Multiple Test Dates and Superscoring: A Primer
How many times should I take the ACT/SAT? Why can’t I just do it once and be done? How far apart should my test dates be spaced?
These are, by far, some of the most common questions I receive from concerned students and parents at the beginning of the test preparation process. And each question is valid and deserves a thoughtful response.
As a general rule, I recommend that any student test at least twice, for various reasons. The first, and most obvious reason, is simply that, statistically speaking, you are likely to score better on your second test; over half of students taking the SAT or ACT twice will receive a higher score on the second test. For the ACT, most colleges only consider your highest score, so there is no risk in trying again. For the SAT, students are in an even better position, as most colleges will super-score the SAT, meaning that they will select your highest section scores from each test sitting and consider those for your admission decision. Let’s analyze an example student who scored 1200 on two different test dates. On the first date, she scored 700 on her Verbal and 500 on her Math. On the second test date, she decided to focus on improving her math and scored 550 on her Verbal and brought her math to a 650. Most colleges will then take her 700 Verbal from her first date and the 650 Math from her second date for an overall score of 1350, a 150 point improvement. This does not happen organically, though. In order to benefit from super-scoring, you will need to submit all of your scores to colleges and they will super-score your tests, not the College Board.
On the ACT, super-scoring is less common across colleges, though that will be changing next September. Some schools will super-score while others will not, so it is in students’ best interest to try to maximize their composite scores on a given test date, which is why testing more than once is also to your benefit for the ACT. By taking the ACT more than once, you are able to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses to better maximize your score on your next test and can use that data in conjunction with your tutor to precision target areas of weakness in each section, which leads to stronger composite scores.
However, there is a point of diminishing returns after three or so tests. Higher scoring students have smaller margins of error to improve, so students scoring in the upper ranges do not benefit from testing more than two or three times. There is also the simple fact that test preparation is work, and at some point, students are better off working on other parts of their application if they are hitting a plateau after multiple rounds of testing. Remember, the college application process is a holistic one; it is not merely your test scores that determine whether you are granted admission to a given college. Admissions officers also weigh your grades, extracurricular activities, and volunteering experience, and those should not be shunted to the side to continue testing closer and closer to application time.
There is a balance to be struck, and I have found that it is generally between two and three test dates. This allows students to have lives outside of test preparation while maximizing scores and giving them the best chance at attending their college of choice
So, testing multiple times is always to your benefit, but testing too many times is never worth sacrificing other aspects of your application. Aim for two or three attempts at the test, confident in the knowledge that you will almost certainly improve on each test, and then move on to the rest of your life. We know this is a stressful time, and our goal is to make it as painless as possible. So trust the process. It works.