sitting for the test just once is perfectly fine, and I’ll explain those here, too, but it’s an absolute advantage for most students to take one or both exams at least twice.
Why Most Teens Should Take the Same Test Twice
1. Many colleges use “superscoring” for admissions decisions.
“Superscoring” is an informal way of saying that admissions offices will take the highest scores from each section across all of the ACT or SAT tests that a student sits for in order to average out to the highest total score possible.
You can easily see that this a total advantage! Section scores vary on tests almost inevitably for each sitting. Some students have an “off” testing day and some encounter more difficult reading prompts on some test days, for example. Having more than one test to borrow a section score from takes some of that pressure off.
The Superscore Formula:
- ACT: Average together the highest scored sections (Math, English, Reading, Science) across all ACT exams taken
- SAT: Add the highest scored sections (Reading/Writing and Math) across all SAT exams taken
Remember that not all colleges superscore the ACT and SAT exams. To find out for sure schools use scores for admissions, contact the admissions offices directly. Some consider only the highest total test scores, for example. You can do some initial research with the College Board’s SAT Score-Use Practices by Participating Institution document, too, but best connect with the colleges individually to be sure.
While superscoring is a pretty stellar policy for college-bound students, it wasn’t conceived as a benevolent gift to students from schools. Many colleges are moving toward the superscoring model because it makes them look good in rankings when they can show students admitted with higher test scores.
Ok. Whatever. We’ll take what we can get.
2. Higher test scores tend to happen the second time around.
Test day jitters are real. In addition to the pressure of doing well on the exam, your teen will be a little apprehensive about not really knowing exactly what to expect. Things like where the building is, what the testing room is like, who the proctor will be, who the other students are, what the test will be like in that structured environment – it all compounds on the anxiety of an already-stressful day.
When teens are able to get that first test under their belts, the second test day just flows easier.
- They know what to expect.
- Confidence tends to build.
- A little pressure is relieved.
And, they have an advantage over the students in that same testing room who haven’t taken the test yet. A beautiful reminder for your teen!
3. Flukes can happen on test day.
Two years ago, 4 of the students I worked with came down with the flu just in time for the May SAT exam. They all took it anyway. And they all bombed it. Luckily they had other opportunities to take the test in June and October that year, and they all increased scores like champs.
Here’s a short list of what can screw teens up:
- Feeling hungry or tired (remember to have a good night’s sleep and breakfast, for the love of Pete!)
- Distractions within the testing room (some kid popping gum, the proctor typing loudly on a laptop, a weird smell)
- Distractions outside the testing room. (One year there was a construction crew with jackhammers on site. Can you imagine?!)
Whether it’s one of these or another variable, if it can affect a student’s test performance, it probably will. Planning for additional test days is really a no-brainer.
That All Being Said…A Disclaimer:
There are a couple of instances in which your teen doesn’t have to, or shouldn’t, take the exam twice. Or, in some cases, not even once.
1. Some colleges have test-optional admissions policies.
According to FairTest.org, there are over 850 schools in the U.S. that do not require SAT or ACT scores for admissions. Check out the site for an updated test-optional schools list.
If your teen’s list is comprised of all test-optional schools, then taking the test isn’t necessary. If there’s a mix of colleges on the list with different requirements for testing, however, it’s important to have at least one set (preferably at least two sets!) of scores.
2. Some students are VERY anxious and are easily overwhelmed.
There are some teens who put so much pressure on themselves and get so anxious about exams that they really shouldn’t take more than one.
Anxiety plays such a huge role in how a student performs overall on entrance exams that an extremely nervous teen will sabotage any chance of success, and will potentially do more harm than good to his or her own health. And chances are high that a student in that state of mind will not live up to potential on the exam, anyway.
Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!