If you're thinking about taking (or retaking) the SAT, ACT, PSAT, or another standardized test, don't just pick a date out of thin air and head off to the testing center. There's strategy involved in determining the best time to test. The following tips should help you make an informed decision.
Test prep can help you do your best
Standardized tests measure the same skills in the same way every time. The questions themselves may be different, but the content you need to know will be the same. There's really no point in taking a standardized test if you aren't ready. If you're unprepared, you won't do your best, and you'll want to take the test again anyway.
If you're thinking about taking the test just "to see what it's like," take a practice test instead and save the registration fee. You can find free practice tests for the SAT, ACT, and PSAT here at Peterson's.
Leave enough time for test preparation before the test
People who know how the test is structured and have a strategy for answering the questions have a major advantage over those that don't. Make sure that you budget some time for test prep.
Some people study during the school year and test in the spring, but others prefer to study over the summer and take the test in the fall. Either way is OK, as long as you're ready to do your best. Be honest about the amount of time you're willing to spend preparing and make the commitment!
Take the test early enough to report your scores
Getting your application in early is great, but most admission offices won't look at an application until it is "complete," which means it has to include all required test scores. Getting your test scores in early is best, which means you should start your test preparation earlier too.
Taking the SAT or ACT in the fall is OK, but there'll be less risk of missing any deadlines if you take your test in the spring before you apply.
Plan for any potential problems with a backup test date
On test day, you might get sick. Or your car might break down. Or you might just have a bad day. Lots of things that have nothing to do with your ability could affect your test score, and circumstances like these may lower your score.
If your bad day happens on the last possible test date, you're out of luck; you may have to live with a bad score. But if you have another test date ahead of you, then you'll have another chance to prove your abilities. That's why it's best to take the test early rather than last minute. It's good to have a backup test date in case something goes wrong.
Same test prep on a different day may or may not affect your score
If you prepared well and took the test early but just aren't happy with your results, should you take the test again? Obviously, unless you earned a perfect score, the possibility exists that you could score a little higher.
However, wanting a better score isn't necessarily a good basis for testing again. To be worth the test preparation time, aggravation, and the new testing fee, you need a strong reason to believe that you'll score significantly better.
If you totally bombed the first test because you were sick, or something unexpected happened that affected your concentration, then go ahead and take it again. However, standardized tests are very consistent, so if you don't do anything differently, then you're likely to wind up with about the same score.
If you didn't prepare well (or invest in test prep at all), then you have much to gain by improving your skills and taking the test again. So make sure you study before you retake it!
No re-takes for the PSAT
Unlike with the SAT and ACT, which have multiple test dates each year, there is only testing date for the PSAT in a school year. You won't have the opportunity to take it again to improve your score.
Many students take the PSAT in sophomore year, when the scores don't qualify for National Merit Scholarships, to get some practice and an idea of how they will do. Then they take the test again in junior year when the scores will qualify for scholarships. So although there is no official re-taking of the PSAT, there is an opportunity to take it before your scores will matter.