How Many Times Can You Take the SAT? | The Number of Retakes Matters
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As high school seniors around the country start the process of applying to colleges, there’s one piece of the admissions puzzle that is often a source of dread for many of these students: the SAT exam.
We all know that, despite its recent waning importance, an applicant’s SAT score is one of the most significant factors admissions counselors will weigh in determining whether she is a good fit for a school.
Since it’s so important, it’s crucial that you thoroughly prepare for the exam, whether it’s through SAT courses and seminars or even just a good SAT prep book. And perhaps just as critical to your SAT success is determining whether you should take the exam more than once.
But how many times can you take the SAT? We will, of course, provide the answer to this question, but we’ll also address the question of whether you should take the SAT more than once, and if so, how many times is too many?
Find all the answers in our comprehensive guide to retaking the SAT!
How Many Times Can You Take the SAT?
First thing’s first: let’s get down to the straight answer to the question how many times can you take the SAT?
The short answer is that you can take the SAT exam as many times as you want. That’s right, there’s no limit to the amount of times you can sit the SAT.
In fact, not only can you take the exam as many times as you want, you can also take the test as often as you want. While some other standardized tests require a waiting period, often a number of months, the SAT has no such requirement.
If you really wanted to, you could sit the exam every Saturday it’s offered for all they care—not that we would recommend this, for reasons we’ll get into a bit later on in this article.
But before we get into the reasons why “over-testing” is something that might actually be detrimental to your admissions prospects, let’s first take a look at some of the great benefits there are to retesting with the SAT.
In this next section, we’ll lay out our case for why you should sit the test more than once—even if you’re happy with the scores from your first testing.
Reasons to Take the SAT More than Once
There are many excellent reasons to retest when it comes to the SAT, regardless how well you performed on your first shot at the exam. Here, we’ll go over all the reasons why you should consider retesting, some of them quite obvious, some less so.
Poor First Performance
The most obvious reason to retake the SAT is that it gives you a chance to improve your scores if the results from your first attempt are less-than-impressive.
With College Board’s “Score Choice” program, you get to choose which scores they send to your prospective schools. So, if you retest and do much better, no one at your prospective colleges will ever know you did poorly the first time!
Related to the first point, the first time you take the SAT is the most nerve-wracking. Even if you’ve prepared, you can never really know how you’ll respond to the high-stress, high-stakes testing environment.
Luckily, these nerves tend to be much more subdued the second or third time around.
More Focused Preparation
Once you get your score report from your first sitting of the SAT, you can get some great insights into where you need to focus your attention as you prepare for the retest.
The SAT score report doesn’t just give your total score; it will also include individual scores for each of the two sections and, even more helpful, it will present “subscores” to give you an idea of what kinds of questions and topics in each section you need to improve on most.
This is also why it’s important to ask the question “when do SAT scores come out?” College Board usually releases score reports around 2 weeks after the exam. So consider how much time you’ll have to use this score report to prepare for a retest before you schedule it.
College Board also offers a nice option called “superscoring,” which allows you to select the best scores for each section of the test across different sittings of the test.
That is, if you retake the SAT and, say, improve your Reading and Writing score over your first attempt but end up performing worse on the math section, “superscoring” allows you to submit the higher scores from each section. In this case, you’d want to select the reading and writing score from the second attempt and the math score from your first attempt.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Not all higher education institutional allow “superscoring”! Be sure to check the admissions requirements for each school to which you will apply to determine whether they accept “superscores” or require only scores from a single sitting of the test.
The Law of Averages
Finally, on a more practical and statistical level, the best reason to retake the SAT at least once is that, generally speaking, the law of averages suggest that the more times you take the test, the more likely you are to eventually get a score that is the most accurate representation of your abilities.
That is, the point of the “Scholastic Aptitude Test” (SAT): to determine your real aptitude for college-level study.
Can You Take the SAT an Unlimited Number of Times?
While you can, in theory, take the SAT an unlimited number of times, this isn’t entirely true in practice.
After all, when do you take the SAT? The exam is offered only seven times per year, in March, May, June, August, October, November, and December. So, unless you begin taking the SAT as a high school junior, you’re basically limited to 7 attempts.
But there are even more factors to consider, like scheduling. How many Saturdays during your senior year of high school are you able or even willing to spend taking a difficult, lengthy exam? Moreover, do you need to carve out time to take other standardized tests? Let’s consider some potential testing conflicts.
Do You Plan to Take the ACT, Too?
While it is rare for the ACT and SAT exams to fall on the same Saturday, it’s still important to think about how you can split your study time to sufficiently prepare for each exam. And, unfortunately, it’s next to impossible to study for both simultaneously, as they are such radically different exams.
If you intend to take both the ACT and SAT, be sure to focus your attention on preparing for one at a time to guarantee you’re in the right headspace for each when test time rolls around.
What About SAT Subject Tests?
While SAT subject tests aren’t a requirement for all—or even most—college applications, some highly competitive schools (specifically, the more competitive degree programs within those schools) do expect them.
Unlike the ACT, which almost never falls on the same days as SAT test dates, the SAT subject exams are offered exclusively on SAT test dates. That means, if you must take a subject exam, that will knock out one potential day to retake the SAT, as you are not allowed to take the general test and a subject test on the same day.
How Many SAT Tests Is Too Many?
Now you must be wondering, “Then how many times should I take the SAT, and is it possible to take it too many times?”
There’s no real definitive answer to the first question, as individual experiences and circumstances vary from tester to tester. Yet, we believe a reasonable maximum number of attempts is no more than 4 times.
Any number of attempts beyond 4 can lead to some potential negative consequences for your admissions prospects. Let’s look at what those consequences might be and explain why this could be the case in the next section.
Reasons Not to Over-take the SAT
There are three main reasons why you shouldn’t take the SAT too many times—more than 4 attempts, according to our recommendation. We’ll cover both of those reasons here.
It Gets Expensive Quickly
You really must consider the cost of taking the SAT multiple times. While it’s a good idea to retest, it can be prohibitively expensive to take it many times.
In 2018-2019, the cost for each sitting of the SAT was $47.50 ($64.50 if you include the optional essay section). But there are other potential costs involved, like phone registration fees, late registration fees, rescheduling fees, and more.
Even if you don’t run into these fees and do opt to take the essay version of the test, $64.50 per exam for, say, 6 testings brings your total to a whopping $387! Are you willing to fork over that much cash to take tests?
You Can Only Improve Your Scores So Much
The fact is, no matter how hard you study and how many times you take the exam, there will come a certain point where you will simply plateau. There’s only so much improvement you can make in order to boost your scores.
Why is this? The SAT is an aptitude test, meaning it’s not designed to measure the amount of “things” you know; rather, it’s purpose is to gauge your intellectual potential and reasoning skills. That is, you can’t improve your SAT scores by learning more “stuff”; you only improve your scores by getting better at taking the test.
So, once you’ve mastered the skills and strategies for taking the SAT, it’s very unlikely that you will improve your overall score beyond that point.
Admissions Committees Don’t Like Over-Testing
Perhaps the most important reason for not retesting too many times is that the people who will decide on whether to admit you to their schools don’t really like it.
At best, these admissions officers will begin to discount score improvements after a certain number of retests; at worst, they might even develop an unfavorable opinion of you and your application if they see you’ve retested more than a few times.